Thirst for Better
On June 16th, THIRST invited business leaders, workers’ representatives and subject experts to take part in a constructive, solutions-oriented discussion to help plan for a fairer, more resilient post-coronavirus tea industry. You can listen to a recording of the Building Tea Back Better roundtable meeting here.
Participants were invited to suggest topics for multi-stakeholder follow-up discussions that THIRST will organise in the coming months to explore how some of these ideas – or others suggested by participants – could begin to be implemented in practice.
Subscribe for details of these discussions, publication of the roundtable report and other THIRST updates and events.
THIRST for immunity
How is coronavirus affecting your precious cuppa? This blog outlines the impact of the pandemic – and the safety measures put in place to protect against it – on the tea sector, with a particular focus on India and Assam. It argues that after the crisis has passed, the tea industry needs to ‘build back better’ – and that securing a fair price for green tea could be the shot in the arm the tea industry needs to immunise it from the many challenges it faces, of which coronavirus is just the latest.
Since the blog was written, tea workers in Assam have gone on strike protesting against non-payment of their wages during the weeks of lockdown. Up to 75% of workers are still unable to work due to the restricions on numbers allowed back to work – with the greatest impact being felt by temporary workers who are not only not eligible for the benefits that permanent workers get, but are also less likely to be given work in the current circumstances. Tragically, stories of hunger – even starvation – are already starting to emerge from the tea estates.
THIRST for Vision
Human Rights in Assam Tea Estates – The long view is a review of eight documents spanning 15 years of the Assam tea industry by leading organisations including Columbia Law School, the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition, Oxfam, SOMO, Traidcraft and War on Want. The reports draw on primary research and/or wider literature reviews including local academic studies and historical documents, dating as far back as 1866.
Four issues emerge repeatedly: wages, housing, sanitation and health. It’s time for the tea industry to acknowledge these problems and to work with civil society, trade unions and governments to overcome them. This is particularly important and urgent at a time when the tea industry is facing unprecedented economic and environmental challenges. By doing so, the industry will be demonstrating courage, honesty and humanity – bringing to an end the poverty and suffering of millions of workers and their families, and making Assam tea not only one of the most valued and high quality in the world, but also the most ethically produced.
THIRST for Justice
A lot has changed in India in the 200 years since tea was first planted there. Independence. Land redistribution by the Communist governments of tea-growing states, Kerala and West Bengal. A burgeoning middle class. Soaring GDP. Yet somehow tea estate workers remain exempt from progress – kept frozen in 19th century feudalism and penury.
The pitifully low wages paid to them, the shoddiness of their housing, their lack of access to clean water and to decent healthcare has come up before.
In 1866, 1900, 1955, 2004, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019 to be precise. There are many, many other instances of these issues being raised, but these are the dates of the reports by NGOs, trade unions, the media and academic institutions that I reviewed last year to trace just how long the problems have persisted, with a focus on Assam.
The answer seems to be… from the very beginning.
As the new decade begins, the age old problems persist. But I strongly believe that the tea industry has the power to change. The catalogue of problems that follows does not have to reflect the decade to come. But it can inform a determination to turn the industry around and adopt pricing and labour practices that invite admiration rather than criticism.
To find out more, please read my New Year blog – A Happy New Decade for Tea Workers!
THIRST for Knowledge
We are in the process of updating our Resources pages. They will build into a comprehensive library of documents, reports, initiatives etc on human rights, environmental and other issues affecting tea workers, farmers and their communities.
By bringing together in one place the rich store of knowledge and experience from a range of civil society organisations, the efforts of tea workers and farmers and their representatives to assert their rights will be better informed and supported.
Please contact THIRST if you know of other resources that should be included in this collection.
THIRST for perspective
In January 2019 THIRST CEO, Sabita Banerji, completed a three-week fact-finding and networking trip to India that will help to inform the broad research we’ll be undertaking in the coming months to explore the sector’s human rights and environmental strengths and weaknesses – and where change is needed and possible. The India trip provided some valuable perspectives which are shared in this blog; THIRST for Perspective – Notes on an Indian tea tour.
The findings will contribute to the wider mapping of the tea industry and civil society efforts to improve tea workers’ and farmers’ human rights and research into what needs to be – and can be – done to bring about lasting positive change.
Please contact THIRST if your civil society organisation is interested in collaborating on this research.
Resources by issue
Including Child labour, Climate, Forced labour, Health, Housing, Nutrition, Representation, Wages, Water and Sanitation, and Women