East Asia resources
This collection of resources is provided here purely in a spirit of sharing views and experience and does not imply endorsement by THIRST. Descriptions are taken from the documents themselves, or from the relevant organisation’s website. Please contact THIRST if you know of other relevant reports or initiatives that should be included in this collection.
A literature review of conditions for workers and small farmers in East and South East Asia. There are far fewer resources available on this region than for others such as South Asia, highlighting a gap that THIRST invites civil society organisations or academics to fill.
Reports by civil society organisations… have highlighted the issue of low wages and excessive working hours in the supply chains of a range of commodities and manufactured items, including tea. They argue that corporate compliance programmes and product certification schemes have achieved only limited reach to the root causes of supply chain problems, including low wages, and many have called for a Living Wage for workers… Oxfam and the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), a not-for-profit member organization of tea companies committed to improving the lives of tea workers and their environment, initiated a project in 2010 to increase understanding of wages in the tea sector, and to use this as a basis for constructive dialogue in the future.
The study looked at India (Assam), Indonesia and Malawi.
Indonesia is tea fifth largest tea producer in tea world, after India, China, Sri Lanka and Kenya, with 65% of tea product for towards export. The large export volume, however, has little impact on welfare of tea plantation workers and smallholders. The majority of growers are oriented more to domestic market of green and jasmine tea, while export is dominated by large plantation, both state and private. Many researches come to the conclusion that growers are put under the pressure to sell fresh leaf to collectors and processing factories for low prices which can not cover the production cost before tea leaves wither and the quality drops.
In this report, SOMO is presenting for the first time ever a more detailed and comparative analysis on social, economic and ecological conditions in the tea sector in 6 of the most important tea-producing countries: India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia, Kenya and Malawi. The research is based on an extensive field study of civil society organisations in these countries, thus providing a unique perspective on this sector. The report also presents an overview of trade, production and stakeholders in international tea supply chains, and makes recommendations to various stakeholders for improving conditions, particularly for plantation workers and tea smallholders the most vulnerable in the tea industry.
The study found that working conditions for pickers are often poor, with low wages, low job and income security, discrimination along ethnic and gender lines, lack of protective gear and inadequate basic facilities such as housing and sometimes even drinking water and food. At the same time there is no possibility for tea plantation workers to improve working conditions because trade unions are ineffective or absent and/or are not representing them because most of them are temporary workers. While tea production by smallholders is growing worldwide, their situation is often problematic because the prices they are paid for fresh tea leaves tend to be below the cost of production, among other factors. The sector’s environmental footprint is considerable, with reduced biodiversity as the result of habitat conversion, high energy consumption (mainly using logged timber) and a high application of pesticides in some countries.
Tea production in Vietnam is concentrated in the Central and Northern Highlands, two areas that are particularly at risk of food insecurity and land degradation. The current problem of soil erosion is expected to intensify due to climate change and a growing global demand for tea which will likely increase pressures on already nutrient-deprived farmland. The high use of chemical fertilizers and herbicides has resulted in poor soil health and undermined Vietnamese tea’s reputation on international markets, contributing to low prices for farmers. Improved soil conservation measures can help reduce the pressure on tea farming landscapes but have not yet been widely applied in Vietnam.
Since 2016, over 3,180 Vietnamese tea farmers have been trained by Rikolto (previously VECO) in sustainable land management practices as part of The Rainforest Alliance’s project “Mainstreaming Sustainable Management of Tea Production Landscapes”. Initial results show that farmers’ income has increased by an average of 30% due to a reduction in chemical use and higher prices for quality tea leaves.
- See also Sustainability Issues in the Tea Sector – SOMO 2008 above