Who picked my tea?
Thursday, 31 May 2018 | Joanna
Update: We're delighted that Yorkshire Tea is the first of the big brands to respond to the call for action. Read what they have to say here.
And the other big tea brands seem to be taking action as well. Read about the Ethical Tea Partnership's Women, Children and Families in Assam Commitment with UNICEF.
We British drink 165 million cups of tea a day - it fuels and refreshes us and if you're anything like me you don't feel like you've got up properly until you've had your breakfast cuppa.
But no matter how strong or weak you make your brew, there's a dark side to the tea industry.
Between them, the six biggest UK tea brands have more than 67% of the retail market and most of them buy tea grown on plantations in the Indian state of Assam.
Tea is not a native plant to India. It was introduced from China in the 19th century by the British when they wanted to control tea production to the Empire. Assam was a sparsely populated region but the mountains and rainfall made it perfect for growing tea. When the Assam tea estates were established workers were shipped in from other parts of India, often indentured, unpaid and drawn from the poorest castes.
Sadly things haven't changed very much.
in 2018 people like Maloti work long hours in the tea gardens carrying heavy loads, often without proper equipment or even shoes. Workers are paid just £1.50 a day, and the services the estates are supposed to provide – like housing, clinics and schools – are often poor quality or even non-existent.
"They don’t repair the houses. We register complaints to the management, they note it down, but that remains in the register, they give no importance."
These appalling conditions are well known in the UK tea industry which has been buying tea from Assam for years. But British brands aren’t doing enough to challenge Assam tea estate owners or to improve their own buying practices.
Tea workers in Assam face many complex issues - but one common thread is that no one takes responsibility for their situation. UK tea brands need to start being part of the solution, not part of the problem.
An important first step the brands could take right now is to tell us which estates in Assam they buy from.
Transparency like this would help open up the secretive world of tea-buying. It would shine a light on exploitation and mean that consumers – and more importantly people in Assam – could hold companies to account.
That’s why Traidcraft Exchange is launching a campaign to ask British tea brands to do the right thing and step up on behalf of people like Maloti.
So please add your voice and ask the big tea brands: Who picked my tea?