Modern Day Slavery and Chai
Tea production in India is rife with human rights violations. If you thought slavery was dead, you are in for a rude shock.
Tea is Big Business
Assam is the largest tea-producing region in the world. Most of the tea we drink today comes from Assam. In fact, 1.3 billion kgs of tea was exported from India in 2019, to a value of AUD$1.1 billion. Tea is big business. Our very own Australian tea giant T2 is reported to have generated AUD$1.5 million in revenue in 2019. Bushells is reported to have generated AUD$1.6 million, Lipton AUD$13.5 million, and Tazo AUD$150 million, in annual revenue.
What do these companies all have in common? They're all owned by Unilever.
Unilever, along with the Tata Group (Tetley) and Associated British Foods (Twinings), owns roughly 80% of the global tea market. Unilever sources their teas from over 300 suppliers in Assam alone. Because of this, their buying power is huge. This power allows them to dictate prices and margins in supply chains in ways that allow them to accrue huge profits whilst squeezing suppliers dry.
And when tea plantation owners get taken advantage of by these big corporations, they pay this abuse forward with their workers.
Slavery in India
According to the Global Slavery Index, approximately 8 million people in India are living in Modern Slavery. 8 million - that's more than the population of the entirety of New South Wales. Majority of these people live under conditions of forced or bonded labour, where they are forced to work against their will, or for little or no pay.
Tea is labour-intensive work, which leads to labour shortages. Employers use debt to trap tea workers on the plantations and impose ridiculously high quotas on workers, forcing them to bring children to the fields to help (aka child labour). Tea workers make as little as AUD$2.80 a day, which is not enough to cover their basic needs.
Oxfam found workers on plantations in Assam receive around AUD$0.06 per 100g of black tea. T2 sells 100g of their Assam black tea for $12. This is not fair trade.
These workers and their children live on squalid employer-owned housing that are unsanitary, in states of disrepair with broken or no toilet facilities, no electricity, and no fresh water. These appalling living and working conditions frequently lead to malnutrition and disease.
Support Small Ethical Businesses
The long and short of it is this - big corporations are perpetuating Modern Slavery in India. The only way to stop this cycle is to support small, ethical tea businesses. By doing so, you are sending a message to these big corporations to clean up their act. You are also contributing the the fair payment of tea workers in India.
The Chai Villain sources its tea from small tea growers in Assam who adhere to global standards of sustainable, organic farming methods. They pay workers fair wages for their hard work, and are actively helping to fight centuries of unethical employment practices.
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