Imagine you were born the child of a tea plucker on a
plantation in India. Your parents are functional illiterates who work long
hours for less than USD $2 per day to feed the family. If your family is lucky,
you will be able to eat just enough to live but remain malnourished. If one of
the unfortunate, you may starve to death when a parent dies or becomes
Early parental death is common. Those who pluck tea for a
living can expect to die at 50. And as the child of a tea plucker, you can
expect to follow in their footsteps. With a sixth grade education or less,
there will not be employment opportunities for you other than as a modern day tea
plantation serf, assuming you live long enough.
If your parents' employer should close down, even
temporarily, there's a real danger that you will die. India's human rights
commission is currently investigating the starvation deaths of 15 people
attributed to the closure of a tea plantation last year. 13 were dependents and
2 were workers. If you were one of the children who died, any surviving family
can take a little comfort if they receive the USD $1,790 the human rights
commission has valued as total compensation for your life.
This dire outlook for tea workers and their families is not
unique to India. In Sri Lanka, workers make less than USD $5 per day. In China,
the poor conditions faced by tea workers have been offset by labor mobility to
urban areas. In fact, parents send their children to cities to work as unskilled
labor at pay rates nearly tenfold the compensation paid for plucking tea.
To be sure, efforts are underway by Fair Trade USA and other
NGOs to improve the conditions of tea workers and their children. Yet clearly
there is a role for government agencies to step up in these countries to
protect the fundamental human rights of these families, provide educational
opportunities for dependents, and ensure appropriate assistance is in place to
prevent malnourishment and starvation. The United States, Canada, and the
European Union could wield enormous economic pressure by imposing high tariffs
or outright bans on tea grown or processed in violation of human rights.
On the individual consumer side, before purchasing your next
cup of tea, make sure you are not indirectly funding the violation of human
VIDEO: The Bitter Taste
of Tea: A Journey into the World, Films on Demand
Trade Tea Certification Program, FairTradeUSA.org
cost of a cuppa, Radio Netherlands Worldwide (June 6, 2012)
Last of the Tea Pluckers, Huffington Post (June 5, 2012)
Human Rights Commission hears rights violation cases, Times of India (May
the rising price of tea in China is not entirely bad news, T Ching (May 25,
LANKA: Tea Workers' Demand for Higher Wages Hits a Snag, IPSNews.net (Sep.