Does Fair Trade change the wage of a tea picker?


How poverty wages for tea pickers fuel India’s trade in child slavery

That was the headline of The Guardian’s article 20 July 2013. What followed was an in depth review of the world famous Assam tea grown primarily in the Lakhimpur District of India. Tea grown, picked and  packaged here with Fair Trade Certification was done so with wages so low that parents were tempted or forced to “send away” or maybe more to the point sell their daughters into slavery. If that isn’t bad enough, Gethin Chamberlain points out how and why this is possible and that tea pickers from plantations that are Fair Trade Certified make no more than tea pickers on none certified plantations. Upsetting to read, but sadly not news to me. I was trying to  figure out how to publish, this fact without singling out the Tea Industry. The whole Fair Trade thing is in my mind something like Unions in our country “was an amazing concept that somehow just didn’t fulfill it’s original intentions” But that is another story.

This mother hasn't seen her daughter in 4 years! She was ONLY 14 when she left home.
This mother hasn’t seen her daughter in 4 years! She was ONLY 14 when she left home.

Then I read. . .

 Admit it. you love cheap clothes. And you don’t care about child slave labour

What is the Real Price of "Cheap"
What is the Real Price of “Cheap”

WOW talk about to the point and a hit you in the face headline, albeit with a bit of a British accent!  The Guardian’s- Observer- Gethin-Chamberlain  is very passionate about exposing the bad to make it better.  Following is a direct quote from Chamberlain’s article on 28 July 2013

“This is how it works. Well Known Company makes shiny, pretty things in India or China. The Observer reports that the people making the shiny, pretty things are being paid buttons and, what’s more, have been using children’s nimble little fingers to put them together. There is much outrage, WKC professes its horror that it has been let down by its supply chain and promises to make everything better. And then nothing happens. WKC keeps making shiny, pretty things and people keep buying them. Because they love them. Because they are cheap. And because they have let themselves be bewitched.”

 His complete coverage of this article posted on The Guardian can be read here. Both of Chamberlain’s pieces reveal a very disturbing reality found in many industries, product manufactures and agricultural sectors, beyond tea and clothes and something I believe we can all learn from.

It is my opinion WE as consumers we should investigate and know our sources! Sounds good, but OMG when are you going to find the time to do that? Well what makes that easier is when we are lucky enough to find retailers who share that approach and only purchase products for us to buy that align with our values. I am sure you can think of some of these amazing retailers in your own neighborhoods. Try to support them!  But remember too not every product that is Good has a certification and not every Certified Fair Trade, Organic, Rain Forrest  or other sanitized certification labeled product is good either. We all want to do the right thing, buy the products that are ethically sourced, but lets face it, it is HARD TO KNOW!

Finding retailers who stay true to “know your source and be proud of it” purchasing is not so easy either. Unfortunately retailers need to compete and many consumers i.e. buyers are driven by price first.  I try to support brands who I can understand how they get that product into my hands.

None of us wants to pay too much, however the next time something seems “too cheap” or you find yourself saying how is that even possible think about. . .

What is the Real Cost of this Cheap Price? As Tea Docents we strongly believe all things are connected and partner with farmers and producers who share our values and are guided by a deep respect for the planet, which means people too!

I believe articles like the two Gethin Chamberlain wrote helps grow our awareness of not just the specifics here, but the reality of just how important it is for us to make purchases understanding the actions not just the hype behind as many brands as we can, and to support retailers who align with supporting the types of brands we want to support/buy.

What do you think? Drop a comment below and let’s talk about it. And thanks for reading to the end, I know 750+ words is an eyeful!


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