A cuppa never tasted so good

As any guest who has been to my house can attest, my family loves for tea. In fact I have a pretty impressive tea collection and my boyfriend, Adam, is known takes a thermos of tea every time he goes to the movies. Nonetheless despite my love for a strong brew, I had never given thought to the processes or effort required to pick my tealeaves. This was until I travelled to Sri Lanka and India.

In Sri Lanka I trekked along the foothills of the Horton Plains, a fertile region covered in tea plantations. Tea pickers were mostly women, who would strap woven baskets to their heads and collect leaves at an unbelievable speed. My guide remarked that the tea companies, which weigh and collected the leaves, paid for the workers living expenses, such as accommodation and food. However, as my time travelling through Asia went on visiting tea plantations and processing factories, it became apparent that this payment was perhaps inadequate with the workers (and their children) begging the tourists for additional money.

A report by Oxfam in collaboration with Ethical Tea Partnership has found that tea workers often live below the poverty line with their wages largely determined according to the weight of the leaves they collect, thus making individuals vulnerable to low or fluctuating prices. Although the minimum wages in place could be perceived as a safety net during the low season, in many cases the wages paid to workers fail to comply with these standards, and if they do, they are often too low to meet their needs. Likewise, tea plantations workers are often subjected to long working hours and reports of discrimination and sexual harassment are common. Nonetheless, due to an imbalance of power over the supply chain, which is largely controlled by multinational companies with an absence of independent trade unions, tea pickers have little ability to negotiate for better conditions, entrenching cycles of poverty.  

With world tea consumption expected to reach 3.36 million tonnes by 2021, long-term sustainability of the tea sector is vital. However, this cannot be achieved without a greater emphasis on equality, with the report by Oxfam and the Ethical Tea Partnership outlining a number of action plans, including tightening certification standards, enhancing dialogue between various stakeholders to gain a greater understanding of issues and challenges and, finally, the need to work on country specific strategies to improve wage benchmarks and broader poverty in tea communities.  

But what about consumers? What can we do to enhance ethical tea production? Well, my fellow tea lover, it is as easy as looking out for certified Fair Trade brands. Fair Trade Australia and New Zealand has compiled a list of fair trade tea suppliers with one of my favourites including the English Tea Shop's Green Tea Pomegranate, it is sweet and zesty!

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