Editor | Cassandra Lau
When I first landed in London in 2012, I recall walking into a souvenir store with dim white lights, and overstocked shelves of snowglobes, stationary, cups, plates, clothing and you name it. Amongst all the clutter of miniature London attractions, the one thing that stood out to me was the slogan, Keep Calm & Drink Tea. Back when the 1939 Keep Calm slogan resurfaced into popularity, countries would use it for marketing purposes: ‘Keep Calm & Move to Canada’, ‘Keep Calm & Love Hong Kong’, ‘Keep Calm & Aussie On’, etc. Whilst most countries took the opportunity to sow their names on, the English chose to promote tea, and considering how patriotism runs in the veins of this country, it honestly says a lot about the country’s love for tea.
Tea remains the UK’s most popular beverages with 165 million cups consumed each day – it is infused into the British identity. Tea to most of us is a cuppa reward for getting out of bed, for going to work, for completing that one task, and so forth, so it may come as quite a shock when I tell you to many, tea is poverty and death.
Since the Opium Wars, the origin of tea has been carefully concealed in murky waters; the Traidcraft Exchange’s ‘Who Picked My Tea?’ Campaign aims to hold UK tea industries accountable for poor, if not unethical, working environment and conditions. The charity’s campaign has been on tour around the UK to “inspire the great British public to stand in solidarity with tea workers in Assam, India”, explains Tom Sharman.
Tea grown and harvested in Assam is a vital ingredient in many blends sold by British tea companies, including The ‘Big 6 UK brands – PG Tips, Twinings, Tetley, Yorkshire, Typhoo, and Clipper, for its unique malty flavour. In Assam, owners of tea estates are required to provide such benefits to their workforce as “housing, schools and health facilities under Indian law, as well as a cash wage.” However, evidence shows that on estates believed to supply UK tea companies: wages which are previously agreed across the Assam tea sector are below the minimum wage levels; housing is often in poor conditions; sanitation is, if existent, minimal “with open defaecation the norm” during work; health facilities are built but lack medicines and staff, and “food rations are insufficient and of poor quality”.
“They don’t repair the houses. We register complaints to the management, they not it down, but that remains in the register, they give no importance.”
Researchers from Traidcraft Exchange have discovered that these companies know about the conditions for women working on these tea estates but aren’t doing enough to change them.
As a result, the ‘Who Picked My Tea?’ campaign aims to push majoy British tea companies to disclose which estates they buy their tea from. By publishing their list of suppliers, there will be greater transparency in the “secretive world of tea-buying”. 9, 925 people have signed up to contact tea brand, so add your voice to the ‘Who picked my tea?’ campaign at https://action.traidcraft.org.uk/who-picked-my-tea.