Pic: In the middle Preema Gurung- daughter of woman worker showing her football skills and tricks with Fairtrade football
Tea production- a lucrative business in the North East Region of India, remains a high-risk commodity for Fairtrade owing to the threats posed by several critical factors concerning the welfare of workers. Concerns on the poor standard of living and working conditions of tea workers in North East India continues to receive various media speculation across the globe.
Therefore, with a grave need to address these issues and engage beyond certifications ‘Fairtrade North, East India Tea Strategy’ was launched in consultation between Fairtrade Germany, Fairtrade UK, Fairtrade International and Fairtrade Network of Asia and Pacific Producers. The Program aims to improve the living and working conditions of tea workers in Darjeeling and Assam and provide support to plantations in adopting measures for improving tea quality, marketability and climate change mitigation. The possible outcome would be to establish strong, resilient and secure tea planting communities in North East India.
The Project was made more inclusive by Fairtrade Germany and UK reaching out to Fairtrade licensees (buyers) in their respective regions, to encourage them to play an influential role along the supply chain by engaging with the tea producers beyond commercial transactions. The first engagement was committed by a Fairtrade German licensee and in its collaborative funding effort with support from NAPP and Fairtrade Germany, 250.000 EUR in total were invested for implementing several projects in Assam and West Bengal by Chamong Tee Exports Pvt Ltd.
The implementing partners Fairtrade NAPP and Fairtrade-Germany in consultation with tea companies and post series of deliberation with tea workers identified certain primary issues to be addressed through the Project:-
1) Improving Livelihood of workers, by promoting income savings for workers.
2) Improving Health and Nutrition of workers.
3) Strengthening the Fairtrade Premium committee to generate ideas for more impactful projects by utilizing Fairtrade Premium.
4) Motivating workers for working in the tea estates.
5) Sensitize workers on Gender equality and reduce Gender discrimination and Gender-based violence.
6) Improving Climate adaptive Tea practices and reduce off-farm inputs which have an adverse impact on the health of workers.
There was a dire need to organize a motivational cum recreational `program for the tea workers to provide them a break from their monotonous schedule of tea plucking. An Inter-Estate Football tournament for Women workers and Inter-Estate singing and dancing competition, for workers, was organized among the 16 Fairtrade certified Estates of Chamong Tea Groups in Assam and Darjeeling from 20th to 23rd Feb 2020.
The event witnessed an emerging pool of talents from the tea estates right from professional dancing and singing to playing football. It was very well received by the tea estate workers with active participation from 176 women worker football players and 16 workers demonstrating their talents through singing and dancing on ‘work songs’ that spoke of their love and dedication for tea plantations. Women workers who are imposed with social and economic restriction, and bounded within limited space in the Tea Estates could break-out and express themselves, engage in active social dialogue with women workers from other estates to share experiences and learn from each other to overcome their day to day challenges of life.
The program was successful in bringing all the workers and management under one forum and celebrate the occasion as part of the Chamong tea group, clearly reflecting a unity among them, amidst the various challenges of the tea sector. The event was seen as fostering empowerment of women and youth, which is vital to the sustainability of the Tea Industry, as the wellbeing and happiness of the workers and their families also have a direct impact on their productivity. Many of the workers opined that such cultural and extracurricular activities can harbor a decent and productive working atmosphere for tea plantation workers.
‘’At Chamong we like to instill our core belief that all our workers and management are part of one big family. Such a program not only builds the credibility of the organization before the workers but also the integrity and trust of the workers towards the plantation. It is crucial that we focus on activities that empower and bring our women workers to the forefront. Besides the program, the workers have also been given many other Fairtrade premium benefits to enable a decent standard of living for them’’– Indranil Ghosh- Director, Chamong Tee Exports Pvt. Ltd
‘’The program was organized to make the workers feel and realize that alongside work, recreation and enjoyment should also be an important part of life. We have always been taught to consider workers as our partners and also as a part of the family. No plantation can survive without the workforce’’ Ashok Lohia- Chairman, Chamong Tee Exports Pvt. Ltd.
‘’The main focus of the Fairtrade North East India Program is to devise strategies to work on behalf of the workers, to promote tea-trade in such a way that it serves beneficial for the workers and there is an improvement in their standard of living.’’ – Subhra Prakash Tudu- Program Manager (North East India- Fairtrade Network of Asia and Pacific Producers )
‘’We are extremely grateful for such activities being organized for us. The Football match especially has given our women workers a sense of empowerment and belief that they too can excel and move ahead in various activities along with men. I have been working in the tea plantation for the past 24 years and have been recently promoted. My husband is also a tea plucker and my father in law has retired in the same profession. The plantation has looked after our family for generations. Today both of my daughters are studying in college and I wish they get into good civil jobs. I have worked hard so that they do not have to work in tea gardens, but I always want them to be humble enough to remember it is this very job in the tea garden that has secured their future. As gratitude to Fairtrade, ALDI and the consumers who stay a million miles away and support us by buying our tea leaves I have written a poem and would like to dedicate it to them:-
”Labourer, I am! Labourer, I am!
Because for living, I have to labor
As long as I can, I will labor.
Forever grateful to Fairtrade,
For encouragement and support is what they render,
And with this strength, we aspire to move ahead.
We regard consumers as our God,
Society and home as Fairtrade link and uphold,
Therefore, Congratulation and Thank you Fairtrade!”
( recited in local language ‘Nepali’ )- Satika Tamang – Woman Worker at Bannockburn Tea Estate