In Conversation of NAPP Program Manager – Subhra Prakash Tudu
Q. Can you tell us about the history of Tea Plantations set up in Asia?
A. Tea planting in the Indian district of Darjeeling began in 1841 by Archibald Campbell, a civil surgeon of the Indian Medical Service. Campbell was transferred as superintendent of Darjeeling in 1839 from Kathmandu, Nepal. In 1841, he brought seeds of Chinese tea plant (Camellia sinensis) from Kumaun and began experimenting with tea planting in Darjeeling. The British Government also established tea nurseries during that period (1847). Commercial development began during the 1850s. In 1856, the Alubari tea garden was opened by the Kurseong and Darjeeling Tea company, followed by others.
The introduction of the Assam tea bush to Europe is related to Robert Bruce, a Scottish adventurer, who apparently encountered it in the year 1823. Bruce reportedly found the plant growing “wild” in Assam while trading in the region. Maniram Dewan directed him to the local Singpho chief Bessa Gam. Bruce noticed local tribesmen (the Singhpos) brewing tea from the leaves of the bush and arranged samples of the leaves and seeds from the tribal chiefs, which he planned to have scientifically examined. Robert Bruce died shortly thereafter, without having seen the plant properly classified. It was not until the early 1830s that Robert’s brother, Charles, arranged for few leaves from the Assam tea bush to be sent to the botanical gardens in Calcutta for proper examination. There, the plant was finally identified as a variety of tea, or Camellia sinensis var assamica, but different from the Chinese version (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis).
The cultivation and production of Assam tea in the first two decades (1840–1860) was monopolised by the Assam Company, which operated in districts of Upper Assam and through the labour of the local community.
The success of the company and the changes in colonial policy of offering land to the tea planters (Fee simple rules) led to a period of boom and expansion in the Assam tea industry in the early 1860s, but these could not necessarily be translated into a dramatic shift in production (from China to Assam) due to the “makeshift” nature of plantations, poor conditions of life on plantation (huge rates of mortality and desertion), and also at times the presence of pure speculative capital with no interest in tea production. Most of the tea estates in Assam are members of the oldest and most prominent body of tea producers of India.
Q. What has been the main challenges (past and current) in adopting the Fairtrade model across plantation set up as opposed to SPOs set up?
A. Tea industry in the North was set-up through an aggressive process to serve the colonial market and foster economic growth favouring the colonial rule. Introduction of Wasteland Act 1857, displaced the sovereignty of the locals, through indiscriminate accusations of their lands for tea plantations. Secondly, alluring the famine and poverty ridden regions of central India, targeting the tribal populations, for better livelihood in the Plantations, and restricting the movement of migrated tribal population in the Plantations, were foundations, of establishing the Tea Plantation in the North, during the colonial rule. The era of introducing Tea Plantation in the North was also coined with the term Planters Raj, which incorporated introduction of policies, systems and practices, to crush the self-sufficient economy of the locals, threatening and exploiting the migrating tea labourers, changing the demography of the region, and propagating imbalance in the natural vegetation of the region.
Independent India made attempts to transform Planters Raj to Swaraj for workers, by introducing the first legislation in favour of the workers- the Plantation Labour Act 1956, which recognised the poor conditions of Plantation workers and held the Plantation owners responsible to adequately support the basic needs of workers.
Though, the legislation ensured relief to the workers, butthe century old social and economic setting for the TeaWorkers, and the remoteness of Tea Estate locations,denied the tea workers, the basic access to education,health and freedom to choose alternative options forlivelihood. Control and regimentation of workers, are usual practices for Management of Plantation work-
force, believed from the past, to discipline the working in the Tea Estate, and ensure retention of workers.
Challenge in a Plantation, has always been to restrict the workers in the tea Estate, in a condition when physical restriction in the Tea Estate is not possible, therefore restriction on access to economic resources, and social norms, remain the only means to condition economic restrain and downgraded social status, which restricts the power of movement of workers, with the ultimate motive of sustaining the labour supply from generations of ONE community.
The age old marketing system of Tea, is unlike commodities, which passes through an organized
system of Auction. Lion share of the revenue from Tea, are held by the customer facing market players, while the Producers are left with minimum share of the revenue, thus a very small amount of the revenue is passed-on to the workers. The market players, do not have any liabilities towards the workers, thus compelling the producers with smaller share of revenue, to be solely responsible for the workers, which is changing the preference of investors, to withdraw their investments from Tea Producing to Tea Trading.
Q. Do you see any positive impacts and changes implemented in the past decade?
A. Yes, there has been very important changes in NEI-Tea space. Media has played an important role, to cover the dismal stories of Tea Workers of Assam and Darjeeling, and broadcasted the challenges of plantations workers. This has acted as virtual pressure point, for Govt., Human Right activists, CSO and Certification agencies, to frequent their talk, and network, in favour of the workers. The Govt. of Assam and Govt. of West Bengal, issued notification for wage increment, for the first time in recent history, when the demand for increased wage proposal could not be settled through CBA. The Govt. of India, has a draft policy on National Minimum wage and Occupational Safety, for workers.
Raising of market demand for certified tea, has encouraged the producers to adopt various certification schemes for their Producing sites, which has introduced third party monitoring, on social and environment compliances, and also assisted to focus the attention of Tea companies on social and environment compliance, while they produce quality tea from their factories.
Q. What is the importance of Fairtrade tea to the workers and small holders in Tea sector? How has their life improved since becoming involved with Fairtrade? Can you explain the changes you have seen in the community?
A. Fairtrade has proved to be of immense importance to the workers. Social compliances in the Tea Estates have been strengthened, though the legislation has provisioned for statutory social compliance, but due to the poor monitoring of compliance by the Govt. agencies, it has been a regular non-compliance on the distribution of the statutory entitlements, specifically the in-kind benefits, to the workers, on the pretext of poor cash flow of the Tea Companies. Fairtrade certification, has ensured timely distribution of the in-kind benefits to the workers.distribution of the in-kind benefits to the workers.
Fairtrade has influenced a major change in the social conditioning of Tea Estates, by promoting constructive deliberations between common workers and management, which was otherwise restricted between Workers representatives in the Trade Union and Management, to negotiate & bargain on workers statutory entitlements. Fairtrade has introduced an additional participatory space to workers to deliberate with management, and take their guidance, on Fairtrade Project planning and implementation. The standard process of Fairtrade Premium planning and implementation, has inculcated a sense of confidence, self-dignity and self-determination, among the workers.
It has facilitated a scope for common workers to practice their leadership skills, which otherwise was restricted to the space of highly politicized Trade Union activities. Access to financial Resource in the form of Fairtrade Premium, has helped the workers to compensate few of their basic needs like Children Education, Family utilities, community resources
Q. Has there been any reform in the labour practices in the plantation sector.
A. There have only been some Legislative reforms in the Labour Practices in the Plantation sector. The Plantation Labour Act.1956, stand as the principle legislation for the Plantation Workers, which has been amended only once in early 1980s. Though, in the recent years, with the introduction of National legislation against Sexual Harassment at work place, and legislation on prohibition of Child Labour, has geared-up additional management provisions for compliance to this legislation. The introduction of Modern Slavery Act, in few market countries, has also compelled the focus of brands and retailers, of relevant market countries, to increase their enquiry on social compliance in their respective supply chain.
Q. How can we improve positioning of Fairtrade tea in the market as compared to other sustainable models?
A. Strengthening of FLO-cert audit system as regular announced audit have not always been very effective to identify the issues, though there are various challenges of time constrain for auditors, language and makeshift set-up during audit and findings justified commonly as, ‘findings of audit as on audit dates’. Intensity of unannounced audits could be increased for Plantation, on the pre-text of high risk commodity. Few focussed audit on subjected Risk, should be introduced, eg. if Occupation Health and Safety is a Risk, audit should be focussed ONLY to cover compliance on OHS. FLO-cert should have access to all relevant agreements, notifications and legislation, on statutory compliance, to ensure statutory compliance, beyond the specification of Fairtrade Standard.
Fairtrade International and NAPP, should facilitate at least one annual interface between Market Players and Producers, to interact on the challenges, and agree on common actions.
Market communications from NFO, should include the challenges in Tea Estates to end consumers, so that the challenges when broadcasted through independent media, does not appear to be a shocker to Fairtrade consumers, and with assistance from PN update the changes influenced through Fairtrade certification.
Tea should be removed from Tier 2 product category of Fairtrade, and focussed as special category, to earmark investment for improvement in the Tea Sector, and have a Global Tea Strategy and Global Commercial Plan for Tea, to enhance FT Sale in existing market and develop new markets.
Q. Pls provide a brief on the NAPP Tea Strategy and Plan 2019 aiming at improving social, economical and environmental developments across Fairtrade Plantations and SPOs.
A. . NAPP Tea Strategy and Plan 2019, has focussed on enhancing the knowledge and skills of Workers and Management on various topics – (i) Child Protection and Child Labour (ii) Gender Based Violence (iii) Occupational Health and Safety (iv) Fairtrade Premium Project planning and Fairtrade Premium Committee Governance. We continue to provide guidance on Pre and Post-audit, Training on Fairtrade Support and Mock-audits to empower the workers and management, assist in identifying the gaps in compliance and introduce self-monitoring systems in the Tea Estates.
Q. Can you highlight some major activities implemented by NAPP to improve employment conditions and protect the rights of workers on plantations and to support members of smallholder organisations in gaining more control within the tea supply chains and increase their incomes.
A Mock audit and FLO-cert audit analysis has been an important tool introduced by NAPP to identify the existing risks of non-compliances and also highlight the recurring non-compliances. From the past FLO-cert audit reports, this has intensified Board Room meetings of senior management of Tea Companies, to improve compliance in the Tea Estates. Training on Gender, Child Rights and Child Protection, Occupational Health and Safety has enhanced the knowledge of workers and management on the legislative provisions and empowered them for compliance.
Q. Tea being the highest risk commodity in the Fairtrade system, how can we as a part of the system contribute to mitigating such risks in the long run?
A. The focus of engagement on Tea, should be shifted from the consideration of revenue earned from the commodity to the consideration of large numbers of worker benefiting from Fairtrade. Increased Fairtrade resources should be invested on improving the conditions of Plantation workers to foster change. Deeper understanding of the root causes of the Risks and appropriate actions should be channelized in the right direction.
Q. Are there any plans for climate change adaptation projects in the coming years?
A. Yes, NAPP is in contact with Tea Research Association, which is the nodal agency to conduct research and recommend appropriate farm practices on improvement of Tea. TRA already have various research findings on climate adaptation practices for Tea Cultivation, NAPP would partner with TRA for dissemination of the technical know-how to introduce climate adaptive farm practices for Tea.to introduce climate adaptive farm practices for Tea.
Q. As a part of Producer Network managing the tea sector is there any message you would like to share with our Fairtrade partners?
A. Let us continue to remain focussed and committed to transform the lives of Tea workers, who contribute more than 60% of Workers, from the Fairtrade certified Plantations, around the Globe.