Tea time is a ritual for most tea-drinkers — a time to relax the body and mind amid the entropy of everyday life. However, recent revelations regarding abusive working conditions at major tea-producing plantations across the world may leave a disturbing ripple in teacups everywhere.
In the tea fields of India, workers are encouraged to pick upwards of 20 kilograms a day. Most tea bags weigh 1.5-2 grams each, so a worker may be expected to gather the rough equivalent of 10,000 to 13,000 bags of tea during a single shift. For this grueling work, they are typically paid somewhere between $1 and $1.50 each day.
At Wal-Mart, you can purchase a box of “England’s no. 1 Tea” — a blend of leaves from India, Africa, and Sri Lanka (all formerly of the British Empire) — for just under 11¢ for a 3 gram bag.
With some quick calculation, we can see that each worker collects about $733.33-worth of tea leaves in one day. If we subtract her wages (about 75-85% of tea-pickers are female), that’s about $732 profit, not including overhead, for her employer each day.
That’s how tea became a multi-billion-dollar industry, and that’s one reason why people are protesting major tea companies like Lipton, Twinings, Tetley, and other brands that sell Assam tea — a well-loved tea that grows in Assam, India.
Some workers, unable to live on their minuscule wages, have no choice but to sell their children into slavery at insultingly low prices. Some end up being physically and sexually abused; others are forced to pick tea leaves themselves.
While the people in Assam are suffering the most, this affects us all.
Tea workers’ wages are set by collective bargaining. When we pay money for tea derived from the suffering of these workers, we directly give more bargaining power to the companies who employ them. We encourage, and are even arguably responsible for the degrading conditions & wages, and the physical & sexual abuse by purchasing a simple box of breakfast tea at the supermarket.
So what will you do: Stand with abused workers, or with the billionaires who have exploited them?
If you’d like to directly donate to help the people of India, you can give a Gift That Gives More at The Hunger Site Store.
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