23 October 2019
Fairtrade, empowerment and Green tea in Kangra
Our Supplier Chain Project Manager Eileen has been in Kangra, India, visiting one of our Fairtrade tea suppliers. Read more from Eileen below.
"Fairtrade is close to my heart, it’s where I started and it’s what drives me: trade can and should be a positive force for everyone in the supply chain. At Organic Herb Trading we aim to trade fairly in all our transactions – whether certified by a fair trade scheme or not – and we’re fortunate in working with passionate organic brands who are committed to the same principles.
Likewise, we have the privilege of working with growers who have Fairtrade in their blood; some of our suppliers have been empowering workers for generations, and we can support that effort just by bringing their products to market.
But what about when it takes more than that? We’ve been buying Green tea from a beautiful organic estate in northwest India, where birds and insect life thrive under the shade of the trees, and the backdrop is the Himalayas. Over the past year or so I’ve been working with them as they seek to meet the Fairtrade standards. They’ve added more fire extinguishers in the factory, translated policies into Hindi for ease of understanding, and set up a bank account to hold the Fairtrade premium.
The committee which will administer that money must be formed of tea pickers and managers together – this is a huge cultural shift in the context of tea plantations, which typically function in strict hierarchy, and is presenting a challenge for everyone involved. The Fairtrade system offers support with that learning curve, through free independent advice and training.
Imagine a tea plucker, a woman who has never sat in a business meeting, never met the plantation manager, much less let him know her opinions about working conditions on the estate. And then here she is drinking tea in his office, with the bosses and a couple of foreign buyers. It seems to me it must take huge strength of character, even with the guidance of an expert in this kind of social change. The management too must be willing to embrace the principles of Fairtrade, and it’s not an easy adjustment for them either.
Meeting one of the advisors from the Fairtrade support network, I heard about the impact of this change. He tells me he’s met women who barely spoke, and seen them become unstoppable. The workers who take part in the Fairtrade Premium Committee gain confidence, they see their possibilities differently and build their skills in discussing and negotiating. Fairtrade advisors provide capacity-building to management too, in ways that open their minds, change their perspectives and give them new ideas.
We’re well on our way to gaining that familiar green-and-blue Fairtrade logo for this delicious tea, all the while building the relationships that embed the practice of trading with respect and openness."