MARK: Love a cuppa tea me. Earl Grey my favourite brew, but happy to have a nice strong mug of “builders” if one is on offer. No sugar though – sweet enough. Also developed a liking for the sweet Indian tea called “Chai” made from Masala tea complete with sugar and warm milk.
Walk in to any British supermarket and you will see row upon row of different tea varieties for the shopper to choose, ranging from Twinings, PG Tips and of course good old Yorkshire Tea. A pound of your hard earned can get you twenty ‘T’ bags of pretty decent stuff and if you have more money than sense you can spend £5-£10 quite easily on some well packaged, cleverly marketed “health tea.”
“More tea?” Don’t mind if I do thanks!
But hey, hang on a minute. Why have I never stopped and actually thought just how tea leaves get into my little perforated bag? Or considered the people who actually pick tea and what their working and living conditions are like? Perhaps because I have taken it all for granted – until now.
We’d some time to kill in Mumbai and so turned on the TV to watch the good old BBC World News. It was showing a news “expose” on the India Tea Trade. The joint “investigation” by Radio 4’s File on Four and BBC News in Assam was a real eye opener to say the least! Here’s a quick summary paraphrased from the subsequent BBC Online article.
“Reporters found that in Assam, north-east India, workers are living in broken houses with terrible sanitation. Many families had no toilets and said they have no choice but to defecate amongst the tea bushes. Living and working conditions are so bad, and wages so low – typically tea workers in Assam earn just 115 rupees (just over £1 a day) that their families are left malnourished and vulnerable to fatal illnesses. A total disregard for health and safety was prevalent, with workers spraying chemicals without protection and on some estates, child labour being used.”
The biggest thing though to shock me and indeed the tea pickers themselves was when the reporter in the interview showed the workers a nicely packaged, small bag of tea from a leading London Retailer. The cost £7.50! The workers could not believe the price. It would take them a week to earn such an amount they said AND only a few minutes to actually pick that quantity of tea. Shocking. Out of order. So just who is making the money here, the Tea Plantation Owner, the Importer, the UK Tea Brands or our friends the Supermarket Retailer? One thing’s for sure, it ain’t the poor old tea pickers!
We left Mumbai, but a few days later came “face to face” with the World of Tea once again when we visited the Hill Station town of Coonoor.
We watched the tea pickers on the side of the mountains undertake long, back breaking work.
And often, close to the lovely manicured tea plantations there were a few “big houses”, we assume belonging to the owners/managers.
And then looking further down the hill much more humble homes belonging to the tea pickers.
It was really sad to see that on the edge of the plantation, that some entrepreneurs, were able to take advantage of the tea picking industry and by simply providing a traditional tea pickers “dress”, they could earn in a few short minutes, 200/300 Rupees (£2/3) by photographing tourists and visitor to satisfy the selfie “look at me” society.
The good news – back to the report a minute – concludes by saying: “Many of the UK’s leading tea brands including PG Tips, Tetleys and Twinings, have said they will work to improve the tea estates they buy from in India after the BBC investigation”.