Tea day keeps justice issues on the boil

By staff writers
December 14, 2006

Long hours and arduous labour conditions are the daily reality faced by tea plantation workers the world over, say campaigners who will be drawing attention to their plight on Saturday. The reality is that their wages tend to be among the lowest in the world, with some receiving less than £1 per day.

The second International Tea Day takes place on 16 December 2006. Its main objective is to promote an agreement among tea producing countries to pay a fixed price for tea in the global market. This, in turn, is expected to bring about higher salaries for tea workers and a fair price for small-scale growers.

International Tea Day this year builds on an initiative launched in New Delhi in 2005 by the Centre for Education and Communication (CEC) in India and the Institute of Social Development (ISD) in Sri Lanka.

Their key achievement was an International Declaration which set out proposals designed to improve working conditions and promote the rights of marginalised tea workers and small-scale growers around the world.

Now ISD and CEC, backed by church agencies like Christian Aid in the UK, are organising an international conference culminating in a mass public rally on Friday 15 December to observe International Tea Day.

The rally will be held in Hatton, the heart of the tea plantations in Sri Lanka, in collaboration with the Plantation Sector Social Forum and Trade Unions. Over 5,000 people are expected to join the rally, the majority of whom will be tea plantation workers.

Mr Muthulingam, executive director of ISD says: "We hope that we will be able to influence the government, policy makers and employers to pay higher wages to some of the most exploited workers. In Sri Lanka workers are asking for the equivalent of £1.50 per day, which is a minimum, but not a realistic or ‘living’ wage (for example, £2.50 a day), so that they are able to provide for their families."

Participants from a number of tea-producing countries including Bangladesh, India Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zambia will be present at the conference.

One of the objectives of the conference will be a proposal to create a Shadow Tea Commission to monitor the global tea trade, until now overseen internationally by the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Intergovernmental Group Of Tea.

In Britain and other countries, campaigners will be marking International Tea Day by switching to Fair Trade products, and by writing to the government and international organisations to demand justice for tea workers.

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