Campaigners in Assam speak out

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During the ‘Who picked my tea?’ campaign, we’ve focused on the actions you can take as a consumer to help improve conditions on tea estates in Assam. In this blog, we want to share with you the amazing campaigning happening right now in Assam among tea workers and organisations who represent them. 

Tea picking is both highly skilled and demanding work. You might expect then, that workers on tea estates would be paid a reasonable wage. But far from it. In fact, workers on tea estates in Assam are paid less than the minimum wage for unskilled farm workers. Estate owners justify this by pointing to the ‘in-kind’ benefits that workers also get – like housing and medical clinics – but in practice these are often of poor quality or non-existent. 

That’s why organisations in Assam have started the Assam Wage Campaign for a cash wage of at least 350 rupees (£3.61) a day, which is what they believe is needed for a family to live on.  

They’ve made a great short video about why this is important…

Tea estate wages are agreed every three years. Currently the government, the tea estate owners and nominated trade unions are negotiating wages for 2018 – 2020. 

As the current wage negotiations progress, the Assam wage campaign has escalated with marches, cycle rallies, meetings and even hunger strikes taking place. It’s often risky for workers on tea estates to speak up, so campaigning takes a lot of courage. The workers are being supported by students, activists and other local groups. 

In the last month, a small increase to the cash wage was agreed – from 137 to 167 rupees a day – as an ‘interim’ measure. But this falls far short of the amount workers say they need to live on, and they are continuing their campaign. 

At Traidcraft Exchange, we are focusing our campaign on the UK brands, because that is where we believe we can have influence. We believe the brands should look at how they buy tea from Assam – and one thing they can do now is to publish the estates they buy from.  

Information is power – and for the workers in Assam (and the organisations that work with them) knowing that the tea they grow is sold to a well-known international brand – meaning that they are covered by a UK brand’s code of conduct – gives them greater power to negotiate with managers and estate owners locally.  

We also want to show solidarity with our friends in Assam and help amplify their voices – so please watch their video and consider leaving them a ‘like’ or a message of support on YouTube.  

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J McNaughton