A Trip to Assam with a Difference

My name is Annemarie Leniger and I’m the Managing Director of Ostfriesische Tee Gesellschaft (OTG) – a tea company based in Germany. We are a family owned company, which has been in the tea business for over a hundred years.

Germany, with a share of less than one per cent share of the global black and green tea market is not a big player in tea. This makes it important for companies like ourselves to form alliances with like-minded organisations if we’re to bring about change on issues that are close to our heart. That’s why we (OTG) joined the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) – an organisation that brings the supply chain together in order to support the sector wide changes that are required.

The protection of child rights is fundamental to how we do business at OTG. When we heard reports in the media about child protection and trafficking issues from tea estates in Assam we knew we needed to act. We also knew the limitations of trying to tackle things alone, hence the reason to support and fund the UNICEF – ETP partnership, which was launched at the end of 2014.

Children-on-Assam-Tea-EstateAfter the project’s first year anniversary we were pleased to be invited by UNICEF on field trip as we had questions about the project and we also wanted to see how the work was beginning to benefit children. The trip was very different to previous visits to tea plantations because it wasn’t just about things tea-related. On this trip we would be focusing solely on social topics related to child rights.

I was impressed with how well organised and balanced the trip was. The Plantation Labour Act[1] Conference helped set the scene, and meetings with ABITA[2], the local UNICEF team, and the District Commissioner of Tinsukia gave a good overview about the connection between the structural work (top down from governmental to garden level) and the bottom up fieldwork that has taken place in little more than a year.

As I met and talked to the girls I got the strong feeling that the project is working very well. The girls appear self-confident and speak openly about their problems and how to overcome them. My own impression is that none of these girls will drop out of school or marry before the age of 18 years. This is important because it will help protect them from trafficking and other forms of abuse, and hopefully offer them better opportunities in life as a result of the project.

Overall I was really impressed with the work on the ground and how it’s benefitting the girls’ lives. You can see what difference it makes to them. They are proud to be part of a group and are ambassadors for the clubs and the wider community.

Encouragingly the girls all have their own dreams about their future, but the question surely must be, how realistic it is for them to come true? I guess only time will tell but this project is an excellent starting point for initiating change, which will help to transform the lives of children in Assam and their families.

And it just goes to show that collaboration between UNICEF and ETP with the support of companies like ours, can work successfully!

[1] The regulatory framework that governs the plantation sector

[2] Assam Branch of the Indian Tea Association