ETP and UNICEF partnership supports thousands of children living in Assam

Today the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) and UNICEF launched a ground-breaking partnership that will improve the lives of tens of thousands of children from tea communities in Assam and help reduce their vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation.

The three-year programme, which is supported and funded by IDH the Sustainable Trade Initiative; ETP members, Tesco, OTG (Meßmer), TGB (Tetley, Tata Tea), and Taylors of Harrogate (Yorkshire Tea); and Typhoo, will initially work with 350 communities across more than 100 tea estates in three districts of Assam.

Child protection issues are a huge challenge in India, especially in rural areas including those that grow and produce tea. More than 80 million children a year – 41% of the child population leave school without completing eight years of education. In addition 43% of girls are married before they are 18.

The exploitation and abuse of children in these communities is exacerbated by poverty, gender, caste, and a lack of education. These problems are a reality in the tea communities of Assam, one of the world’s most important tea growing areas whose leaves are used in almost every tea blend. A sixth of the state’s population live in these communities and they are among its most marginalised people.

While ETP’s monitoring programme raises core social, labour, and environmental conditions on tea estates that ETP members buy tea from, other issues are more difficult to address. Human trafficking is by its nature a hidden trade, and audit and certification schemes are not the appropriate mechanisms for stopping it from happening. Since the end of last year our networks and links with child protection agencies in India have made us aware that child exploitation and trafficking are issues affecting tea communities in Assam.

“Although independent auditors have never found child trafficking on tea estates that ETP members purchase from we were appalled by the news of this sinister and criminal activity, and its devastating effects. Over the years ETP has tackled deeper and more complex problems, and given our position within the sector we felt we could and should be part of the solution.

“The response of tea companies, retailers and our long-standing partner IDH the Sustainable Trade Initiative, to issues which many organisations would avoid as ‘being too difficult to deal with’, has enabled us to mobilise this strong consortium in a relatively short amount of time, which makes me very proud.

“Together with UNICEF, the world’s leading organisation for children, and with the support of IDH and commercial partners, the project will have positive impacts that go well beyond the boundaries of tea estates and those communities that work on them.” Sarah Roberts, Executive Director, ETP.

The three-year programme will specifically:

  • Equip more than 25,000 girls with the knowledge and “life skills” that will help them secure a better future and reduce their vulnerability to violence, abuse and exploitation.
  • Give more than 10,000 community members the knowledge and training to protect children from all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation.
  • Make families in each community aware of children’s rights and the support they can call on to help educate and protect their children.
  • Work with state and district government to improve the quality of education and the effectiveness of child protection policies to help make a sustainable difference to the lives of children now and in many years to come.

UNICEF UK Executive Director David Bull said: “Children growing up in Assam’s rural tea communities face huge problems, especially girls. Many leave school early and child marriage is common. They are vulnerable to a range of threats including trafficking, exploitative and bonded labour, and physical and sexual abuse.

“This programme is backed by retailers, world-famous tea brands and growers, and shows the tea industry’s determination to play its part in solving these problems. We are hugely inspired that the tea community is looking at these issues through the eyes of a child and we hope it will encourage other industries to take similar action.”

Supported by: IDH the Sustainable Trade Initiative, Tesco, Ostfriesische Tee Gesellschaft (OTG), Tata Global Beverages (TGB), Taylors of Harrogate, and Typhoo.