Response to Media Reports on Child Trafficking in India – 01/03/14

Sunday’s report in the Observer and the accompanying pieces in the Guardian and Mirror about child trafficking in India highlight an important issue.

These stories of child trafficking are harrowing and raise important concerns about poverty and conditions in rural districts across India, including tea growing areas.

The Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) exists to improve the lives of tea workers and their environment. We work to understand issues, develop solutions, and bring together the right organisations.

From our links to NGOs and expert partners, we know that child trafficking, particularly from rural areas into urban settlements, is an issue across India. Parts of Assam are even more vulnerable to trafficking because whole communities have been displaced by flooding and ethnic violence.

When we become aware of issues relating to exploitation of young people in the tea sector, we work with expert agencies to understand what is behind a problem and what interventions can address it. ETP, its members companies and their suppliers have been involved in a number of projects that address child exploitation, for example work with Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee in Africa. In India, work supported by ETP member companies include new income generating opportunities for tea communities and work to improve adolescent girls’ health, continuation in education, confidence and ‘life skills.’

When The Observer’s Gethin Chamberlain contacted us while researching this article we contacted APPL and the estate in Assam immediately to understand the issue and offer our support.

The most useful role that ETP and the tea industry can play is to help facilitate work by expert agencies in tea-growing areas that deal with the root causes that drive trafficking.

As a result of child trafficking concerns raised last year, ETP began working to bring together expert organisations with the tea industry to find ways of scaling up work to address trafficking in tea-growing areas. ETP members have committed support for this initiative once it is in place.

The Observer article also reflects ETP’s own concerns – raised last year – about wages in the tea sector.

ETP has and continues to lead a multi-stakeholder consortium with Oxfam looking at wage issues in detail. Our influential wages report was published in 2013 and we continue to work with Oxfam, and others, on the issues it raised.

Wages and benefits are a complex issue in India, where the dominant forces are those involved in the domestic market, which accounts for 70 per cent of all tea produced, rather than the 30 per cent bought for export. Wages in the tea industry are set regionally, not by individual estates or plantation companies. The rates described in the Observer article were set through a process involving the sectoral employers organisation, the recognised ACMS union and the Assam government.

The wages paid by all suppliers to ETP member companies are independently audited against international standards, through auditors accredited to ETP, Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade or Utz Certified.

However, the serious challenges highlighted both by our wage report and this article cannot be addressed by auditing and certification alone, which is why ETP is dedicated to addressing the underlying conditions that hold back sustainability.

ETP’s local Indian team, which includes social issues experts and former plantation company staff, are working closely with all levels of the industry to help develop ways forward.

ETP’s involvement in the trustea programme, led by the Tea Board of India, which is working to improve conditions across the entire Indian tea industry, is an important new development. The commitment now being shown by senior Indian domestic market oriented producers and tea packers, who have not previously been involved in addressing these issues, is helping build increased momentum for change.

Notes to editors