Fairtrade certified tea in the hired labour sector in India and Sri Lanka

  • Has Fairtrade certification made a difference in the lives of workers on tea plantations in India and Sri Lanka?
  • How can transnational labour governance in global value chains contribute to more effective social protection for tea plantation workers?

These are the main questions asked by the project 'Fairtrade Certified Tea in the Hired Labour Sector in India and Sri Lanka: Impact Study and Baseline Data Collection'.

Fairtrade seeks to address the poverty and disempowerment that has characterized tea workers’ working and living conditions since the establishment of tea plantations under colonial rule.

Fairtrade certification has made a difference in the lives of workers on tea plantations

Commissioned by Fairtrade International, this mixed methods study investigates whether Fairtrade certification has made a difference in the lives of workers on tea plantations in two major tea-producing countries, namely India and Sri Lanka. The geographical focus of the study was motivated by the fact that India and Sri Lanka are the two countries with the highest numbers of Fairtrade certified tea plantations and hired tea workers.

The study examined how labour conditions and collective agency of workers in Fairtrade certified plantations have developed over time in comparison to non-certified plantations and what the role of Fairtrade has been in this process.

Based on that, the study also proposes ways in which Fairtrade can promote its impact in tea producer organizations, especially focusing on plantations.

Coordinated by the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), the research team included experts on socioeconomic issues in tea plantations from the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA), Colombo, Sri Lanka; the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, India and the Gujarat Institute of Development Research (GIDR), Ahmedabad, India.

Why is this research relevant?

Tea is the world’s most important drink after water and has connected plantation labourers in the global South with consumers in the global North since colonial times.

Although after independence the economic power of multinational tea buyers has replaced the role of the colonial administration, little has changed in terms of the governance of plantation labour and workers’ harsh working and living conditions.

Our research into labour conditions and the collective agency of workers in Fairtrade certified plantations in India and Sri Lanka informs how intersecting inequalities based on class, gender, ethnicity and caste are challenged and re-shaped by social certification schemes like Fairtrade. The study not only highlights the social consequences of employment in global value chains (GVCs) but also suggests ways in which transnational labour governance in GVCs can contribute to more effective social protection for tea plantation workers.

Outputs

  • Siegmann, K.A., S. Ananthakrishnan, K. Fernando, K.J. Joseph, R. Kulasabanathan, R. Kurian, and P.K. Viswanathan (2020 forthcoming) 'Fairtrade certified Tea in the Hired Labour Sector in India and Sri Lanka: Impact Study and Baseline Data Collection' (publication expected in September 2020)

  • Siegmann, K.A. (2020 forthcoming) 'Harvesting decent work through Fairtrade certification: Towards a worker-driven Fairtrade approach in South Asian tea plantations' (publication expected in September 2020)

  • Siegmann, K.A., with S. Ananthakrishnan, K. Fernando, K.J. Joseph, R. Kulasabanathan, R. Kurian, and P.K. Viswanathan (2019) ‘Fairtrade’s Labour Rights Commitments in South Asian Tea Plantations: A Good Match of Civic and Industrial Conventions?’, Revue Internationale des Études du Développement 240: 39-70.

    Siegmann, K.A. (under revision) ‘Harvesting Consent: South Asian Tea Plantation Workers’ Experience of Fairtrade Certification’, International Labor and Working-Class History.

    Siegmann, K.A. and Sreerekha Mullassery Sathiamma (under preparation) ‘Countering Unfree Labour Relations in South Asia’s Tea Value Chain’. Globalizations.

  • Siegmann, K.A. (2016) ‘Fair Trade as Civic Innovation? The case of tea certification in India’ NRPPD Discussion Papers, no 53. Thiruvananthapuram, India: Centre for Development Studies.

    Fernando, K. and K.A. Siegmann (2017) ‘Dividends from Fairtrade: Can Compliance Lead to Better Working Conditions for Sri Lankan Workers?’ Colombo: LMD.

  • Siegmann, K.A. (2018) ‘Labour Unfreedoms in the Tea Supply Chain’, invited lecture in series: 'Modern Slavery', Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, the Netherlands (March 2018).

  • Siegmann, K.A. (2016) ‘Fair Trade as Civic Innovation? The case of tea certification in India’, paper presented at Third INDIALICS International Conference on Innovation and Sustainable Development, Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, India (16-18 March).

    Siegmann, K.A., S. Ananthakrishnan, K. Fernando, K.J. Joseph, R. Kulasabanathan, R.Kurian and P.K. Viswanathan (2017) ‘Working Conditions and Collective Agency in the Tea Supply Shain: the Role of Fair Trade Certification’, paper presented at XII Global Labour University Conference, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India (4-6 October).

    Siegmann, K.A. (2018) ‘Harvesting Consent in Fairtrade-certified Tea Plantations in South Asia’, paper presented at 36th International Labour Process Conference 2018, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina (21-23 March).

    Siegmann, K.A., S. Ananthakrishnan, K. Fernando, K.J. Joseph, R. Kulasabanathan, R.Kurian, P.K. Viswanathan (2018) ‘Towards Decent Work in the Tea Value Chain? The Role of Fairtrade Certification in South Asian Tea Plantations’, paper presented at 6th Fair Trade Symposium, Portsmouth Business School, Portsmouth, United Kingdom (26-28 June).

Collaborations

Dr Karin Astrid Siegmann, Senior Lecturer in Labour and Gender Economics, ISS (project coordinator)

Dr Rachel Kurian, Assistant Professor in International Labour Economics, ISS

Ms. Karin Fernando, leader “Environment and Poverty” team, and Mr. Kulasabanathan Romeshun, leader “Facets of Poverty” team, Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA)

Dr KJ Joseph, Ministry of Commerce Chair Professor, and Ms. Sajitha Ananthakrishnan, PhD candidate, Centre for Development Studies (CDS)

Dr PK Viswanthan, Associate Professor, Gujarat Institute of Development Research (GIDR)

Funder

This project ran from 2015-2017 and was funded by Fairtrade International.

Contact

Email address

For more information, contact Dr Karin Astrid Siegmann