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

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