Posts tagged ‘Assam tea’

21/07/2013

How poverty wages for tea pickers fuel India’s trade in child slavery

The Observer: “When the trafficker came knocking on the door of Elaina Kujar’s hut on a tea plantation at the north-eastern end of Assam, she had just got back from school. Elaina was 14 and wanted to be a nurse. Instead, she was about to lose four years of her life as a child slave.

Saphira Khatun, whose daughter Minu Begum was trafficked to Delhi at the age of 12

She sits on a low chair inside the hut, playing with her long dark hair as she recalls how her owner would sit next to her watching porn in the living room of his Delhi house, while she waited to sleep on the floor. “Then he raped me,” she says, looking down at her hands, then out of the door. Outside, the monsoon rain is falling on the tin roof and against the mud-rendered bamboo strip walls, on which her parents have pinned a church calendar bearing the slogan The Lord is Good to All.

Elaina was in that Delhi house for one reason: her parents, who picked the world-famous Assam tea on an estate in Lakhimpur district, were paid so little they could not afford to keep her. There are thousands like her, taken to Delhi from the tea plantations in the north-east Indian state by a trafficker, sold to an agent for as little as £45, sold on again to an employer for up to £650, then kept as slaves, raped, abused. It is a 21st-century slave trade. There are thought to be 100,000 girls as young as 12 under lock and key in Delhi alone: others are sold on to the Middle East and some are even thought to have reached the UK.

Every tea plantation pays the same wages. Every leaf of every box of Assam tea sold by Tetley and Lipton and Twinings and the supermarket own brands – Asda, Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the rest – is picked by workers who earn a basic 12p an hour.

If it says Fairtrade on the box, or certified by the Rainforest Alliance or the Ethical Tea Partnership, it makes no difference: the worker received the same basic cash payment – 89 rupees (£1) a day, a little over half the legal wage for an unskilled worker in Assam of 158.54 rupees. To place that in context, a worker receives about 2p in cash for picking enough tea to fill a box of 80 tea bags, which then sells for upwards of £2 in the UK. The companies say they know the wages are low, and they are trying to make things better, but their hands are tied by the growers. The growers, who set the wages by collective bargaining, say it is all they can afford.

But there is a price for keeping wages so low, and it is paid by the workers who cannot afford to keep their daughters. When the traffickers come knocking, offering to take the girls away, promising good wages and an exciting new life, they find it hard to say no. “He said he would change our lives,” says Elaina, now 20. “The tea garden was closed when he came and my parents were not working, so my father wanted to send me.”

The trafficker had promised excitement and glamour: instead she started work every day at 4am and worked until midnight, and though he promised to give her 1,500 rupees a month, she was never paid. He kept her as a prisoner, unable to leave the house or contact her family.

“His wife was suspicious about what was happening. I told her he had raped me but he denied it and told me to shut up my mouth,” she says. “After that, I was always crying, but he kept me locked in the house. I was afraid. I had no money and he threatened that I would end up in a brothel.”

She was saved only when he sent her to a new owner who, on learning her story, sent her home.”

via How poverty wages for tea pickers fuel India’s trade in child slavery | World news | The Observer.

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