Empowering tea communities in Assam
We’re championing a project with the Ethical Tea Partnership in Assam to build the capacity of people on tea estates to make long-lasting change to their living and working conditions from the ground-up.
Assam has long been an important region to us. Tea grown in Assam is a key part of our Yorkshire Tea blend, but the large communities that are involved in tea in Assam face a number of deep-rooted challenges.
Tea estate owners are required by law to provide housing, healthcare, education and other benefits alongside their daily wage for working in the tea fields. The quality of these benefits can vary between estates and even within individual communities. As families have grown over generations, the burden of non-working populations has increased and the ability of the industry to maintain high standards of living conditions for all has become a significant challenge.
We work with estates in Assam who are committed to improving standards – we’ve spent a lot of time here building long term relationships with suppliers where there’s greatest potential for us to make a difference. And in 2016 we partnered with four of the estates we buy from and the Ethical Tea Partnership to tackle the root cause of some of the issues in Assam and to give communities a voice
We’ve helped to establish four community development forums (CDFs) – each representing 5−10,000 individuals. They’re made up of elected representatives from every walk of life: From managers to farmers, community leaders and members of the non-working population.
Everyone involved has received training to help the forums work together successfully. This is the first time that many managers have engaged in proper dialogue with community members to understand the crux of some of the issues on the estates.
Working together, the CDFs draw up an Estate Development Plan that prioritises the problems and works out what needs to be done about them. Once established, all four CDFs produced a shortlist of the issues facing their communities, including things like lack of provision for housing repair, poor access to water and a lack of decent schooling (in Assam only 54% of children are enrolled in secondary school education).
Working like this empowers the estate populations so they can have a real say in how their estates are run and generates internal peer pressure for much needed behaviour change – something that estate management could never achieve as effectively on their own.
Today, all four of these CDFs are working to realize these plans and provide community members with a decent future. They’ve helped local people access ID cards and supported anti-alcoholism and substance abuse camps. To address the lack of school provision, learning centres have been set up to enable children to continue in education. The learning centres in Assam offer workshops which help children with their reading and writing, giving them more confidence at school which is helping to increase school attendance rates by up to 10%.
Over the coming years, we hope that these CDFs will continue to improve the lives of farming communities in the region. We also hope that these CDFs will inspire other tea-farming communities to come together, and take a collaborative approach to problem solving.
Meanwhile, we’re also working with the ETP and other partners on The ‘UNICEF/ETP Improving Lives in Assam Partnership’ focusing on child protection, education, health, nutrition and sanitation.