Sunday, 9 May 2010

Niggling conscience

Modernity has also reached tea. It's being grown organically, as well as being traded on the market. Orders are even being made solely by internet and shipped anywhere in the world. Only the growers are still living exactly as they did one hundred years ago.

Source: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Saturday 8 May 2010 p 11

The state of the tea business is ever-changing. Methods of irrigation, growing, distribution and sales-all of these things change radically at unheard of speeds. The only constant is the reliability of the people who actually tend the plants and pick the tea. They're the only part of the puzzle that cannot be outsourced. Not yet anyway.

I've written about this before, and it always makes me peevish. Specifically with regards to Darjeeling. The families that cultivate the tea have been doing this for generations. Not only are they virtually modern indentured servants, but the tea baron, if he's candid, will admit that he owes his fortune/his entire livelihood to the hard work of these peasants.

The article that I cite above introduces a boy of fourteen, who's working endless days and weekends for wages that'd embarrass a Chinese sweatshop worker. His father goes off to the tea factory in the morning and the tea that he prepares will go as far as the tea counters in Hamburg and San Francisco by way of Tokyo. There will be unmentionable money earned because of these expensive and rare tea leaves, but very little of it will ever make it's way to the growers.

Please tell yourself that the cost of living is incredibly low there. Feels better doesn't it? Sit back and enjoy your tea, and try not to think about what miserable lives some growers have. You can't do anything anyway, can you? Yeah. Me either.

Oh well.

Cheerful topic after all the football and Bavarian tea shops. But I felt it needed to be said. The article in the Frankfurter triggered my conscience. I'm sure that niggling feeling will quiet and I'll go back to obliviousness soon enough.

Till then, cheers!


  1. People really seem to bash the Fair Trade organization, but I think that it is a very beneficial thing.
    I had to write a research paper so I chose the Fair Trade organization as my topic and I learned quite a bit.
    That helps ease my conscience!

  2. If you want to know more, there are some papers written by a Dutch NGO on this topic.
    If you are interested, I will look after it for you.

  3. Would love that, Ice. Am always interested in more credible information. Although I like the idea of fairtrade in theory, I've read some things that lead me to question how much the growers receive even when it's purportedly 'fair'.