Tea: Modern Day Slavery
This paper is on the tea industry and how there is a lot more behind a box of tea than most people would ever think. Consumers in America or Europe buy their tea for good prices, and enjoy it, without thinking any deeper into their delicious cup of tea. What many don’t know is that many people are suffering as a result of many being able to enjoy that cup of tea.
Where it all Began
Tea has been around for a long time now. For some people in India, it’s all they’ve ever known, and have ever known for generations. The first tea estates were established in India in the 1830s. And since growing tea takes quite a bit of labor, these estates had slaves on them doing all the labor. In 1833, slavery was put to a halt in the British empire, but alternatives were found to still have slavery on the estates. In place of slaves, the estates had indentured laborers. The laborers were free men and women who signed contracts making them work for a certain amount of time. The laborers (even to this day) are treated as slaves. Most people don’t think about where there cup of tea comes from. They don’t think about where it was made, who made it, and what went into making this cup of tea that is so precious to so many in first world countries. This paper will discuss what goes into the production of the tea we buy so easily from the shelves here in America.
Everyone loves a warm cup of tea, right? But does that warm cup of tea love us? Many pesticides are used on tea plantations, and on many of those plantations, the tea isn’t washed before it goes into the tea bag, leaving the pesticides in the tea we drink. And it doesn’t just end there. Those that live on the tea plantations that are putting the pesticides on the tea plants, are not wearing proper protection when they are spraying the pesticides, so they end up with serious health issues as a result. So those that are on the plantations are being negatively impacted, and those that are the consumers of the tea are also negatively impacted. So the only ones truly benefitting from this are the ones making all the money off of depleting peoples health.
“But, Ranen Dutta, secretary Darjeeling Planters' Association, wants everyone to believe differently. The whole issue of converting to organic farming is just a fad and I am not interested in fads. He, in other words, doesn't care about what the consumer ends up sipping, tea or pesticide laced water. Or about the health of the 50,000 workers in the tea gardens of Darjeeling. Information on the possible health hazards caused by exposure to pesticides is now in public domain. They are known to cause skin and allergic reactions, common ailments among the tea garden laborers. Other worse illnesses include loss of memory, cancer, lung and kidney damage and enzyme imbalance.” (Tea) Those who run the plantations are only concerned with money, not with peoples health. I think that people need to be aware that tea plantations are not what they seem, not what they are always being advertised, and that we need to begin to see past what’s so easily attainable to us on a shelf in a grocery store. If you look more closely, there are metal bars, and blood stains behind these shelves. Celestial Seasonings is a tea brand that I’m sure we’ve all heard of. I know I’ve personally drank their tea, my Mom always had it when I was little. But we never thought, or wondered where does this tea come from? What is in it? Who made it, no we just got to enjoy it! Well had we looked further, we would have realized that 91% of their tea had pesticide residues exceeding the U.S. limits. “For example, Sleepy time Kids Goodnight Grape Herbal contained 0.26 ppm of propachlor, which is a known carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65.”(Babe) The FDA has issued two warnings to Celestial Seasonings about this. Maybe loose leaf tea is better? Take Teavana for instance, a loose leaf tea delicious experience! Considered a high quality tea! Well, unfortunately, Teavana was tested, and contains 100% pesticides in it. One pesticide that was found is called endosulfan, it’s been banned by the U.S., China, the E.U., and 144 other countries because it can impair fertility and can cause harm to unborn babies. What is interesting is Celestial Teas has claimed to be “100% Natural”. Lawsuits have come against them for mislabeling. One must be cautious when buying food with certain labels on them, just because they claim to be natural, or organic, doesn’t always mean they are being honest. Teas can contain artificial flavoring, natural flavors, and hidden GMOs. Certain words to look out for on tea ingredients include: natural flavors, artificial flavoring, other natural flavors, soy lecithin, etc. You can breakdown anything that is found in nature and if it ends up tasting like the flavor you are desiring to use, you can add it to your product, and call it a natural flavor.
This is what happens here in America, but things look a bit worse on the other side of things. The treatment of those who are living on the tea plantations is quite terrible. Although the world bank group has defended the treatment of the tea workers, and claims that the workers are not living in terrible conditions. Not a lot of progress has been made to make these conditions better. A lot of promises have been made, and certain conditions have been agreed upon in contracts, yet nothing seems to be changing. “The International Finance Corporation (IFC)-which is a part of the World Bank group-invested $7.8 million in the $87 million project to help preserve jobs and raise standards for workers, but had been criticized for failing to do this.”(Koutsoukis) The tea industry in Assam India has faced many accusations for slave labor. Unions constantly demand higher wages, yet it doesn’t happen. There are about 30,000 tea workers that are employed by Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd (APPL), who are connected to the IFC. APPL was created to take over and properly manage the plantations, they were sent to “fix” the problem, yet had failed to do so. Some of these problems include: low wages, poor housing and sanitation, and exposure to hazardous pesticides without the correct protection. The conditions on the tea plantations are devastating, to say the least. There are no bathrooms, they have to go outside in a ditch. The houses are falling apart that they live in. The sanitation is questionable. As well as no clean drinking water. Malnutrition is also a huge issue on the plantations. Because they are paid so little, it’s hard to find the money to properly feed themselves. It’s said that nine out of ten patients from tea plantations are malnourished. This leaves them vulnerable to diseases, and this means they are at a higher risk of dieing from these diseases because they are malnourished. “The investigation also found IFC’s investment supported an employee share-purchase program in which APPL misrepresented the risks of buying stock, resulting in workers incurring debts.”(Koutsoukis) So the IFC is aiding the workers by helping them create their own debt, so they can remain enslaved to the plantations. One particular plantation in India, the Hattigor tea plantation houses 5,000 workers and their families. One women on the plantation stated: “I was never paid. Nothing. I was made to work until late at night and I had to get up very early in the morning.”(Koutsoukis) The article states that many of the workers on the plantation are third and fourth generation workers who know nothing else but working on the tea plantation. That is there life. They don’t know anything outside of that. Full time workers on the plantation earn $1.75 per day. They work eight hours a day, six days a week. And with that wage they have to buy meals. There children cannot access a good education.
Hazards & Risks
The textbook Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction discusses hazards and risks. How a hazard is considered a thing such as an object, a condition, or a process that threatens people and society dealing with production or reproduction. And a risk is knowing that hazard based decision will have a negative result. I believe that the hazard in this particular scenario is the condition the people are living in on the plantations, and the conditions peoples bodies are in after they drink the tea. One article said that the pesticides that are put into these teas can affect reproductive health in women. So lives are being risked in the countries where the tea is being made, as well as on the producers end. The risk in this scenario would be knowing that putting people at risk will have a negative impact. So those that are in charge of choosing these pesticides, know the risk for the people using them, the environment, and those drinking the tea, but put them at risk anyways, knowing the consequences.
Modern Day Slavery
The people working on the plantations are left in very desperate circumstances. They hardly make any money, and are now in debt, so getting off the plantation is unrealistic. This puts the young women on the plantations in a very vulnerable position. Sex traffickers often visit the plantations and promise the young women who work on these plantations a better job elsewhere. A lot of them take the offer, and are lured away. There are two ways the children can be trafficked, by sex traffickers, or by traffickers that work for agencies that sell children to families who never pay them. One of the young women on the Hattigor plantation said that a man came and took her from the plantation to an office of an employment agency in Delhi. Many children were there, and you stay there until you are placed in a home to work for a family. This women claimed she was never paid, and she endured quite a bit of abuse. This is just one of many cases. The treatment for these children and young women that are lured away is horrendous. Many sleep on the floor and are locked away when they are not working. If they escape, they generally end up back at the plantation. The article said that the agents who put the children into these homes make up to 25,000 rupees per person they sell. So the plantations are putting the people they are supposed to be taking care of at risk by not paying them enough. They are aware the trafficking is going on, yet they don’t pay their workers more to ensure they won’t be sold into slavery. I guess seeing as they are already enslaving them, makes sense why they wouldn’t care too much about them becoming a slave somewhere else. So those that are on the plantations are being treated as slaves, then some are further sold into slavery after promised better wages if they leave the plantations. Yet those that are promised better wages often don’t see any money, and are still mistreated. If those that are sold into slavery end up making it back to the plantation, they just return back to yet another terrible environment, and never see the light of day.
The textbook Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction talks about environmental justice in chapter seven. Environmental justice is a principle that stresses the need for things that should be basic things that every human should be able to have access to such as: parks, clean air, and healthful working conditions. Environmental justice describes how dangerous working and living conditions are often found in minority communities. We can see this on the tea plantations. The people who are on these plantations have darker skin, more than likely don’t speak English, and are treated poorly because of that. And you also notice that the women and children are much more prone to hazards than the men are. The women and young children are more prone to being lured into being trafficked, creating a less safe environment for them. Also, the children that are malnourished, will die from malnutrition more often than an adult will. The textbook discusses Karl Marx’s concepts on labor, accumulation, contradiction, and crisis. And how they all are part of various economies throughout history.(Robbins pg. 100) The labor portion of the chapter talks about how in our world labor integrates nature and society. How the chair you are sitting on was created by something that has been extracted from the earth which impacted nature, and how someone somewhere extracted those materials from the earth, then someone else somewhere made the chair. And how there is a good chance that whoever made it is living in a third world country and being treated poorly. The chapter talks about how in the world we live in, not many people own their own businesses where they make their own products, so we rely on other places to do that for us. You have the capitalists on top controlling the laborers, and consumers are buying what the laborers are making. Marx’s next concept is accumulation, which describes how capitalism began. How it accumulated, and how things had not always been this way. The chapter discusses primitive accumulation, which is how class distinctions between possessors and non-possessors came to be. So in this case the possessors would be the ones who are running the plantations, the capitalists and owners of the tea companies, and the non-possessors would be the ones who are enslaved to the plantations. People were not always enslaved and controlled by the possessors, but capitalism was accumulated over time, and formed to make a few on top, and the rest on the bottom. “These ongoing pressures demand the constant circulation of capital and the continuing expansion of the system, which are both critical for the survival of capitalism and capitalists. (Robbins pg. 104) The more capitalism expands, the more money is made, the more money they can put back into production to make more money. This effects those on the tea plantations in many ways. They are treated poorly so more money can be put into production and into the hands of a few wealthy men. They are hardly paid anything so capitalism can continue to accumulate and go forth. The third concept is contradiction. One of the many contradictions of capitalism is that the individual capitalist appropriates themselves to the product that was made by workers. The work is enslaved to wage. The product of their labor belongs to someone else. The wage that was made is just enough for survival. So they are a wage worker forever. Yet the money made by the capitalist further enslaves the worker. Capitalists are often in competition with one another trying to create a product that will sell better than their competitors products. You constantly see tea flavors arising and changing in various ways. If one company comes out with peach tea, the next company will come out with their own version of peach tea that tries to compete with the other tea company. Companies with use various ways to make products cheaper as well, and the workers are creating these products. All of these concepts lead to crises. To sum of crises, it means that the capitalist system doesn’t, and will never treat the worker with any sort of dignity or respect. Also, the capitalists fight with each other as well, constantly competing, creating an environment where small economic crises can cause political instability, ideological confusion among the ruling class, and intensified class struggle and war. Marx discusses how this crises can lead to the working class rising up and changing things. Marx argues that capitalism creates the possibility to end poverty and inequality amongst the working class. So yes things have been terrible for the people working on these tea plantations for generations as a result of capitalism. But that there is hope. I think that once people wake up and realize what is behind their cup of tea, and the things that are so easily attainable here in America, that there is a price to pay here as well as in other countries, that change can begin to happen. But awareness is key. Many are not aware this is occurring, and that it has been occurring for a very long time now, and will continue to occur as long as people stay silent about it, and as long as people remain blind and captive to it.
Many are suffering in our world today as the result of capitalism. This paper discusses how capitalism impacts lives in India, as well as lives here in America. How it is truly impacts everyone in the world. It connects us and many don’t realize it. A system has been created in our world where there is a pyramid, a class system. Capitalists are on top, then the rest our on the bottom. Some on the bottom suffer much more than others, though. The workers on the tea plantations are considered workers, yet they hardly make any money, and those who make more many than them in first world countries, still are under the capitalists and are aiding to their wealth, but are able to enjoy the fruit of their suffering and labor. So who wins? Those making all the money who will one day die and realize they can’t bring their money with them? Or those in first world countries who (for the most part) don’t realize they are also part of this social class that has been created. Or those who are on the bottom of the scale, who live in terrible conditions, who suffer much and are stuck in that way of living unless something is done. I think it’s time for radical change in our world. I think it’s time for people to wake up
Babe, Food. “Do You Know What's Really In Your Tea?” Food Babe, 1 Feb. 2016, foodbabe.com/2013/08/21/do-you-know-whats-really-in-your-tea/comment-page-16/.
Contradictions in Capitalism, www.workers.org/2012/us/contradictions_in_capitalism_0223/.
Dwyer, Liz. “Your Next Cup of Tea Could Be Supporting Child Slavery.” TakePart, 8 Sept. 2015, www.takepart.com/video/2015/09/08/next-cup-of-tea-supporting-child-slavery.
International Socialist Review, isreview.org/issues/32/crisis_theory.shtml.
Koutsoukis, Jason. “Tea Workers in India Falling Prey to Human Traffickers.” The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Dec. 2014, www.smh.com.au/world/tea-workers-in-india-falling-prey-to-human-traffickers-20141204-120eql.html.
Robbins, Paul, et al. Environment and Society: a Critical Introduction. Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.
Rowlatt, Justin, and Jane Deith. “The Bitter Story behind the UK's National Drink.” BBC News, BBC, 8 Sept. 2015, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-34173532.
“Tea Pesticide Flavored.” Down to Earth, www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/tea-pesticide-flavoured-18870.