• Tea is the second most-commonly consumed beverage after water, at a rate of 15,000 cups per second.
  • Globally, 80% of tea produced is black tea, 18% is green tea, and 2% is oolong.
  • Tea is grown in 36 countries. The six largest producing countries in order are China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Turkey, and account for 80% of world output. 


  • In the early 1990s, 90% of the Western trade was controlled by seven transnational  companies and 85% of world production was sold by multinationals.
  • The largest of these companies is Unilever, which owns 98% of the tea produced in India.
  • Unilever’s major brands include Lipton, PG Tips and Red Label, and is sold in over 100 countries.
  • The Tata Tea group is the second largest global tea brand, sold in over 60 countries.


  • Tea plantations are sprayed with different agrochemicals to protect tea bushes and enhance productivity.
  • Application of hazardous and toxic agrochemicals negatively affect the local environment, such as severely reducing soil biodiversity and polluting water supplies that harm aquatic life, animals and people who depend on the rivers for water.
  • Untrained casual daily wage workers, typically illiterate children and adolescents who cannot read label warnings on containers, are often the ones who spray pesticides such as Aldrin 20E, Carbofuran 30,  Endosulfan 35 EC, Malathion 50 EC, Tetradifon 8 EC, Calixin 80 EC, some of which are banned.
  • There is supposed to be an 8-10 day gap  between spraying and plucking, but many tea estate owners do not allow their workers to follow this safety measure. Despite the dangerous exposure to toxic materials, workers are often not provided with  protective and safety gear such as masks, gloves, goggles, rubber  boots, and polythene aprons.


  • Historically, tea laborers are unskilled, paid at minimal levels, and highly dependent on tea estate owners for basic needs such as health care, housing, access to water and education for their children.
  • Workers in India face the additional threat of owners closing or abandoning tea estates. The estates are often geographically isolated, so that if they are closed down, the workers can starve.
  • Even the highest paid tea laborers struggle to live on their wages. As global food prices have risen sharply, many workers report that their salaries are not enough to pay for food and shelter for their families, and they struggle with other basic necessities such as clothing, health care and education.
  • Consequently, there is widespread malnutrition and medical studies have found that 60% of the children on Indian tea estates are underweight.

Climate Changes

  • Since tea production is heavily reliant on established rainfall patterns, tea producers living in rural areas are highly vulnerable to climate change.
  • slopes of the hillside, and reduce their crops and family income. 
  • Globally, there has been a reduction in overall rainfall levels in many tea-producing regions. These changes have been linked to deforestation and changing weather patterns. The rainfall that does come is often more extreme with long dry periods punctuated by violent floods. As a result, water is not properly absorbed into the soil and/or water table.

Why Fair Trade?

Economic empowerment

  • Tea laborers from Fairtrade certified tea estates benefit from the Fairtrade Premium price paid on the global market.
  • The Fairtrade premium cannot be used towards operating expenses, but to improve living and working conditions.
  • The Fairtrade mark also allows tea producers to access new markets.
  • Workers’ salaries must be equal to or higher than the regional average or minimum wage

Basic rights

  • Workers have the right to establish or join unions
  • Health and safety measures must be created and adhered to
  • Labor by children 15 years and under is prohibited, and labor for children over 15 cannot interfere with their education

Case Studies – Examples of Fairtrade Premium Use

Mabel Growers’ Tea Factory Ltd: Kayenjojo District, Western Uganda

  • The premium has been used to fund 100 kilometers of community roads. It has also gone toward road improvements, due to the inevitable potholes and other damage caused by heavy rains and strong suns.
  • A safe water project was completed in 2007, where shallow wells were constructed with concrete covers to protect from contamination.
  • In partnership with the government, a healthcare unit with dispensary was built at the factory. The factory provides the salaries of a clinical officer, midwife, two nurses and support staff while the government supplies free vaccines and supports acquisition of medicine.

Further Information



  • A Time for Tea: Women, Labor, and Post/Colonial Politics on an Indian Plantation, by Piya Chatterjee, 2001, Duke University Press Books
  • India’s Global Tea Trade: Reducing Shares, Declining Competitiveness, by V.N. Asopa, 2011, Allied Publishers
  • The True History of Tea, by Erling Hoh and Victor Mair, 2009, Thames and Hudson

Movies and Video

Meet the Farmer/Producer


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2 “Tea: Production” United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). (2006). Retrieved from: http://unctad.org/infocomm/espagnol/te/mercado.htm
3 “Tea: Trade Issues for the ACP” Agritrade and Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA). (2010). Retrieved from: http://agritrade.cta.int/en/content/view/full/2508
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7 “Tea: Business” United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). (2006).
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10 “The Tea Market: A Background Study” Oxfam. (2002) p. 22. 
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13 Morser, A. “A Bitter Cup: The Exploitation of Tea Workers in India and Kenya Supplying British Supermarkets” War on Want Development House. (2010) p. 6. Retrieved from:
14 Morser, A. (2010) p. 4.
15 Morser, A. (2010) p. 4.
16 Schepp, K. “How Can Small-Scale Coffee and Tea Producers Adapt to Climate Change?”
Adaptation for Smallholders to Climate Change (AdapCC) and Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (Germany). (2010) p. 4.  Retrieved from: http://www.adapcc.org/download/Final-report_Adapcc_17032010.pdf
17 Schepp, K. (2010) p. 4.
18 “Tea” Fair Trade Internationl. n.d.
19 “Tea” Fair Trade Internationl. n.d.
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