“It's an unfair system”

Tea from India's Darjeeling region is among the best and most expensive in the world. But the pickers get only a starvation wage. In an interview with the CBA, Anuradha Talwar, an Indian trade unionist, makes demands on politicians and business.

Catholic News Agency (KNA): Ms. Talwar, under what conditions do the pickers work on the plantations in West Bengal??

Anuradha Talwar: Working conditions are very poor. It is an unfair system. A picker must deliver 25 to 30 baskets of leaves a day to earn a daily wage equivalent to about 1.50 euros. This yields up to seven baskets of finished tea, which fetches around 495 euros on the market. So the pickers get only a fraction of the final amount. In addition to the hard work, the health and education systems are in poor condition. In addition, people live directly on the plantations in houses of the administration. Employers can evict pickers whenever they want to.

CBA: They draw special attention to the situation of women on the plantations. Why are the female pickers worse off than their male colleagues??
Talwar: Women make up 60 to 70 percent of the labor force on plantations. Because the work is thus considered women's work, it is also paid less. It's a downward spiral. Many men have left the plantations in recent years and so women have also had to take on hard work in the factories or the night shifts. And they only ever work as pickers. They are hardly to be found in high positions or in the companies. The cases of human trafficking that occur also mainly involve women and children. When pickers complain of sexual harassment, no one in the gardens cares.

CBA: There are also closures of plantations again and again. What happens then to the workers who even live on the plantations?

Talwar: People there are struggling to survive. They often work in quarries on the site. At work, they ruin the fine hands they need to pick tea. In addition, serious injuries such as broken bones often occur. But medical care is poor. The people there existed from less than 1.200 calories a day. That is shocking. Going to a closed tea garden is a depressing experience. The people there are hopeless.

CBA: Is there any help for people from the Indian state?

Talwar: The government has passed laws to ensure the livelihood and medical care of the people in the abandoned tea gardens. Since then, the deaths and hunger there have also decreased. But some large companies do not report these gardens as closed. The government is not aggressive enough and does not want to mess with the companies.

CBA: The G7 countries set a goal at the last summit to improve working conditions in international supply chains. What do you demand from politics and industry?

Talwar: Germany is one of the largest importers of high quality tea from India. Therefore, especially German companies have the responsibility to exert prere. They need to monitor the whole supply chain and ensure fair wages and good working conditions even at the end of the chain. They must not shift responsibility to the countries where the workers live. After all, they are making a very good business from trade while others are starving. There also needs to be more transparency in supply chains. From my point of view, the promises of the G7 countries are not effective because they are not binding.

CBA: Would an agreement along the lines of the textile alliance of Development Minister Gerd Muller (CSU) be a solution??

Talwar: This is also a voluntary approach. A businessman who wants to make a profit knows exactly what he is doing. To ame that this person will stick to voluntary agreements is naive. As long as people can still remember the shock of Rana Plaza, such an alliance will work. But once people forget about it, they return to normalcy. We need a standard that is binding for companies all over the world.

CBA: What do they think of the many tea projects by organizations like Oxfam that also advocate for transparency in supply chains?

Talwar: These campaigns are good. They draw attention to the problems, make people think. It's not enough to donate money because people are miserable elsewhere. People must learn not to be just consumers and start asking questions of politicians and, above all, companies. Look all the way down the global supply chain!

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