Producer Voices: Oothu Singampatti Tea Estates, India
"Through the Fair Trade premium, the workers are empowered to initiate self-driven projects outside of the scope of what the management provides. Some of the most empowering initiatives have focused on educating their children in order to provide better work opportunities for the next generation. Fair Trade has allowed these workers to access new opportunities and to grow along with the business. As for strengthening our organization, I would say the tea workers feel more involved with the organization because they receive a premium thanks to Fair Trade sales. Fair Trade is by far the most comprehensive program that not only provides disadvantaged workers with access to better opportunities for themselves but also for their children." - Bharath Mandanna, Vice President of Bombay Burmah Trading CompanyIn many contexts, the transition to becoming Fair Trade is difficult due to years of harmful ecological practices and oppressive conditions for small scale farmers. Once in a while, though, the conversion is as natural as the organic products that are already being grown. Oothu Singampatti is one such example. Founded in 1929, the estates are nestled into the hills among tropical evergreen forests of the Kalakkad and Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. It was the first tea grower in India to adopt bio-dynamic growing techniques and the first to become organic. After having adopted these practices, shifting to Fair Trade certification in 1995 was a natural evolution. Since becoming certified, the estates have initiated monumental education, health and microfinance programs that have drastically improved the lives of the workers. The estate allocated educational stipends to 131 children in 2008-2009, with the hope that through education the next generation can avoid backbreaking field work. The estate workers voted this year to use premium funds for life insurance plans. Frequently, when the major breadwinner of the family dies children and relatives of the deceased lack the funds needed to cover funeral costs or to carry themselves over until other family members find work. Life insurance offers a buffer so that even in times of tragedy, the family is provided for. To help avoid such tragedies, free medical treatment in local hospitals is provided. Premium funds and fair wages give tea estate workers agency over their lives and their community, and the ability to achieve sustainable growth.