Today is Blog Action Day, a day where bloggers unite to highlight important issues. This year's issue is 'human rights'. Ok, ok, don't stop reading, it's not some hippy dippy grab your signs and protest kind of blog, after all I'm not that kind of person! There is something however that I think is important for tea drinkers to know, it's something we can all do to make life a little brighter for people who may not have the same opportunities as we do.
Human rights means a variety of different things to different people. Straight forward, human rights can be considered as every human being treated with dignity and having equal rights. This is seen as the foundations for freedom, justice and peace in our world. You can read The Universal Declaration of Human Rights here.
So, what does this have to do with tea you ask? A few years ago I didn't think at all about where my tea came from, I actually had no real idea what Fair Trade was. I just thought it was some Oxfam thing where poor people got jobs, which is pretty ignorant. It wasn't until I watched the BBC series Blood, Sweat and Luxuries that I realised what Fair Trade really meant and could see how it would seriously change peoples lives. This series sent half a dozen young Brits to third world producers of goods we readily consume such as gold, gemstones and coffee. It was a real eye opener. I believe that we take a lot for granted living in the first world, like a minimum wage, safe workplace and access to education. We have opportunities that so many others simply don't have access to.
For example, a boy works in a gem mine, which is just a hole in the floor of someones house. He's lowered down the narrow hole on a makeshift pulley. There is no safety. His air is pumped through some plastic bags that have been joined together by a man waving a bag in the wind outside. At the end of the day his employer will take the gems to the local buyer. He might receive $20 for them and the boy who found them might receive $2. The buyer, who generally has some education, will then sell the gems on to be cut and polished. He might receive $100. The corporation that cuts and polishes the gems then sells them to jewellery manufacturers for say $3000. The finished products are then sold to consumers for around $10,000. It is a similar story in industries such as gold, leather, coffee, electronics and tea. When we want a cheaper product it's not usually the large corporations where money is lost from, it's those lower down the chain.
Initially I thought, well that's the person down the bottoms problem. They should go to school and get a better job. The thing is, this simply is not possible. These people do not have the chance to further themselves. The small amount of money they receive is spent on housing and food and they have no time to attend classes as that would result in a loss of income, which they simply can't afford. Essentially they are trapped and that's the way many manufactures would like to keep it to ensure a steady supply of cheap product. What really hit me was when the young Brits asked one of the workers what he would like to do with his life. His reply was that he would like to finish school and study to become a journalist. The interesting thing was that nearly every worker they spoke to wanted to go to school, they wanted to be better than what they were. The sad reality is that the majority will be stuck in that position, so will their children and most likely their grandchildren.
So what does this have to do with human rights? Article 26 of the declaration relates to education:
- (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
- (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
- (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
The fact is these people who produce our favourite product -tea- don't have equal access to higher education, regardless of merit however as they generally don't have an opportunity to attend high school this would rule out higher education opportunities. In addition, many parents are unable to offer their children education let alone choose their education.
What does this have to do with Fair Trade and tea? Fair Trade sees the workers having an equal share in the business. Instead of paraphrasing I'll just let Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand explain it:
So, when you see this logo you know that what you are buying is certified Fair Trade and you are supporting the people who help to make your beautiful cup of tea possible. This means that they can send their children school, their communities have better access to education and healthcare and they are able to be treated equally and with dignity. Some tea companies claim to be 'ethical' tea producers however unless they have this logo they are not certified.
So where can you get Fair Trade tea? It's actually not that prevalent in most supermarkets. There is more unethically produced tea in our supermarket isles than Fair Trade product. I think that's a real shame. Some of our largest tea manufacturers, who could and should be running Fair Trade operations aren't.
Some great products to try include Qi Tea. They have a full operation in remote China where the villagers are able to be educated within the industry and have secure and fair employment. They recently opened a new building where 40 more people now have jobs in processing and packing. You can buy their tea in most supermarkets or from their online store.
You could also try loose leaf tea from Tielka. They are on my list of teas to try as the blends sound delicious.
I've said it before and I'll gladly say it again. Ethical tea just tastes better.
You can find out more about Fair Trade here. So buy Fair Trade and support peoples basic human rights. It's a no brainer!
Back to Blood Sweat and Luxuries. The girls on the show stayed with a young girl in India who worked in a clothing factory. She didn't want to work there but had no choice. She lived in a house consisting of one room no bigger than my bathroom. The girls asked her what she would do if she had the opportunity? She couldn't financially afford night classes. She wanted to be a chef. The girls banded together and for a few of their own dollars they paid for her to attend night classes to train as a chef. Unfortunately we can't do that for everyone but we can help them by supporting Fair Trade organisations.
Happy tea drinking and happy Blog Action Day