Poor tea pickers pay the price for a British cuppa | Letter

While I empathise with Luke Turner’s plea for tea, that most iconic “British” beverage, to be affordable to all (Why I’m campaigning for the £1 cuppa to be available all around Britain, 6 November), I also beg him to consider the women and men (but mostly women) who pluck the leaves that produce it.

The tea industry itself is a British phenomenon – its empire thrived on its vast international tea trade, powered by indentured labour trapped on plantations that were modelled on the cotton plantations of America. Sadly, many of those characteristics remain, and part of what is sustaining them is the low cost of tea. The price that producers are paid for processed tea leaves has remained static for decades (and has therefore plummeted in real terms), while production costs have risen – with a sharp spike driven by post-Covid inflation.

This has left workers on tea plantations – who were already paid “poverty wages”, according to Oxfam – struggling to survive, as highlighted in a Guardian article on Sri Lanka published in May.

Some tea companies are going out of business as a result, leaving their workforce destitute. It is likely that only a tiny proportion of the £2.25 that Luke had to pay for his British Library cuppa will go back to the producers and the women and men they employ, and reducing the price to £1 would almost certainly reduce the fraction they receive even further. This isn’t sustainable.

The industry is in crisis. If Britain wants to keep its beloved cuppa, it needs to be prepared to pay the price that will enable those who produce it to have a decent standard of living.
Sabita Banerji
CEO, Thirst (the International Roundtable for Sustainable Tea)

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