World Tea Expo
Pre-Conference: June 11-14, 2018
Conference & Expo: June 12-14, 2018
Las Vegas Convention Center, South Hall

Can a Tea Plantation Be Fair? Paradoxes and Promises of Fair Trade in Darjeeling, India

  • Thursday, 06/15/2017: 8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
  • Room: N239
  • Session Number:  CS52


Darjeeling is among the world's most expensive tea, but its workers are among India's lowest-paid. Drawing on interviews and long-term research in Darjeeling, I will discuss a disconnect between tea plantation laborers' understandings of what they call "justice" and fair trade certifiers' vision of "fairness."

Learning Objectives

Fair trade, organic, shade grown – these labels guide our purchasing and attest to the ostensibly optimized production conditions of products they adorn; conditions that we believe are better as the result of our purchases. “Fair trade plantation” may seem like an oxymoron, as plantation workers are not cooperative farmers. They are industrial laborers who have little capacity to make democratic decisions in the face of the plantation’s structural oppression. In the late 1990s, tea plantations in Darjeeling became the first plantations in the world to receive fair trade certification. Hope was high among certifying agencies that fair trade would alleviate the inequities of tea production, yet despite these hopes, the region’s plantation laborers remain some of the tea industry’s worst paid workers. I will spotlight frictions between fair trade and the plantation system and highlights how in India, fair trade undermines existing state welfare structures.