The United Nations adopted a catchy slogan in 1968 to initiate a bottom-up approach to development. “Trade Not Aid” was supposed to increase trade between developed and developing countries while simultaneously decreasing conflict, poverty, and the exploitation of workers.
The motto from the 1960s was the beginning of the fair trade movement, the world’s first market-based approach to providing economic sustainability to the countries of the South. Americans’ and Europeans’ steadfast commitment to such a seemingly noble cause has allowed fair trade to expand immensely, especially within the tea industry.
However, the tea industry continues to be more manipulative and exploitative than most people realize. Millions of tea workers are exploited, discriminated against, abused and kept under inhuman conditions, Tom Heinemann, an award-winning Danish journalist and co-director of the documentary Flip the Coin-The Bitter Taste of Tea, explained to MediaGlobal.
Fairtrade operates by raising the prices of third-world goods and selling them in first-world markets. The increased cost is supposed to go to the workers to increase their income and improve working conditions. But the reality is that tea workers rarely see any benefits of fair trade, and the manager of the estate often controls the money that is supposed to be shared by the employees.
The increased price of tea and the unequal distribution of revenue reduce the amount of tea production needed for the managers to earn their desired level of income. Subsequently, workers are often restricted to only working four days per week, which leads to a devastating loss of wages for already impoverished people. In some cases, the workers are unaware they are involved in a fair trade agreement, effectively allowing the cycle of exploitation to continue.