Twinings: Empowering tea workers in Sri Lanka and Malawi

A member of the tea growing community part of the Twinings CDF programme. Picture taken during the dissemination of Covid-19 emergency dry ration support.

As part of their Sourced with Care programme, Twinings is collaborating with CARE International to improve the lives of tea estate workers, smallholder farmers and their families in Sri Lanka and Malawi. The partnership is applying a tool devised by CARE with the aim of not only improving the working environment and gender equality but also the sustainability of the wider tea industry Twinings’ Sri Lankan supply chain.  

CARE has been working to improve the lives and living conditions of tea estate communities for over two decades. We have been implementing Community Development Forums (CDF) on tea estates, an innovative model which act like ‘mini parliaments’ to facilitate dialogue between workers, management and the wider community.   

Our approach puts the community at the heart of the solution, creating a sustainable workforce by empowering workers, especially women and young people.   

The CDF model opens up new channels of communication, enabling important discussions and collective decisions about community development (such as health or education) and labour conditions. Everything is negotiated and decided in a transparent way. Management, tea pluckers and workers, unions, and community leaders are all represented; importantly, women are given an equal role and encouraged to participate.

An independent evaluation by the New Economics Foundation found that for every $1 invested in CARE’s worker empowerment programming (CDFs), $42 dollars of social value was produced, with over $26 accruing directly to the host estate.

Sri Lanka  

Despite significant increases in social welfare, Sri Lankan tea estate communities remain socially and economically marginalised. In some regions, workers can experience poor living conditions and sometimes lack efficient communication channels to redress grievances with their employers. This can lead to unmet needs and aspirations of the worker population, thus causing repercussions for the sector’s productivity, profitability and sustainability.   

The CDF programme was established as a pilot in Sri Lanka in 2017 in partnership with Twinings and Chrysalis, the implementing partner in Sri Lanka, to address these needs, and during the pilot programme established 7 CDFs. Since the beginning of the partnership, we have indirectly reached over 39,000 people, and since 2019, the project has focused on establishing and strengthening 3 more CDFs and reaching over 5,000 tea estate workers with the benefits of CDFs, while indirectly reaching over 16,000 family members.

Watch this video to learn more about the CDF model and our partnership in Sri Lanka:

Malawi  

Since 2018, CARE and Twinings have been working together in the Mulanje district on the Eastern side of Malawi in the Southern Region, where the major economic activity is tea-growing. The tea industry employs more than 95% of people in the area on a permanent and temporary basis but the majority of those are temporary, usually working and earning an income from December to May. The dry season provides no work and very few farmers have an alternative way of earning a living.  

Our joint effort is to achieve economically sustainable, healthier and more empowered communities who can continue to sustainably produce quality, ethically-sourced tea.  

The project uses the CDF model to help vulnerable communities in tea growing areas of Mulanje who totally depend on wages from tea estates to diversify their livelihood and create a forum for women’s economic empowerment, improved livelihood and nutrition security. The project aims to directly impact the lives of 2,200 tea workers and 1,000 smallholder farmers, and indirectly improve the lives of 20,000 tea community and family members through community outreach activities and the impact of the CDF approaches.