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Even if you don’t drink fair trade coffee, chances are you’ve already heard about the low wages and poor working conditions many coffee farmers experience around the world. Maybe you’ve even turned to tea as a more sustainable and humane alternative to that morning cup of coffee. Unfortunately for tea lovers everywhere, The Guardian has some bad news: Wages for tea-pickers in India are incredibly low – less than 20 cents per hour. In fact, they’re so low that parents can’t afford to support their children, making their daughters easy prey for traffickers.

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The traffickers promise parents that their children will be taken to cities like Delhi, where they will be paid good wages as a maid with a local placement agency. Instead, they are sold as domestic slaves, paid nothing, and physically and sexually abused. Many end up the sex trade. While most of the girls are teenagers, some are as young as 12 years old.

Some of the girls manage to escape after a few years, or persuade the agencies to send them back to their villages. But some are never heard from again. In 2011-12 alone, government figures show over 126,000 children were rescued from traffickers – and those are only the child slaves that law enforcement knows about.

So what about fair trade tea labels – surely those brands are paying living wages to tea plantation workers, right? Sadly, that’s not the case. These low wages are standard throughout the industry, set by the plantations themselves.

Though fair trade brands and certification organizations are pushing for fair wages, tea producers claim they are unable to pay more and still stay in business. To their credit, organizations like The Rainforest Alliance and Oxfam aren’t taking “no” for an answer – they’re pushing for suppliers for some of the world’s biggest tea brands, including Lipton, to pay fair wages within the next 5 years.

In the meantime, what’s a socially-conscious tea lover to do? Well, there are a few things. You could consider cutting back on tea, switching to fair trade coffee, or donating to Oxfam International. And don’t hesitate to write to your favorite tea labels, letting them know you want to see them paying fair compensation to the hard-working tea pickers who make your favorite beverage possible.

Via The Guardian