A living wage for Malawian tea workers comes one step closer

26 Oct 2016 IDH’s tea program in Malawi is one step closer to realize a living wage for Malawian tea workers. The living wage gap is closed by 20%.

One year after starting the journey to revitalize the tea sector, the Malawi Tea 2020 coalition has seen improvements around wages and in general working and living conditions of tea estate workers including nutrition and worker representation. Tea industry wages are now 2/3rds of a living wage (when including in-kind benefits), and are more than 50% higher than the rural minimum wage in Malawi.

Malawian tea is being used in many tea blends sold in supermarkets. Malawi is Africa’s second largest tea producer, after Kenya. Malawi is also one of the world’s poorest countries; 62% of Malawians live below the World Bank’s extreme poverty line, and there is a lack of access to adequate nutrition for about 50% of the children. The tea industry is the largest formal sector employer in Malawi, employing 50,000 workers and providing livelihoods to more than 12,000 smallholders.

In anticipation of the sector’s future, IDH, together with ETP, TAML, and Oxfam, convened a coalition of more than 20 organizations that publicly committed to a more profitable and competitive Malawian tea sector. This means producers should be enabled to pay living wages, and smallholders to earn a living income. Together, the coalition produces, trades, sells, and buys the vast majority of Malawian tea. Players include procurers, certification organizations, producer organizations, and government bodies.

Jordy van Honk, Program Director Tea at IDH, said: “Over the last year, wages have increased significantly. Compared to when the program started, the gap between cash wages and a living wage has been narrowed by twenty percent. A big long lasting step has been the first ever collective bargaining agreement in the tea sector in Malawi. It’s encouraging to see the power of partnerships. The entire tea value chain has worked together in the last year, and is committed to improve the tea industry in Malawi. Buyers are positive about changes they can make in terms of sustainable procurement practices, and producers continue to make steps around replanting, irrigation and improved working and living conditions of tea estate workers.”

The Malawi Tea 2020 Annual Progress Report highlights the progress made in the first year since IDH’s tea program in Malawi started. Improvements include:

  • The Tea sector in Malawi has narrowed the gap between current wages and a  living wage by twenty percent
  • The first ever Collective Bargaining Agreement has been agreed between the tea industry and Plantation Union
  • Tea estate wages are more than fifty percent higher than the rural minimum wage in Malawi
  • Workers receive a more nutritious diet every day
  • Every fifth tea farmer has been trained to improve the quality of their tea farming; two thirds of these are women

The full press release on the Malawi Tea 2020 first years progress can be found here.

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