The Bitter Story Behind the UK’s National Drink

Every now and then I see someone remark that obviously I lifted the conditions on Fosyf’s tea estate (in Ancillary Sword) from the Antebellum South. In point of fact, I did not. I was (I thought fairly undisguisedly) thinking about actual conditions on actual Earth tea plantations. And if anything, I soft-pedaled it. Because the actual facts would have seemed cartoonishly, mustache-twirlingly unreal.

Except it would have been entirely real.


The joint investigation by Radio 4’s File on Four and BBC News in Assam, north-east India, found workers living in broken houses with terrible sanitation. Many families have no toilets and say they have no choice but to defecate amongst the tea bushes.
Living and working conditions are so bad, and wages so low, that tea workers and their families are left malnourished and vulnerable to fatal illnesses.
There was also a disregard for health and safety, with workers spraying chemicals without protection, and on some estates, child labour being used.


And turns out, the Rainforest Alliance’s certification, which is supposed to let consumers know that the tea they’re buying was ethically produced, doesn’t actually mean much.

None of this surprises me.

I am not posting this in the hope people will stop drinking tea–Mithras knows I drink gallons of the stuff myself. But this is going on. And it might be worth thinking about where else it’s happening and we just don’t see it.