Mr GB Henriksen - UNTE, India

Mr Henriksen has been employed by The United Nilgiri Tea Estates Co Ltd (UNTE) for 18 years.

About Mr Henriksen

Mr Henriksen has multiple managerial responsibilities including those for export processes and certification compliance and the roles of office manager, labour welfare officer, public relations officer, and manager of estate schools and hospital administration. As Fairtrade officer he is responsible for overseeing compliance with Fairtrade standards and co-ordinating Fairtrade matters between workers and management.

 I have a message for the UK people: buy more Fairtrade teas, make us happy, make the community happy where a lot of lives have benefitted out of this. Keep buying Fairtrade teas.

 Mr Henriksen 

Mr Henriksen graduated in English Literature and has postgraduate qualifications in personnel management, labour welfare, export marketing and management, Indian labour law, and industrial relations.

Background to United Nilgiri Tea Estates

UNTE head office is located at Coimbatore and it operates four tea estates in the picturesque Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu in south India: Chamraj, Allada Valley, Devabetta and Korakundah, all of them Fairtrade certified. Chamraj is the largest, extending across 1,500ha (3,700 acres) with an elevation ranging from 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) to 2,414 metres (8,000 ft) and employing 930 workers. Its modern tea factory processes tea grown on all four of the company’s estates.

In the 1980s and 1990s tea growers in south India largely switched from producing Orthodox leaf tea to producing lower quality CTC (Crush, Tear and Curl) tea for the growing quick brew and tea bag markets. In recent years many growers have struggled to survive or have abandoned production because of low auction prices and lack of demand for their tea as traditional buyers turned to better value Kenyan tea while domestic demand failed to expand as predicted.

Chamraj took the commercial decision to continue producing its distinctive black, green and oolong Orthodox teas and is now a leading ethical tea producer certified by eight bodies, including organic and Fairtrade. Around 85% of its annual production of 1,200 tonnes of tea is exported to high value speciality markets in the UK, Japan, Germany and the US, with the Fairtrade market accounting for 10% of exports.

Social provision

Tea estates in India are legally obliged to provide basic primary education, healthcare, housing, and other welfare facilities to their workforce.

As well as its primary school, Chamraj runs a popular secondary school open to non-estate children from surrounding villages. It has grown rapidly and estate children now only make up 30% of the 1,200 students, 60% of them girls. The school is proud of its academic record and the commitment of its students, demonstrated by its zero drop-out rate. 

The 60-bed estate hospital is equipped with operating theatres and X-ray, ECG, and ultrasound scanning facilities and is also available to villagers from outside the estate.

Fairtrade premium projects

UNTE and Chamraj Tea Estate were Fairtrade certified in 1994, making them one of the first Fairtrade producers in India.  They have been supplying the UK Fairtrade market for 15 years and Mr Henriksen has been a part of the partnership with Fairtrade from the beginning.

Fairtrade standards include a minimum price which is calculated to cover the costs of sustainable production. The Fairtrade premium is an additional sum designated specifically for estate workers to invest in social projects of their choice. After consulting the workforce, projects are selected by a Joint Body (JB) of elected workers’ representatives assisted by management representatives, including Mr Henriksen, whose role is to guide the JB in administration, finance, communications, and project management.

The Fairtrade premium has funded or part-funded many projects that have brought real benefits to the workers and their communities:

Pension scheme

The enormously popular pension scheme, funded entirely by the premium, brings much-needed security to retired employees. At 58, tea estate workers typically vacate their estate housing and retire to their home villages where, with just a small annuity and no ready means of income, they face a financially uncertain future. This scheme provides a lump sum sufficient to buy or build a house and provides a monthly income for 10 years. So far 164 workers have benefitted from the scheme.

Education

Two school buses have been purchased to ensure children who live as far as 30km away arrive safely at school each day. The estate primary school has been provided with craft equipment and abacuses and the playground has been extended. The secondary school aims to give the children of tea workers and other villagers the opportunities in life that weren’t available to their parents. The salaries of two of the secondary teachers are partly paid with the Fairtrade premium and classes are held in both Tamil and English up to age 18 to prepare students for college and university. English education is not widely taught in local government schools and is therefore normally very expensive, but parents here only pay a small fee for their children, most of whom are the first generation in their family to regularly attend school. The school boasts a 100% pass rate in Standard English Medium, necessary for many college courses, which is a huge boost for students’ future career prospects.

Clearly proud, Mr Gerard Pinto, Director of UNTE and Chamraj, said: ‘We have children who have become doctors, engineers, graduates, some of them have gone to the US with engineering and information technology and this gives us great pleasure.’

The school’s premium-funded computer lab was originally equipped with 12 computers but management was so impressed with students’ progress that they bought another 28. The school has also been provided with biology, chemistry, and physics laboratory facilities and a new three-storey, eight-classroom multimedia centre is due to be opened in early 2010.

The premium has also helped pay for a hostel for secondary school students who live too far away to travel each day, as well as crèches, and an orphanage.

Healthcare

The estate’s 60-bed hospital has been equipped with an ultrasound scanner for use in pregnancies and x-ray machines to diagnose fractures, and the salary of a part-time male doctor is funded. Villagers from outside the estate can use the facilities for a small fee and now make up 70% of patients. The excellent facilities mean they receive good quality treatment, reducing the need to make the long trip to the nearest government hospital.   

Waterborne diseases are endemic to the region so workers and their families have benefitted from free hepatitis B and typhoid vaccinations and children are given blood tests every six months.

Social

Workers have been provided with pressure cookers, gas stoves and gas bottles, so ending the need to spend hours collecting firewood from the forest. Homes have received free satellite TV connections and the community hall has been equipped with furniture.

Looking to the future, Mr Pinto said: ‘We would love to sell all our tea as Fairtrade tea. That is not only good for the company as it yields higher prices but especially for the workers. Look what has been accomplished with the premium money and imagine what would happen if all our tea was sold as Fairtrade. Major changes could be achieved.’