SLG Syndication

SLG Syndication is committed to aggregating excerpts from news published by international news agencies and key insights on contemporary issues published by think tanks. Our aim is to facilitate the expansion of its reach while giving due credit to the original source.

People’s Health Tribunal Finds Shell and Total Energy Guilty of Harming African Communities


A panel of environmental and human rights activists acted as judges in a People’s Health Tribunal organized by communities on the African continent impacted by the operations of extractive corporations Shell and TotalEnergies. Supported by organizations like Medact, We the People, the People’s Health Movement, and #StopEACOP, on May 20, the Tribunal found the corporations guilty of harming the health of people across Africa.

Nnimmo Bassey, Jacqueline Patterson, Kanahus Manuel, and Dimah Mahmoud condemned Shell and Total’s activities, stating that they were “extremely harmful to the livelihoods, health, right to shelter, quality of life, right to live in dignity, quality of environment, right to live free of discrimination and oppression, right to clean water, and right to self-determination.” This edition of the People’s Health Tribunal was built as activists witnessed extensive greenwashing by the oil and gas industry at COP27 in Egypt last year.

Decades of exploitation of African land have resulted in devastating consequences, including air pollution, water contamination, deforestation, violence, land grabbing, and forced migration. Omar Elmawi, who provided an overview of TotalEnergies’s impact on Mozambican communities, emphasized that in the current situation, “everyone loses, except Total.” Elmawi said he believed that African countries must take control of their own resources and development to make sure that justice is restored.

Governments in the Global North, where most extractive corporations have their headquarters, still choose to ignore the destruction caused by these industries. In 2022, Shell made a profit of $40 billion, while TotalEnergies ended the year with $36 billion in profits.

from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service

WFP Expected to Cut Food Aid to Palestine Due to Lack of Funding


Almost 200,000 Palestinians could be without critical humanitarian food aid starting next month, according to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). The agency had said earlier this month that almost 60 percent of Palestinians it was providing food vouchers for will stop receiving them by June, due to an acute funding deficit.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza are suffering from decades of economic decline due to the constraints, barriers, and restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation as well as frequent Israeli raids and attacks. According to the latest WFP statistics, 1.84 million Palestinians, or roughly about 35 percent of the total population, are currently suffering from food insecurity at various levels.

According to reports, the WFP will be forced to close down its operations in the West Bank and Gaza by August if there is no new funding by then.

The WFP estimates that $51 million is required to continue its operations in Palestine until the end of this year. It has called for regular, stable funding to continue providing vital food aid to Palestinians in the coming years. The food aid program for Palestine has reportedly already been reduced by 20 percent for May 2023.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” said Samer Abdeljaber, WFP representative and country director in Palestine. “We have no option but to stretch the limited resources we have to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable families are met. They will go hungry without food assistance.”

from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service

Nicolás Maduro Makes Historic Trip to Brazil for South American Presidents’ Summit


Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro participated in a joint press conference on May 29 from the Planalto Palace in Brasília, highlighting the importance of resuming ties. The press conference was held following a bilateral meeting between the heads of state ahead of the South American Presidents’ Summit.

As Lula told media, “This is a historic moment. After eight years, President Nicolás Maduro is back to visiting Brazil and we have recovered our right to have a foreign policy with the seriousness we have always had, especially with the countries that border Brazil.”

Their meeting took place days after Lula and Maduro appointed ambassadors to each other’s countries on May 24, and formalized the reestablishment of relations.

According to statements from their governments, the meeting focused on reactivating trade between the two countries, cooperation on issues regarding the Amazon, advancing regional integration, and issues related to their 1,366-mile border. At the press conference, Lula highlighted that at its height, the flow of trade between the two nations had reached $6 billion and it had now dropped to $2 billion, which he argued “is bad for Venezuela and Brazil.” Lula also said that he is in favor of Venezuela joining BRICS.

Maduro commented on the challenges the country underwent when “Brazil closed all of the doors and windows, despite being neighboring countries, countries that love each other as people.” He recalled an attempt to invade the Venezuelan embassy in Brasília, which was defended by Brazilian social movements and solidarity groups. “Today, a new chapter of relations between our countries begins,” he said.

from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service

Sudanese Army and Rapid Support Forces Extend Fragile Ceasefire by Five Days


The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) agreed to extend a fragile truce by five days on May 29. The truce, which came into effect on May 22, was marked by violations although the intensity of fighting decreased. Over 850 civilians have died and over 3,600 have been injured since fighting broke out on April 15. Nearly 1.4 million have been displaced.

On May 28, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, which had jointly mediated the ceasefire, released a statement highlighting violations by both parties. The statement said that while the SAF violated the prohibition against aerial attacks, the RSF had “continued encroachment in civilian areas.” Among the buildings occupied by the RSF was the office of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP).

SCP spokesperson Fathi Elfadl told Peoples Dispatch that no humanitarian corridor had been set up and areas worst affected by the fighting had not received aid. In fact, the U.S.-Saudi statement said that both SAF and RSF forces had stolen consignments of humanitarian aid.

Civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict. Prices of bottled water, food, and fuel have gone up between 40 and 60 percent in conflict-affected areas. The World Food Program (WFP) projects that 18 million people will be left unable to afford basic food by as early as August if the fighting continues.

The fighting in Sudan was the culmination of months of tension between top generals who had staged a coup in October 2021 and severely repressed civilian protesters who were demanding democracy.

from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service

What we do know about the Eurasian Union?

On May 29 Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia mark the anniversary of the establishment of the EAEU. Despite it was formed 9 years ago, in Sri Lanka people still know little about this organization.

What is EAEU?

In 1994, the first President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev at his lecture at Moscow State University formulated an idea of the Eurasian economic union. After the tragedy of the collapse of the USSR, all 15 republics of the former Union faced numerous problems, connected with the devastating economic crisis, which resulted in the crash of the economy, industry and a sharp decline in living standards. In some parts of the former biggest nation of the world civil conflicts were unleashed. Many Western enterprises entered the hot area, using imperfections of the new laws to grow rich and take out the unique technologies from the heart of the former second industrial power. In this pot of instability, the western robbers and our domestic collaborators had fished in troubled waters to improve their positions. They designed to use any means to become richer in the people’s tragedy, developing criminal businesses and killing innocent people.

The governments of the newly independent countries faced an enormous amount of challenges. The industrial cooperation between parts of the previously united country was broken, but there were no units that could act independently. The united system of transport and banking crashed in a moment, as all around. So, in 1995 the governments came to the agreement that there is no way forward but to pass this path together. In 1995 the Agreement about the Customs Union was signed by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which was widened in 1999 in the Treaty on Customs Union and Common Free Market Zone.

The formation of the Eurasian Economic Union was long and complicated. In some treats, it is very similar to the process of European integration, which started after the Second World War from the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and resulted in the European Union in 2004. Nevertheless, the former Soviet republics today are continuing discussions about free economic cooperation with no political part – and the current state and policy of the European bureaucrats is one of the main reasons for this kind of limit.

In any circumstances, we used a positive experience of European integration in our process. As Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned in his article “A new integration project for Eurasia: The Future in the Making”, “it took Europe 40 years to move from the European Coal and Steel Community to the full European Union. The establishment of the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space is proceeding at a much faster pace because we could draw on the experience of the EU and other regional associations. And this is our obvious advantage since it means we are in a position to avoid mistakes and unnecessary bureaucratic superstructures”.

In 2000 the Treaty of Establishing Eurasian Economic Community was signed. In 2010 the new step of the economic integration of the space of the former Soviet Union was done – Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan created and finally launched with success the Customs Union. In 2011 the Eurasian Commission was established and the start of full-scale Eurasian economic integration was declared. In 2012 the Eurasian Economic space started its operation as a single market that provides for the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital.

Finally, on May 29, 2014, the Treaty of the Eurasian Economic Union was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Belorussian President Lukashenko and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The operation of this Union of more than 190 mln people, an area of more than 20 mln square kilometres and a GDP of 1.84 bln US dollars started in the new year of 2015.

The same year Armenia and Kyrgyzstan joined the EAEU. In 2018 the new, common Code of Customs was launched and the numerous programs to develop further integration within the Union were elaborated. All these achievements were warmly welcomed by the common people, who benefit from the renewed economic state. Prices for many products came down, as there were no more barriers. The common standards and courses of law simplified the operation of businesses.

Among those countries who wanted to join the Union were Ukraine and Moldova. But unlawful Nazi coup-d’etat in Kyiv, inspired by the Anglo-Saxons, crushed the longstanding approach of the Ukrainian people to live and labour together with their neighbours and brothers peacefully. After the change of power in Moldova this state has turned to the route of deep integration with Romania and the EU as well, with the majority of people looking forward to being with Russia and the EAEU.

What place EAEU has in International Relations?

Besides the full membership, first of all, there is the so-called “observer membership”. Cuba and Uzbekistan have the status of observers to the EAEU. Moldova since 2017 has also been the first state with such status, but in 2021, as it was mentioned above, that state became a victim of aggressive Western policy. Its president found that joining the EAEU was “out of the law procedures”, but the state is still considered to stand as an observer.

The EAEU has a net of the Free Trade Zone agreements, this kind of treaty is signed with Vietnam, Iran, China, Serbia and Singapore. At least 10 countries find cooperation with EAEU interesting in this format. Much more countries and international organizations have signed Memorandums of interaction with the EAEU.

What are the main objectives and goals of EAEU?

The main objectives of the Union are creating conditions for the stable development of the economies of the member states in order to improve the living standards of their population. It is highlighted in Article 4 of the basic Treaty. To obtain these objectives, the member states agree on mutual recognition of the qualifications, unification of the technical regulations and standards, coordinating the macroeconomic policy, establishing the common financial market and many other measures to ensure balanced economic development.

Due to the policy of Western unilateral sanctions and the consequences of the COVID pandemic, the current state of the Global Economy is very close to the new World Economy Crisis. There are numerous risks for the member-states now, from the limitations that last from the outbreak of COVID to instability in the fossil fuels markets, capital migrations to the “safe havens” and, of course, the policy of restrictions. There are some internal challenges as well, for example, the need for diversification, modernization, low speed of economic growth and investment activities say in innovations.

The priority of the Union’s development at the moment is to overcome the mentioned challenges that can cause problems for the economies of member states. So, in this path, we are aimed at attracting investment to the perspective directions of economic development. EAEU members are coming closer to boosting innovations, widening the industrial cooperation within the Union and achieving the goals of formatting the new techno-economic paradigm.

There are several criteria for the maintenance of the macroeconomic stability of the EAEU. The annual budget deficit should be less than 3% of GDP, state debt – less than 50%, and inflation – not more than 5% in addition to the lowest rate among the member states.

The goals and directions of the EAEU are largely in line with the goals and targets of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Regional economic cooperation contributes to the achievements of the UN SDGs and becomes an additional tool for ensuring high-quality and sustainable economic growth of member-states.

EAEU focuses attention on the green economy principles as well. There is a conception of harmonizing approaches of the member states in the context of the green transformation of the world economy and the problems of climate change. There are a number of areas that are affected by climate change within the borders of the Union, mostly by deforestation, desertification, air, soil and water pollution. The most prospective sphere of cooperation in green transition is transporting. More than 80% of arterial railways are using electrical traction. Eurasian Union is contributing much attention to the projects of electrical city common transport, for example, electro buses. Development of renewable, hydro- and atomic generation is among the priorities of the member states.

What is the vision of the future of EAEU?

There is a strategy for the development of the EAEU, passed as a declaration in 2018. It contains 11 main directions or 332 different amendments to the current procedures common for the EAEU:

  • Full elimination of barriers
  • Increasing effectiveness of the EAEUstructures
  • Increasing the effectiveness of management and financing to create highly effective export-oriented sectors of the economy
  • Improving customs regulations
  • Guarantees of the quality of the products
  • Development of the digital infrastructure and space
  • Elaborating flexible mechanisms of targeted assistance
  • Coordinating efforts of implementing innovations
  • Maintaining full implementation of all agreements within the frames of the Eurasian integration
  • Widening economic cooperation in healthcare, education, tourism and sport
  • Formatting EAEU as a centre of development in the coming new multipolar world order

These measures will result in pushing forward the rate of interest of the small and medium enterprises that actually are the basis of any economy. Stipulating the scientific approaches in developing business and state management will also lead to the growth of innovations, and, as a result, in the growing living standards of our people.

Even though the Western countries unleashed a total war against our Motherland, progress in economic development is inevitable, and we are witnessing the first points of it right now. We realize perfectly that this progress is harmful to our enemies that are dreaming of how to turn our countries into distraction and depravation, to split the forming unity, to break all those that were done with great efforts. Our enemies like a cancer tumour are sucking the blood of the entire world, as they have done for ages maintaining their hypocritical colonial policy. But their time is coming to an end with no possibility to enlarge it.

Long live the Eurasian Economic Union and its leaders! Long live the people of the EAEU! Down with the Western hegemony and hypocrisy!

Press Secretary Office of the Russian Embassy in Colombo

Balancing Upsides and Risks of Superintelligence

by Sam Altman, Greg Brockman, and Ilya Sutskever

In the foreseeable future, artificial intelligence (AI) systems have the potential to surpass the expertise of human professionals in various fields and rival the productivity of today’s largest corporations. This advancement in AI, known as superintelligence, presents both immense benefits and significant risks that surpass those associated with previous technologies. While we can envision a highly prosperous future, it is crucial to proactively manage the risks involved. An analogy can be drawn to technologies like nuclear energy and synthetic biology, which possess similar characteristics and necessitate careful risk mitigation.

To navigate the development of superintelligence successfully, coordination among leading AI development initiatives is paramount. Establishing mechanisms for collaboration is vital to ensure that superintelligence is developed in a manner that prioritizes safety and facilitates smooth integration into society. Governments of major nations could initiate a project that incorporates existing efforts, or a collective agreement could limit the rate of AI capability growth at the frontier per year. Additionally, individual companies must adhere to exceptionally high standards of responsible conduct.

Furthermore, it is likely that we will eventually require an international authority akin to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to oversee superintelligence projects. Any initiative surpassing a certain capability or resource threshold should be subject to inspection, audits, compliance testing with safety standards, deployment restrictions, and security protocols mandated by this authority. Monitoring and regulating compute and energy consumption could serve as initial steps towards realizing this idea. Voluntary compliance by companies and subsequent implementation by individual countries would be instrumental. The focus of such an agency should primarily revolve around mitigating existential risks rather than regulating the content generated by AI systems, which should be left to individual countries.

Moreover, developing the technical capability to ensure the safety of superintelligence is a pressing research question that demands significant effort. Researchers and organizations are actively engaged in addressing this challenge, recognizing the criticality of creating robust safeguards.

It is important to note that regulation and oversight should not impede the development of AI models that fall below a certain capability threshold. Companies and open-source projects should be allowed to innovate freely without burdensome regulations, licenses, or audits. While these systems carry risks, they align with the level of risks associated with other Internet technologies, and society’s existing approaches appear appropriate for managing them.

However, for the governance and deployment of the most powerful AI systems, strong public oversight is essential. Decisions concerning these systems should be subject to democratic processes, allowing people worldwide to collectively define the boundaries and defaults for AI systems. The design of such a mechanism remains an ongoing challenge, but efforts are being made to experiment with its development. Within these broad boundaries, individual users should have significant control over the behavior of the AI they utilize.

Given the risks and challenges involved, it is essential to consider why we are pursuing the development of superintelligence. OpenAI identifies two fundamental reasons for their commitment to this technology. Firstly, they believe that superintelligence will lead to a significantly improved world, as evidenced by early examples in education, creative work, and personal productivity. These advancements can help tackle societal problems, enhance creative abilities, and generate astounding economic growth and quality of life improvements.

Secondly, OpenAI argues that halting the creation of superintelligence would be highly challenging and counterintuitively risky. The cost of development decreases annually, the number of actors engaged in this endeavor is rapidly increasing, and it aligns with the trajectory of technological progress. Stopping superintelligence development would require a global surveillance regime, which itself offers no guarantee of success. Therefore, getting the development and deployment of superintelligence right becomes imperative in order to maximize its potential benefits while minimizing the associated risks.

Click here to read the original article published in OpenAI

The Deplorable Work Conditions Behind Harrods’ $7,000 ‘Ambootia Snow Mist’ Darjeeling Tea


by Saurav Sarkar and Rupam Deb

In 2015, after you were done gawking at the statue of Princess Di in the world’s largest department store, Harrods in London, you could head on over to the world-famous food halls where you could buy, among other high-priced indulgences, a type of tea branded “Ambootia Snow Mist.” 

At $7,864 per kilogram—enough to make about 300 cups—Snow Mist regularly made appearances on listicles sporting headlines like “21 Gifts that Prove Harrods Has Finally Lost Its Fucking Mind.” 

Sold exclusively by London’s high-end department store for about a decade starting in the late 2000s, the tea was grown on the Happy Valley Tea Estate, a 400-plus acre plantation nestled in the Himalayan hills, near the third tallest mountain in the world and the large town of Darjeeling. 

Happy Valley is located in northern West Bengal, the same state as Bangla-speaking Kolkata, but the lingua franca in the region is Nepali. Locals known as Indian Gorkhas (to distinguish them from Nepali Gorkhas) have been agitating for almost four decades to get their own state called Gorkhaland.

The second oldest of Darjeeling’s 87 tea plantations, Happy Valley was established by a Britishman in 1854, just five years after Harrods. Happy Valley passed into the hands of an elite Bengali in the early 1900s. From there, it changed hands several times until it was abandoned, lying dormant up until the early 2000s (it is not uncommon for tea gardens to be semi-frequently abandoned by their owners, leaving workers, staff, and even managers in a lurch). 

Many tea plantations have been taken over by investors looking for short-term profits but who lack a long-term vision for the tea industry. The standard playbook for this “promoter class” of new owners goes something like this: take out a huge loan against the tea land, siphon the capital to other businesses, and drive workers to further pauperization. It is well known in and around the industry that these owners routinely fail to pay legally required pension contributions and evade land taxes.

Importantly, the land itself is owned by the state of West Bengal, not by the owners of the plantations, who lease it long term.

These promoters also tend to abandon the tea plantations during the annual bonus period, allegedly due to worker protest and discontent, while also failing to clear all back pay that is due. The annual bonus period falls at the end of the calendar year and marks a time when employers and unions negotiate a bonus that workers get for regional holidays. Although it is true that there are more workers protesting during these periods in a perennial bid to negotiate higher bonuses, the claim by owners that said protests are the primary reason they must abandon their plantations doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. 

Later, with the help of the government and even the tea workers’ own unions, these owners will often reopen the plantations and gardens under conditions that require workers to accept lower wages than what they previously earned, accept further casualization, and take lost jobs on the chin. 

In the mid-2000s, Happy Valley, along with about a dozen other Darjeeling estates, became part of a company headed by businessman Sanjay Bansal. Bansal was not supposed to be one of those guys, one of the plantation owners who games the system at the expense of workers—his initial approach led many to believe he would handle business differently. Bansal was an “incredibly successful… international player for a decade,” says Sarah Besky, a cultural anthropologist and associate professor at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. But even major figures in the tea industry engage in unsavory practices.

Besky has spent a great deal of time studying Darjeeling’s tea industry and workers. “Anybody who knows anything about Darjeeling tea knows about Makhaibari and Ambootia,” Besky told TRNN. “The symbolic importance of Ambootia is huge.”

Ambootia, the name of another tea plantation, was the brand name behind Harrods’ Snow Mist and other teas produced by Darjeeling Organic Tea Estates Private Ltd. (DOTEPL), and it is also the informal name for Bansal’s broader company, the Ambootia Group, which owns numerous tea estates in Darjeeling, Assam, and Dooars. In 2015, DOTEPL was worth Rs. 12 billion ($187 million); in addition to Bansal, investors from Singapore and Europe also had varying stakes in the company at different points in time.

I (Saurav) visited Happy Valley on October 12 of last year, when the tea bushes were between harvests, or “flushes.” Rain was pouring down from the sky. Nevertheless, workers clad in galoshes and holding umbrellas are still expected to pluck two leaves and a bud from the bushes in such conditions. 

On that day, though, no leaves were being plucked, because the workers were on strike, continuing a months-long labor dispute over backwages, a legally required holiday bonus, and a general state of disrespect from the bosses. Workers on the plantations in the area, including at Happy Valley, had demanded—and eventually won from the state government—a 20 percent bonus marking major holidays, but the mood at Happy Valley was anything but content.

Several dozen of the workers, most of them women, were huddled along the inside walls of a structure that, judging by the sign above, was meant to be a “fair price shop” for tourists and visitors to purchase tea from the plantation. A few men, the field staff, hovered inside, standing impatiently or animatedly pacing the floor. They, too, were being denied their wages.

One worker—let’s call her Chenbagam Rai—told me through interpreters that she worked an eight-hour day, from 7:30AM to 4:00PM, with a break for lunch. Workers typically work six-day weeks for a total of 48 scheduled hours per week. The harvesting quotas they need to meet can range from garden to garden; in some, it might be 7kg worth of tea per day; in others, it might be 11kg. With the help of the interpreters, Chenbagam relayed that she earned the minimum wage for Darjeeling tea workers of Rs. 232 ($2.81) per day (soon to be Rs. 250), not counting minor bonuses for exceeding production goals, but including Rs. 9 per day for food. Not only are these wages insufficient for workers to make a living on, they are also on the low end for workers across the industry. In other parts of India, tea plantation workers make more—around Rs. 400 ($4.93) per day—than their counterparts in Darjeeling do.

A union official (and one of my guides on the visit), Jatan Rai, told me that a living wage would be about Rs. 500 ($6.16) per day, plus benefits (like housing, access to medical care, etc.) that management is legally mandated to provide. When I was in Darjeeling, I spent a fair amount of time talking with Jatan, who was brought up as the son of two tea workers on an estate and is now the general secretary of the Hamro Hill Terai Dooars Chiabari Shramik Sangh (Hamro Hill Terai Dooars Tea Workers Union), as well as Saakal Dewan, a retired navy officer and active poet. Both Dewan and Jatan Rai, as well as Rai’s union, are affiliated with a local political party called the Hamro Party (unions generally tend to be affiliated with political parties in India). In India, apart from the railways, tea plantations are the largest organized sector.

In other parts of India, along with higher average wages, tea workers also tend to receive more of the benefits they are legally entitled to under the Plantations Labour Act of 1951, which instituted a slate of laws meant to secure universal standards for working conditions on Indian plantations. For instance, housing, water, education, healthcare, and other basic needs—all are supposed to be provided by plantation owners. “It is there in the rules—[the] Plantations Act,” said Jatan Rai. But the problem is that there are no real nor consistent enforcement mechanisms; as a result, the reality for workers is very different from what the Act spells out. 

According to Rai, things used to be better: “workers used to get multiple benefits. About 20 years back, 30 years back, the garden owners used to provide everything… Now, these days, it is totally gone.”

A staple of the Hamro Party platform is the demand for better conditions for workers in the tea industry. Party leaders are looking for what they describe as a “win-win” situation for owners and workers: an industry that is modernized and run ethically. While such messages sound good on paper, they can only really go so far to reform the tea industry, the entire political economy of which has been built around what Besky argues are deep structural and historical factors that render meaningful reform impossible.

“Many of the people I work with find undermining the system futile because the system is a monster. It is unchallengeable,” says Besky.

“Within [the plantation system’s] kind of DNA, its internal logic [is]… cheap labor, cheap everything. That is the logic of oppression,” she says. Since its integration into the global trade market, that is, cheap, hyper-exploitable labor has been the foundation of the tea industry; any attempts to seriously and systematically address tea workers’ needs for living wages and humane treatment would threaten the structural integrity of the industry itself, as it currently exists. This, Besky explains, is why efforts to reform the industry, including the Plantations Labour Act of 1951, have only borne modest, if any, positive results. 

“What’s [most] remarkable is the lack of change… The most striking thing about the industry, whether it’s 10 years or 150 years, [is that] the mode of production is the same.”

To illustrate this point, Besky offered one story of a sick Happy Valley worker who sought urgent medical care—she estimated that it took place around the time Harrods was starting to buy from the estate.

“Every plantation operates their ambulance also as a taxi. Someone actually died waiting for the ambulance that was roaming around town,” she says.

The story of tea is a story of interconnected continents and expanding systems of capitalist and imperialist exploitation stretching their tendrils across the globe over the course of hundreds of years—and the people bearing the brunt of it all have always been the workers on the plantations.

Tea is now the second most popular beverage in the world after water, with two billion cups consumed each day globally. But it was only incorporated into the capitalist world system in the early 17th century. 

As demand grew in Britain and across Europe, there was money to be made. And boy, was it ever made, especially by the entity that would eventually emerge as the monopoly importer: the British East India Company (and its shareholders). 

There was a proverbial fly in the ointment, though: China, the world’s only significant exporter of tea, didn’t want anything that the British East India Company had to offer. As a result, the empire turned to pushing Indian farmers to grow opium, which the British merchants and the East India Company then smuggled into China to trade for tea. The British East India Company, simply put, was effectively a drug cartel. When the Chinese government attempted to crack down on its destructive trade, one consequence was the Opium Wars. 

Another was the British deciding that they would try to take over the process of tea production for themselves. In an infamous act of corporate espionage, a botanist named Robert Fortune, originally from Scotland, was sent by the British East India Company to steal tea plants and agricultural know-how from China to see if the company could grow the plant on the hills of Darjeeling and elsewhere in India.

All things considered, the experiment was successful, and as India’s tea estates proliferated in the 19th century, the colony—and then the country—replaced China as the world’s largest producer of tea for a century. Even today, it remains the second largest producer and fourth largest exporter of tea in the world.

Tea plantations became an important part of the colonial economy. From the beginning, owners separated the estates into enclaves where the law of the land barely works. And from the beginning, owners have tried to keep wages as low as possible. The estates require huge tracts of land, and cultivating and harvesting on that land is very labor intensive because the delicacy of the crop necessitates that it be picked by hand, rather than with mechanized devices.

Conditions at Happy Valley are not unique, Rai says later when I (Saurav) followed up with him from New York. “Every tea garden… in Darjeeling is having [the same] issues,” he says. 

Because of the conditions on the farms, most young people in the Darjeeling area choose to migrate out to a big city or go into a different line of work, in Darjeeling or nearby; even a construction laborer building roads in town makes Rs. 500 ($6.16) per day, almost twice that of a plucker. Many fear the tea industry in Darjeeling is on its last leg as a result.

But there are still around 55,000 workers on Darjeeling’s 87 licensed plantations for now, about 20 percent of whom are daily wage laborers, while the rest are permanent. They range in age from 18-60.

I visited another plantation with Dewan, the 950-acre Chongtong estate, which, at the time I visited, was also owned by DOTEPL. It’s only about eight miles from Darjeeling, but it takes an hour to get there due to the bendiness and low quality of the roads winding through the hills.

When the estate is up and running at full capacity, 985 workers work there, and total tea production amounts to 200,000 kg per year. But Chongtong is definitely not running at full capacity these days; more than half the workers have fled for neighboring plantations because they are not getting paid. There used to be one supervisor for every 25-30 pluckers; now, there are far fewer people to supervise.

This kind of situation, or worse, happens at gardens throughout the industry. In gardens where the bushes are not as productive or as high quality as they once were—so-called “sick gardens”—management will simply vanish without paying workers, without even processing the harvested tea. According to Dewan and Rai, this kind of sudden abandonment is sometimes part of a front operation to transition the grounds to a tourism site.

The global tea trade—and the hyper-exploitation of tea workers—has continued well into the present, worth $200 billion in 2020 and expected to rise to $318 billion by 2025. A 2019 report by Rosa Luxemberg Stiftung on tea exports from Darjeeling to Germany showed that pluckers tend to keep less than 3 percent of the money generated by the products they harvest. An Oxfam report the same year found that supermarkets and brands receive 93.8 percent of the final price of a tea bag in the United States, while workers receive 0.8 percent. The situation is only marginally better in India and European countries.

In India, the northern states of Assam and West Bengal are the largest producers of tea in the country. The states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka in the south also grow significant amounts of the crop.

As a high-end product, Darjeeling tea tends to not sell at large volumes, but the tea stands out due to attempts by the Indian government and the Darjeeling industry to market it internationally and protect its brand.

Regarding Happy Valley and Chongtong, web searches and shipping records show that several Global North companies specifically source from these two plantations, even though the working conditions described throughout this report are well known throughout the industry. These buyers include the French upscale outlet Mariages Freres, which sells Happy Valley tea for the price of €486 ($505) per kilogram. It also sells tea from Chongtong. Lipton has sold tea from Chongtong in recent years.

The century-old American tea importer GS Haly markets Happy Valley tea by the dozens of pounds. The German wholesaler The Tea Co. GmbH & Co Kg has sourced from Chongtong, while the German brand Lebensbaum has sourced from Happy Valley. In the UK, Teahouse Emporium sells Happy Valley tea.

Dozens of other Global North businesses are sourcing from the company as a whole, but we were unable to determine whether the plantations they are doing business with are Happy Valley and Chongtong or others from DOTEPL’s past or present array of tea-growing estates.

That array includes many estates that play up the “organic,” “fair trade,” and “people-friendly” practices of the plantations, like the small U.S.-owned, Darjeeling-sourced brand Alaya tea. Meanwhile, Chenbagam Rai and the 55,000 other tea plantation workers in the region are earning less than $3 a day, if they get paid at all.

Even though they weren’t on strike, the workers at Chongtong—again, mostly Indian Gorkha women—were far more up in arms that day than their counterparts at Happy Valley had been. The pluckers hadn’t been paid for four weeks, averaging around Rs. 2,000 ($24.65) of lost wages in total. The mid-level supervisory staff also haven’t been paid—for three months. The pluckers told me they had been given assurances that they would be paid their wages eventually, but they didn’t believe the owners’ promises. Workers had reached the point of selling domestic animals—pigs, hens, and other poultry—to sustain themselves and to supplement the free rations they receive from the government.

Even in the best of times at Chongtong, the average income for a household with school-age children is about Rs. 5,000 ($60.72) per month, while average expenses range between Rs. 12,000 ($147.92) and Rs. 14,000 ($172.58). Families make up the difference through remittances they receive, with one earner traveling to cities like Delhi or Mumbai to work and send money back home.

“We are helpless,” Ashima Tamang, a pseudonym for one of the women assembled outside the fields of the Chongtong garden, told me. “Those who are capable—they go to other cities. We don’t have any capacity.” This is the only way to come close to staying financially afloat, workers said, because there’s no other work available to them in the area, and the work that is there does not pay people enough to live on.

It’s not as if the workers have just sat on their hands and obediently accepted these circumstances either. When they are called to attend protests, they show up; but they feel that all their efforts have gone in vain. Speaking through Dewan, in Nepali, the pluckers told me that they want the government to act against the head figure at DOTEPL, Bansal. 

At one point, they animatedly demanded that the tea estate be sold to another owner—a wish that would be granted at the end of October.

When it comes to ensuring better wages and working conditions for tea harvesters, “fair trade” and other certifications are commonly understood as ineffectual at best. At Happy Valley, Rai and Dewan explained, fair trade fees are actually used to reimburse plantation managers for the equipment and other goods they’re supposedly, but not actually, providing workers.

“Most of the gardens… are fair trade certified,” Rai told me later. But “those guidelines of fair trade policies are not being strictly followed; there is a big gap with the reality.”

Besky’s assessment of the fair trade economy is even harsher: “Fair trade and all of these bourgeois means [by which] tea is sold fail because they don’t understand what [the] plantation is.”

There is a complaint box for workers outside the division’s management office at Chongtong, near the spot where the tea is weighed. I was told by my companions, including KS Tsapa, a retired head supervisor of 48 years, that “it is just a formality.”

We have given here a mere snapshot of the present in one corner of the tea industry, but it is worth considering the future for a moment—because the tea industry in Darjeeling may not have a future at all. In the age of finance capital, the incentive structure driving everything toward the end of making fast money has led the tea gardens to the precipice of an existential crisis. For it to prosper, a tea plantation has to go through gradual and diligent processes like replanting after 60-80 years; the bushes have to be maintained for four months during the lean period (winter season); etc. 

It is only after steps like these are carefully and painstakingly taken that planters should even consider making a profit, but today’s capitalists are not that patient.

The owners nowadays have primary interests in leveraging their assets for maximum profit, even if leveraging said assets has little to do with reinvesting in, sustaining, and improving the tea industry itself; showing tea gardens as property asset holdings, for instance, may serve the primary function of helping owners get a hold of bank loans, but the resulting money will be invested elsewhere, not back into the tea gardens themselves, after the loans are secured. This practice is one of many that have become increasingly common among tea plantation owners over the past 30 years. 

State governments have underwritten the owners’ land grabs on tea plantations by introducing “tea tourism” policies enabling them to use tea land for tourism purposes. In West Bengal, for instance, the owners can use up to 15 percent of tea garden land for tea tourism. Even before the concept of “tea tourism” became commonplace for every tea plantation, the case of Chandmoni Tea Estate in the Terai area of North Bengal bellows from the past a harbinger of what would come to pass in the industry in the name of development.

When tea plantation lands are given away for tourism and township projects, the workers are left with less or no work in their areas, and so far no one has come up with a sustainable answer to the various social and economic crises that result (unemployment, discontent, mass migration, etc.). 

So what is to be done if fair trade policies, changing modes of production, unions, lawsuits, the land rights movement, etc. aren’t improving conditions for tea workers on Darjeeling’s plantations? 

The workers on the plantations have tried everything—including selling household animals and vegetables on the side to make do—and their children are fleeing from the region.

“The global community has to build up pressure, because they don’t know the darker story,” says Rai.

This story, with the support of the Bertha Foundation, is part of The Real News Network’s Workers of the World series, telling the stories of workers around the globe building collective power and redefining the future of work on their own terms.

Saurav Sarkar is a freelance movement writer, editor and activist living in Long Island, NY. They have also lived in New York City, New Delhi, London, and Washington, DC. Follow them on Twitter @sauravthewriter and at

Rupam Deb works with the tribal communities in North Bengal, India, especially in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts, focusing on building up youth platforms with youths hailing from Tea-garden communities. He is also a freelance journalist who writes for Bengali newspapers as an advocacy mechanism. He writes issue-based articles for several regional media houses like Ananda Bazar Patrika and Uttar Banga Sambad, and also for several national media outlets such as The Telegraph, Groundxero, and The Wire. Most of his writing focuses on issues prevalent in North Bengal and the hardships faced by tea garden workers in the Dooars region.

Credit Line: This article was distributed by Globetrotter in partnership with The Real News Network.

Political Crisis in Ecuador Continues Following Dissolution of Parliament


On Wednesday, May 17, Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso decreed the dissolution of the National Assembly, the country’s unicameral parliament, using the “cross-death” constitutional mechanism. Lasso argued that there was a “serious political crisis and internal commotion” in the country and that the dissolution of the opposition majority parliament was a “constitutional solution” and a “democratic action.” Lasso’s decision came a day after the parliament began an impeachment hearing against him. He is accused of corruption and embezzlement of public funds.

Following Lasso’s announcement, the left-wing opposition Citizen Revolution Movement (RC) rejected the dissolution of parliament, calling it a “desperate and unconstitutional action.” The RC said that it was Lasso’s “strategy” to avoid the impeachment trial that could have removed him from office.

“The decree issued by President Guillermo Lasso is evidence of the triumph of the impeachment. This desperate and unconstitutional action is a strategy of a hopeless government that seeks to avoid the vote to remove it, without caring about the people. He is clinging to his post, instead of allowing the country to revive. The Citizen Revolution -as it has always said and maintained- places its positions at the disposal of the Ecuadorian people. This is the moment for the country to change. Lasso will not be able to stop the judgment of history. Soon the patient but present people will wake up, with our people we will triumph,” stated the RC.

The conservative Social Christian Party (PSC), Lasso’s former electoral partner, also questioned the legitimacy of Lasso’s move and rejected claims of a serious political and internal crisis.

from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service

Economic Sanctions Hurt the Poor, Sick, and Vulnerable, Shows Report


study published by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has revealed that economic sanctions, often illegally imposed, have a lasting negative impact on the populations in targeted countries and almost never achieve their stated goals.

The study “Human Consequences of Economic Sanctions” by Francisco Rodriguez, examines the evidence and arguments presented in 32 studies of sanctioned economies, mostly poor and Global South countries. It concludes that “[it] is hard to think of other policy interventions that continue to be pursued amid so much evidence of their adverse and often deadly effects on vulnerable populations,” particularly when they are extremely ineffective in achieving most of their stated goals.

The study finds that they affect the living conditions of the majority population of the targeted countries by making them poorer and more precarious. This is largely because targeted governments have a reduced capacity to maintain social and economic policies that support most of the population, especially the most vulnerable.

The CEPR report also notes that the negative impact of economic sanctions on people is well-known by policymakers and experts. Often, the report says, the worsening of economic conditions in targeted countries is precisely the intention of the measures, in the hope that there will be political upheaval in response.

Despite Poor Record, Greece’s Ruling New Democracy Emerges as Single Largest Party in Elections


With 99.65 percent of votes counted in the elections to the Greek parliament held on Sunday, May 21, the conservative New Democracy (ND) party led by incumbent Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis emerged as the single largest party with 40.79 percent of the votes and 146 seats. However, it fell short of a simple majority. The major opposition party, Syriza, led by Alexis Tsipras, secured only 20 percent of the votes and 71 seats (-15). The liberal-socialist PASOK-KINAL coalition and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) significantly improved their performance, winning 41 (+19) and 26 seats (+11), respectively. The elections saw a turnout of 60.92 percent despite that voting was compulsory.

According to reports, ND is unwilling to form a coalition with any other party and Mitsotakis has expressed willingness to go for a repeat vote in June where he might get a majority due to different electoral rules.

The elections were held amid a great deal of dissatisfaction with the major political parties. The ND government’s attacks on the rights of workers across sectors, especially health and education, were met with protests from trade unions. The government also faced a backlash after a horrific train accident and a wire-tapping scandal.

Under the ND government, austerity policies intensified. Close to 30 percent of Greeks are at risk of poverty or social exclusion and real wages of workers have declined by 25 percent since 2007. Greece has also been a key supporter of Ukraine, sending weapons and tank operators and spending 3.5 percent of its GDP on defense, more than any other NATO member.

from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service

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