Corporate Responsibility: Tea for Two

Organic India goes the extra mile to create social change.
by Brooke Holmgren

A simple cup of tea provides numerous health benefits. From stress relief to immune support, tea has been valued as a beverage across the globe for millennia. Not much has changed in that regard, but the fairly new concept of corporate responsibility has given a new flavor to the tea we drink.

Corporate responsibility can be summed up as an ethical business practice of caring for people, the planet, and profit—also known as the three pillars. Organic India embodies the ideas of corporate responsibility by focusing its efforts on helping people, specifically widows of Indian farmers.

India is known for its vast and successful tea plantations, but it’s also known for its strict caste system and social inequity. This is why Organic India, a tea company that exports its products across the world, focuses on widows of farmers in India. Now you can have your tea, drink it, and support a good cause.

 

Why Widows

In the western world, widows are often treated with sympathy and kindness; grown children, other family members, and friends offer emotional and financial support. Unfortunately, this kindness is not a social custom practiced in many other parts of the world. In India’s deeply rooted caste system, widows of farmers become pariahs for several reasons—they’re often left with insurmountable debt, infertile farmland from years of over-farming and pesticide use, little or no education, and no other options for employment. Widows are a financial and social burden in this part of the world.

In essence, widows are seen as worthless. As a result, many widows turn to begging or prostitution in order to survive. This only perpetuates the social alienation and stigma the widows endure. It’s a catch-22; be considered an outcast because you cannot provide for yourself, or provide for yourself through the only available options (begging or prostitution) and still be considered an outcast.

However, Organic India, manufacturer of Tulsi tea, takes direct action to positively change the lives of Indian widows through employment as tea harvesters and processors. Through employment by Organic India, the widowed women are able to earn wages competitive with male counterparts, (Organic India pays them 165 rupees per hour) which is almost unheard of in India’s other fields of employment. This enables women to feel a certain sense of dignity that they otherwise would not have had and helps break the social stigma of being a widow.

Striving to change the way others view widows despite their position in Indian society is a lofty goal for Organic India, yet slowly but surely, they are creating positive change. However, some male farmers still refuse to work alongside widows. When this opposition happens, Organic India takes its business elsewhere. This is the beginning of helping other people in Indian society realize that because a woman’s husband dies, she is not to blame and is not a lesser person.

 

Healthcare

In addition to earning a viable wage, women employed by Organic India have access to healthcare and medical advice that they otherwise would not have. Through the non-profit Organic India Foundation, female health educators are able to meet with women who are not only employed with Organic India, but women living in the general area, to discuss the benefits of basic hygiene, vaccinations, nutrition, reproductive health, and the importance of pre- and post -natal care.

The Organic India foundation has also built and staffed two health-care centers that offer free medical care for approximately 20,000 nearby villagers. This access to healthcare allows villagers to take control of their health. It also allows women to spend less time and energy caring for sick family members and more time experiencing life. Think about it this way—fewer married men dying means less widowed women. But Organic India wants to get to the root of the problem.

Krishan Guptaa, CEO and Managing Director of Organic India, explained to Natural Solutions that the “two health centers are helping women in a few ways—A) women have started coming out to health centers themselves, for their issues. Normally, they would depend on their husband to bring them to the clinic; B) The women are more aware of hygiene factors and are willing to take care of their health; C) We see women taking active control of their lives.”

The availability of physical healthcare initiates a domino effect, improving the social status of women in India. Not only do these women become worthy of care, but they are empowered to care for themselves. This situation leads to broadened horizons for them.

Resolving health care concerns allows these women to consider education and self-sufficiency—things Organic India tries to unearth for widowed women. Oftentimes, it isn’t the widowed women who need to be educated; it’s the entire village.

 

Education

Gender equality and human rights are unheard of terms in certain parts of rural India. For example, it’s extremely rare for young girls to attend school. Unfortunately, uneducated girls tend to grow up to be uneducated women who are left helpless after the death of their husband (if their husband dies before they do). Education also applies to unmarried women, as they too need an income. And, just as in the United States, available employers do not hire uneducated people. The cycle of poverty for uneducated women in India only continues.

Young boys hold the promise of bettering the family and thus benefit from education, while girls are useful hands for housework and caring for younger siblings. Thousands of years of tradition work against Organic India and the Organic India Foundation’s efforts to change that society’s perspective on girls’ education, which stresses that both male and female children have the right to education, and as adults, the right to employment.

Not only does Organic India advocate for educational equality, its employees also promote the importance of practical skills. Krishan Guptaa says that “[Organic India] recently did a stitching course for over 60 young girls to make them [more] independent.”

It’s in these small, seemingly basic skills, that empower young women to become less financially dependent on male family members and husbands. It’s this independence that will eventually break the social stigma that is associated with being a widow. And thanks to Organic India, a step is taken every day on the path toward equality for thousands of Indian women.

So next time you curl up with a cup of tea, think about what went into brewing that cup—things are often more interconnected than they appear. Your cup of tea might just be making someone’s life a little bit better.