Future of Work for Tea Smallholders in Sri Lanka

This study presents the findings of a mapping exercise commissioned by the ILO Country Office for Sri Lanka and the Maldives to assess the current state of decent work among tea smallholders in Sri Lanka and its implications on the future of work in the tea industry.

Tea has long been a vital part of Sri Lanka’s socio-economic fabric. The industry has been a major employer, particularly of women, and earned over LKR233 billion in 2017 alone for the country.

Although the production of tea has historically been associated with large-scale company-owned and managed plantations, smallholders, usually household operated farms, have always been an important player in the industry. Today, 70% of tea grown in Sri Lanka is produced by almost half-a-million (475,000) smallholders.

However, the sustainability of the tea industry in Sri Lanka is at a critical juncture. Rising costs, falling prices, and climatic change are now making it more expensive and riskier to grow tea than to sell it, with the effects being felt in every part of the supply chain.

On ‘International Tea Day’, 15 December 2018, the ILO is pleased to launch its study on the ‘Future of Work for Tea Smallholders in Sri Lanka’. The study highlights this important group of producers, identifies decent work deficits, and indicates the future of work in this sector.