STG Associations Join Hands for Promoting Responsible Business Behavior
The All Assam Small Tea Growers Association (AASTGA) is the oldest and largest umbrella organization of the small tea growers (STGs) in Assam. It is based in Jorhat district of Assam, a traditional stronghold of the tea industry. It has regional committees in all major tea growing districts in Assam called “anchalik” and district level committees.
Traditionally AASTGA has been working on creating space for the STGs in the sector, bargaining for prices of green leaves and acting as a collective voice for the STG segment. However, the once very strong association had faced lots of infighting that resulted in off shooting of rebel associations. One of the primary reasons it seems is due to rivalry for top positions between few influential people.
In mid-2018 the Alliance partner Save the Children started building relations with the office bearers of the association. Continued ‘convening and convincing’ efforts were successful in gaining the acceptance of the program proposition. The office bearers attended many state and also national level meetings and consultations. This helped to diffuse tension amongst the rebel factions and most of them returned to the parent organization. This development was very crucial to gain an advocacy partner in the form of AASTGA to promote the agenda of responsible business in the sector.
With the support of AASTGA bilateral meetings and visits to eleven districts and “anchalik” level committees in Jorhat were made to gain confidence of the STGs. A meeting with a large group of STGs bodies based in Jorhat was organized on Sep 16th 2019. This meeting was attended by the office bearers, presidents and secretaries along with other members of the state, district and the eleven anchallik committees of around 100 STGs.
Significant social progress
It was the first time a large group of STGs met on responsible business behavior. The president and secretary of the AASTGA were present and spoke in support of the Alliance program. Save the Children and ICCO presented the full program and its urgency was well received by the participants. STGs leaders from Dibrugarh district who benefited under the Alliance program shared their experiences and progress achieved. They indicated both the strengthening of their business and at the same time addressing issues of children and women. The examples they shared are: how welfare funds support their workers in times of need; how they ensured that no child labors are engaged in their gardens for work; how they advocated with their workers to send the children to school or prevented cases of child marriage. These are very significant steps taken by the STGs which are otherwise known to only care for profit by any means possible. The STGs present were very impressed to hear this from their peers and expressed their desire to join hands in the movement.
Code of conduct
The meeting was an important milestone: mobilizing and interesting such a huge number of STGs on a new agenda, which they earlier in-fact resisted. It opened doors to many STGs and their associations in a single go, for which otherwise a lot of convincing efforts were needed. We are already working in Dibrugarh district, gaining support of the STGs in Jorhat. The latter as advocacy partners will add much value to the program as well as magnify the impact at the state level. The meeting also got positive media coverage in both vernacular and English newspapers. It is a positive step to get access to the associations at the institution level to promote that having a code of conduct for doing responsible business is adopted as part of their mandate.