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Organic tea estate puts workers first while helping boost Sri Lanka tourism

Organic tea estate puts workers first while helping boost Sri Lanka tourism

US-based multi-media news agency NPR is headlining Sri Lanka’s famed tea industry in an online piece highlighting one of only three plantations certified organic—and a growing tourist attraction

There’s more. Amba Estate is special for another reason—it shares 10 percent of its revenues with its workers. Says owner Simon Bell: “It’s thanks to their hard work and innovation that we’ve grown revenue 20 fold over the last few years.”

Bell bought the 26-acre estate in 2006 with three partners to create a for-profit social enterprise that could create long-term employment in the region.

Looking ahead, an old abandoned tea factory (pictured below) is being renovated to create an eco-friendly hotel, allowing the team to expand their growing tourism business.

“What makes us different is our 10 percent revenue share—not profit share. We decided to do revenue share because even when we’re not making a profit, we felt it was only right that workers and management receives recognition,” says Simon.

He also has a vision that the Amba example will encourage others to follow suit. “From Day 1 we wanted to be a model to show co-ops and small farmers that you don’t need to be a big factory.

“You can produce tea with local technology. Our hope is to create simple, affordable machinery for other farmers and to help a small industry in itself with these equipment firms.”

They also have official government support and encouragement. The piece quotes Rohan Pethiyagoda, chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board, as saying: “They work with the village rather than agitate against them.

“They don’t complain about dogs barking at night or the radio in the village being a little louder that it perhaps should be. They haven’t tried to socially engineer the village to their way of thinking.”

The estate employs 30 full-time village workers. One elderly Tamil couple lives on the property itself. They had lived in an old line house, a structure built to house tea workers during the days of British rule, since long before Bell and his partners purchased the land.

“We didn’t know if they had anywhere else to go,” says Bell. “They asked to stay and we were happy to let them.”

Read the full report here.

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