Dr Roshan Rajadurai, Managing Director, Hayleys Plantations Sector, explains why people are core to sustainability and business growth at Talawakelle Tea Estates PLC despite the many challenges. From the many legacy issues, plantations have had to grapple with for decades, to new challenges from Covid-19 and the unfolding economic crisis, Talawakelle Tea Estates PLC is committed to its people, Dr Rajadurai explains:
One of the burning challenges affecting the industry’s future revolves around labour.
The industry has inherited a legacy challenge around uplifting the dignity of its workers. We are experiencing a mass migration of young workers aspiring for non-estate labour jobs. Unlike other tea-growing nations, our proximity to the equator requires constant upkeep of the tea crops while harvesting and manufacturing happen around the clock. Therefore, a shortage of workers is a death sentence for an industry that is 70% labour intensive. We found a solution by framing this challenge from a sustainability perspective.
To provide a pull factor to the workers and the community, we at Talawakelle Tea Estates introduced a revenue-share model where workers get a block of tea plantation land and shoulder the responsibility for productivity. They feel empowered and relish the opportunity to be enterprising, and the results have been encouraging. We have seen productivity and output doubling while the workers are content and dignified by the responsibility. About 40% of our bought leaf comes from these worker-managed blocks.
Our approach to sustainability is three-pronged: economic, environmental and social. While the environment is a huge area of focus with our environment-friendly best agriculture practices in water conservation, energy conservation, fauna and flora protection, we have also identified that economic sustainability translates directly.
to our employees. Our revenue-share model is one such initiative under the economic pillar. We aim to create more opportunities for over 42,000 resident communities, including workers and their families. As responsible plantation managers, we must provide the conditions and opportunities to elevate their quality of life.
Under the social pillar, our focus is to unlock new value by linking social and business results, thereby improving the quality of life, decent work, competency levels and earning capacity of the workforce. Through our ongoing dedicated social responsibility initiative to support and uplift resident communities with better living conditions and higher quality of life called “A Home for Every Plantation Worker”, we invested Rs. 97 million in 2020/21.
We have embedded the environmental aspect of sustainability into everything we do. We are responsible for everything in our custody, from the fauna and flora to the water, soil and people. We have three mini-hydro plants and solar rooftop panels within our tea factories to generate renewable energy. Renewable energy generation accounts for 148% of the total energy consumption. Our reforestation project has pledged to plant a million trees, and we have replanted eight hectares with native plant species. We also have an ecosystem restoration project at St. Clair Falls, and we continued our efforts despite the many challenges post-pandemic.
The unfolding economic crisis is challenging for everyone, but we are committed to caring for our people.
The plantations industry is resolute in this. Despite the many challenges over the decades, we have not gone under and secured the livelihoods of a million people depending on the industry. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, we maintained jobs without resorting to wage cuts or layoffs. In fact, we absorbed all the people – who returned from cities to escape the hardships brought about by the pandemic like the lockdowns and job losses – back to the plantations and provided them with many facilities including meals and medications. We will continue to do that come what may because caring for people is core to our sustainability drive at Talawakelle Tea Estates PLC.
Apart from the people or community-led sustainability initiatives, Talawakelle Tea Estates is also the World’s First Plantation Company to commit to the UN Climate Neutral Now pledge and set GHG emission reduction targets from the Science-Based Target initiative (SBTi) towards transitioning to NetZero emissions by 2050. We have deployed climate-smart agricultural practices and have resorted to regenerative agriculture to improve the soil and ecosystems. These measures require investments, processes and constant monitoring.
As plantation managers, we deal with challenges that no other industry can match in complexity and scale. We have to run sustainable businesses and are accountable for our workers and their dependents who live in plantation communities. Increasingly, consumers also care about the environment and social impact, so investing in broad sustainability initiatives is critical to sustaining the business, driving growth, and securing the future.