Tata Coffee plans `Plantation Trails`

Sometimes you just have to stop in amazement and laugh. For those of you that have been following the continuing saga of the world’s largest tea company, Tata Tea, this little peace of news is going to crack you up, that is of course is you can find humor in misery of plantation workers that suffer to fill the worlds tea bags.

Tata last year decided to get out of the plantation business and have been trying to sell of their plantations in India. Their plantations have been in trouble because the cost of production could not match their competition in Africa and South America where working conditions are quite a bit worse then in India, if that can be imagined. Tata decided that it didn’t make sense to keep it’s plantations, especially after one plantation manager in Assam decided to use the old British disciplinary techniques with unhappy workers that hadn’t been paid for months, and caned a few of the leaders. At that point the workers killed him and his family and burned the plantation down. Tata rightly reasoned that it might be better to try and pick up some of the high tech outsourcing work coming from America, and just keep making tea bags. Amazingly, no one wanted to buy those plantations even at the great prices being offered. They have even tried some great PR efforts like selling the plantations to the workers and letting them worry about wages and working conditions, and buy tea from them at lower prices. That hasn’t been working to well either.

One has to wonder about the prospects for the ‘Plantation Trails’ plan. While it is pretty clever to sell these plantations to Tata Coffee, Enron proved that, and there maybe plenty of tourists that would like to go to India to recapture the old days under the British Raj where plantation owners were gods, how are they going to compete with places like Dubai, where you can still be treated like a rich planter on vacation, which has got to be better that a plantation owner at work. Plus the shopping in Dubai is spectacular, even the flight over on the Emirates Airlines incredible. Still Tata is being pretty creative. In the long term however even the high tech stuff could be a problem as Africans start taking programming classes and learn how to sound like Americans on the phone, and people start demanding that their tea NOT come in bags.

AH