When you hear the word 'plantation', what does it bring to mind?
As we look at our participation in the effort to dismantle racism, we are focused on how to expand our participation in the movement. Our company works directly with tea producers in East Africa and we are committed to ethical trade. Our core values include honoring every individual who participates in creating and selling our products. Since tea is one of the agricultural products that has been historically grown on what used to be called a plantation, we wanted to unpack this term.
Historically, the term plantation referred to “farms that produce certain types of crops like coffee, sugar and tobacco, and where there is resident labor”. (source: Oxford Languages). By 'resident', we can assume they mean 'slaves', i.e. people who are working on the land without pay and against their free will. Plantations still exist today, even if some of the residents are paid, and slavery still exists today. We will come back to that.
According to National Geographic, the plantation system came to dominate the southern United States in the early 1600's. It is rooted in slavery, so why would we use this term today to describe our business practices?
We recently discovered at least two American businesses that changed their names to reflect the growing awareness of how modern-day racism is deeply connected to historical slavery. Charleston Tea Plantation changed it's name to Charleston Tea Garden in June, 2020. The governor of Rhode Island has also removed the word from it's state seal which used to include the phrase "the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations." He states that "We can't ignore the image conjured by the word 'plantations'. We can't ignore how painful that is for Black Rhode Islanders to see that and have to see that as part of their state's name.
We encourage you to speak up when you are offended by a word, a title, a term. Some athletic teams and universities are changing their names and mascots, and we believe this is the right thing to do.
Slavery is still present in our world. Until we can put a stop to slavery and the use of terms that were derived from slavery, we cannot put an end to racism. Changing a word or a name, is a start, but that is not enough.
We will be exploring this topic with weekly blog posts throughout the month of October, which happens to be 'Fair Trade Month'.