Our award winning Unicef Partnership: supporting women and young people in India

India produces over a fifth of the world’s tea and Indian tea is crucial to most tea blends. Two million people work in the Indian tea industry – the majority on tea estates. Assam is a key tea growing region in the North East of India, and nearly 20% of its population live and work in tea communities.

The context

India produces over a fifth of the world’s tea and Indian tea is crucial to most tea blends. Two million people work in the Indian tea industry – the majority on tea estates. Assam is a key tea growing region in the North East of India, and nearly 20% of its population live and work in tea communities.

Like many other rural communities, tea communities in Assam face many challenges. Nearly 30% of of people in Assam live in what the World Bank defines as poverty. Child protection is a key issue: 43% of girls are married before they turn 18 and only 54% of young people in Assam are enrolled in secondary school.

We have been working in India for many years, and are aware of many of the more hidden issues facing tea communities. This includes the vulnerability of young people to trafficking and offers of work in cities, which often turn out to be highly exploitative.

Assam is a key tea growing region in the North East of India, and nearly 20% of its population live and work in tea communities

Our aims

Unicef and ETP have been working to improve the lives of young people in tea communities for many years. In 2014, a major £1.2 million partnership was formed to bring together key stakeholders in the tea industry as well as public and private partners. In June 2018, the programme was significantly scaled up to build on its successes and encompass adolescent boys, who are also at risk and essential to changing gender norms for the next generation.

The programme is directly and indirectly improving the lives of an estimated 250,000 women, girls and boys living in Assam. Its reach spans more than a quarter of all tea estates in Assam, and it is the biggest programme of its kind there.

We know that more needs to be done in Assam and so, together with Unicef, ETP have launched a collective commitment for women, children, and families in Assam.

Reflections from Head of Sustainable Development at Taylors of Harrogate, Simon Hotchkin:

“The Improving Lives programme has been an inspiring initiative to be part of and I’ve been impressed with the progress that’s been made in such a short time. It’s fantastic to see teenage girls becoming empowered to lead the change in their communities and making positive decisions for themselves and their families.

I think the programme really demonstrates the impact of businesses looking beyond their brands to work together on systemic issues affecting the lives of people across the industry”.

Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

What does the programme do?

Together with Unicef, we make young people safer and improve their lives through:
  • Girls and Boys Groups that empower young people with the confidence and knowledge to stay safe from exploitation and to pursue their full potential.
  • Child Protection Committees that support community members to:
    • understand the dangers of child trafficking and unsafe migration
    • demand the safe return of children engaged in exploitative labour
    • reconsider child marriage of their daughters.
  • Work with state and district government to improve the quality of education and the effectiveness of child protection systems to help make a difference to the lives of children now and in many years to come.
  • Improving services for mothers and new-born babies by connecting tea estate hospitals to government healthcare, and supporting mothers to breastfeed to improve the health of their new-borns.
  • Improving nutrition through community work that promotes varied diets and training workers in the community to identify malnutrition.
  • Developing sanitation facilities that women and girls can easily access. This improves their day to day lives and will help prevent diseases and improve menstrual hygiene, which is linked to improved school attendance for girls.
  • Encouraging greater commitment to education by training teachers on child-friendly teaching practises and digital technology, improving the likelihood of children staying in school.

Who is funding the programme?

The programme is supported and funded by some of the most influential stakeholders in the sector. These include:
ETP members;
As of June 2018, the following have also contributed to funding;

Reflections from Executive Director at OTG, Annemarie Leniger:

“The Improving Lives programme, with ETP and UNICEF, is an important example of how businesses in the tea industry are coming together to form public-private partnerships to improve the lives of many people in the industry.

We’re really pleased to be part of a programme which is working to overcome some of the most complex challenges. As the programme now reaches over 200 tea estates in Assam we’re very hopeful that many more women and girls will benefit from these changes.

We’re delighted to be working together in this way to encourage greater effectiveness to improve people’s lives in tea communities”.

Our impact

The Improving Lives programme has now been running for three years in Assam, and has reached over 300,000 tea community residents.

Run in collaboration with Unicef, the programme addresses issues of child protection, nutrition, access to water and clean toilets and education for young people.

Through Adolescent Groups, boys and girls have been learning about their rights, and are empowered to resist child marriage and stay in school.

To date, the programme has helped over 90% of girls and boys involved in the project to pursue higher education.

The programme has also been working with tea estate management to help ensure that there is long-lasting support for young people living on tea estates. Child Protection Committees have been set up on all of the tea estates where the programme runs, and all the Committees are recognised by tea estate management.

In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Improving Lives programme adapted to restrictions and 20,000 children and young people were able to continue their learning remotely.

Learn more about the programme’s reach:


From 2014 to 2017, the ETP-Unicef Partnership Programme worked with 350 communities in Assam to help give young people brighter futures and a good quality of life. As a result:

0 girls were equipped with essential skills to reduce the risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation

0 Girls Groups were set up in 104 tea communities

0 Child Protection Committees formed to protect children against trafficking and unsafe migration

0 front line staff trained on child protection issues to build trust between tea communities and local agencies and keep them safe.

We are delighted that in September 2019 our partnership with Unicef won the Third Sector Awards' Big Impact Award. Read more about the award

Click here to read more on our work to support change in Assam.

Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

Girls and boys Groups

Girls in tea communities are vulnerable to a range of child protection issues from abuse, child marriage, leaving education early, and trafficking. Through the ETP-Unicef Partnership Programme, which started in 2014, Girls Groups have been set up on more than 100 tea communities in Assam. They help girls understand their rights and empower girls with the confidence and knowledge to pursue their full potential.

As the programme grows so too does its reach, and we are also forming Boys Groups to support boys who have their own sets of challenges to deal with. These Groups are now being rolled out across more than a quarter of all tea estates in Assam.

The Groups act as a forum for young people to come together and discuss issues affecting them, whilst gaining the knowledge and skills they need to stay safe from harm and help lead positive change in their communities.

Meet Binita

Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

Binita is 15 and in Class 9 at school. She is a talented footballer and has been encouraged to train by her Girls Group. She says: “my favourite football team is my own team, right here on the estate”.

Binita’s also encouraging others in her community to make the most of education.

Girls Groups are forums where girls in tea communities meet to discuss issues facing them in their society. Binita explains that the Group spotted her talent for football and selected her for a training camp:

“the coach said I played really well and should get coaching outside the tea garden so that I can access good coaching facilities and become a professional player”.

Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

The aspiring football star was even picked by a club from a neighbouring community; however, Binita wants to stay in her community, “my dream is to become a professional footballer and help my community in my home state, Assam”. She says “what we learn in football can help us in life. We learn in football that there are some things one person cannot do. You need a team and together we can do it”.

As well as being encouraged to pursue her sporting dreams, Binita has learned about other issues common to her community, such as child marriage:

“Since I joined the group, I realised it is not okay. I will not get married before I am 18”.

Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

When she gets home, Binita passes what she’s learned onto her parents. She’s even successfully encouraged the parents of one girl who dropped out of school to return, “after learning about the importance of education, I persuaded her and her parents that she should go back to school”. Not only has the girl returned to school, but she’s also joined the Girls Group.

Binita’s set on becoming a professional footballer after completing her studies and helping her community. Her Girls Group will be cheering her to the finish line.

Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

Hear from Nabanita

Healthy diets

The Adolescent Girls Groups are working to improve the nutrition of women and girls by providing education on varied diets and training community workers to identify malnutrition.

Through the training more than 50% of adolescent girls now have access to iron folic acid, essential to support their health and wellbeing. Alongside providing supplements, the community workers are also teaching young girls about the importance of a wide and varied diets, and supported more than 300 girls and their families to grow their own vegetables in kitchen gardens.

Hear from Bhagyawati

Child Protection Committees

Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

The Improving Lives programme is the biggest of its kind in Assam. It is directly and indirectly improving the lives of an estimated 250,000 women, girls and boys living in Assam.

The Girls Groups work with Child Protection Committees, which are run on the estates by Unicef as part of the programme.

Hear from Sangeeta

Find out more

Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

ETP has supported tea communities in India for many years.

To help address some of the challenges facing tea communities, we have led a ground-breaking project: the Plantation Community Empowerment Programme.

We are aware that while we are making some good progress, more still needs to be done in Assam, and so together with Unicef we launched an industry first, collective commitment for women, children and families in Assam.