Directly and indirectly, over one million Sri Lankans are employed in the tea industry. A large proportion of the workforce is young women and the minimum working age is twelve. As tea plantations grew in Sri Lanka and demanded extensive labour, finding an abundant workforce was a problem for planters. Sinhalese people were reluctant to work in the plantations. Indian Tamils were brought to Sri Lanka at the beginning of the coffee plantations. Immigration of Indian Tamils steadily increased and by 1855 there were 55,000 new immigrants. By the end of the coffee era there were some 100,000 in Sri Lanka. Young girls typically follow their mothers, grandmothers and older sisters on the plantations, and the women are also expected to perform most of the domestic duties. They live in housing known as "lines", a number of linearly attached houses with just one or two rooms.
Cultivation and processing
Over 188,175 hectares (727 sq mi) or approximately 4% of the country’s land area is covered in tea plantations. The crop is best grown at high altitudes of over 2,100 m (6,890 ft), and the plants require an annual rainfall of more than 100–125 cm (39–49 in). Tea is cultivated in Sri Lanka using the ‘contour planting’ method, where tea bushes are planted in lines in coordination with the contours of the land, usually on slopes. For commercial manufacture the ‘flush’ or leaf growth on the side branches and stems of the bush are used. Generally two leaves and a bud, which have the flavour and aroma, are skilfully plucked, usually by women. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries where each tea leaf is picked by hand rather than by mechanization; if machinery were used, often a considerable number of coarse leaves and twigs could be mixed in, adding bulk but not flavor to the tea. With experience the women acquire the ability to pluck rapidly and set a daily target of around 15 to 20 kg (33 to 44 lb) of tea leaves to be weighed and then transported to the nearby tea factory. Tea plants in Sri Lanka require constant nurturing and attention. An important part of the process is taking care of the soils with the regular application of fertilizer. Younger plants are regularly cut back 10–15 cm (4–6 in) from the ground to encourage lateral growth and are pruned very frequently with a special knife. The tea factories found on most tea estates in Sri Lanka are crucial to the final quality and value of manufactured tea. After plucking, the tea is very quickly taken to the muster sheds to be weighed and monitored under close supervision, and then the teas are brought to the factory. A tea factory in Sri Lanka is typically a multi-storied building and located on tea estates to minimize the costs and time between plucking and tea processing. The tea leaves are taken to the upper floors of the factories where they are spread in troughs, a process known as withering, which removes...