Sanjit Das | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Workers hand-pick tea leaves at the Simulbari Tea Estate in Darjeeling district, West Bengal, India, on Dec. 7, 2015.
Fernando’s prediction, if correct, could have severe consequences for the livelihoods of a massive population. Worldwide, an estimated 13 million people are involved in tea production, with the majority of planters being smallholder farmers, according to sustainable development agency Solidaridad.
And those growers largely come from less-wealthy countries: Developing nations — such as top growers China, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka — overwhelmingly account for the world’s major producers, according to data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
Admitting that technology could pose a real problem to tea workers, the CEO said he did not “have the solutions right now,” but believes they will be around the corner.
Dilmah’s founder also runs a charitable foundation focusing on providing opportunities in different trades for younger people in the tea industry, Fernando said.
“It’s not particularly good at the moment for us where business is concerned. But it’s a right that they have, and we have to understand that there are social issues that we have to address,” he added.
The $39.3 billion tea beverage market is expected to continue expanding and hit $44.3 billion by 2021, according to Germany-based statistics company Statista.
Last year, there emerged reports of poor sanitation, malnutrition and child labor being rife in India’s Assam state, the world’s largest tea region. Three of Britain’s top tea brands, Twinings, Taylors of Harrogate and Fortnum & Mason, reportedly suspended business last year with the supplier embroiled in the controversy.