Cafédirect has launched a new report - RealiTEA - which reveals that in order to offer tea at the low prices seen in UK supermarkets, compromises have to be made.

While the cost of growing tea has soared by as much as 94% in the past five years, the market price for green leaf has only increased 25%, which has crippling consequences for smallholder tea growers who provide high-quality tea through the care they exercise in hand-picking only the top two leaves and bud from the bushes.

The report was fresh in my mind last week as I travelled to Kenya and ruminated about what the industry could be doing to put more value back into tea as a product.

Those who have direct relationships with smallholders and workers, like us at Fairtrade, hear time and time again from growers how worried they are about their livelihood and if they will earn enough to feed their family or send their children to school.

” Growers worry if they’ll earn enough to feed their family”

So it was a great experience to witness first hand how some smallholder tea growers have leveraged a new position in the value chain that has the potential to improve the future for their members and the local community. In the Nandi Hills, some 350km north west of Nairobi, I met the chairman, treasurer and secretary of the Sireet Outgrowers Empowerment (SOE) programme.

Investing some of the Fairtrade premium from sales of its tea on Fairtrade terms to UK consumers, SOE has just purchased its own factory to process tea. Their excitement in the venture felt tangible and it was encouraging to hear they were being actively supported with technical and operational input from the local tea estate management company.

We too in Fairtrade recognise the need to continually develop our system to make it even more participatory and fit for the future. In Kenya, I also attended a consultation on Fairtrade’s new Hired Labour Standards with tea workers, managers and traders all working together to help develop a strategy to help lift thousands of tea workers out of poverty.

Part of why we are reviewing the Fairtrade Hired Labour Standards is to develop guidance on ways to progress towards a living wage and the empowerment of workers. We are also exploring how living wage calculations might be included in setting Fairtrade Minimum Prices, and aim to work with other certification schemes to establish common definitions, a methodology and toolkits for calculating a living wage.

I returned from Kenya convinced we all need to work harder with the different players in the tea industry to form stronger partnerships and bring the voice of workers and producers to the fore. Participation in industry initiatives such as Tea 2030, a global project to build a sustainable industry, and the next phase of this tea wages study will also facilitate discussion on a new approach to setting tea industry wage benchmarks and the promotion of wage bargaining, so better wages become a commitment of everyone along the tea supply chain.

Richard Anstead is head of product management at the Fairtrade Foundation