Tea is experiencing one of its most competitive periods in UK grocery. Brands are battling ferociously in terms of brand image, product quality, pricing and promotions. But this has not stopped the companies responsible for some of the world’s best-known tea brands taking shared responsibility for those people who pick and produce the drink.
This is not a new development brought about by commercial pressures. We’ve been doing this since 1997 when most of the major tea packing companies in the UK formed a non-competitive alliance to ensure the ethical sourcing of our products.
The aim of the Ethical Tea Partnership is to demonstrate that 100% of the tea bought by its members is responsibly produced. To do this, the ETP uses independent monitor PricewaterhouseCoopers to show that the tea estates comply, as a minimum, with local laws and trade union agreements and some international standards.
ETP monitoring looks at six key areas of estate life - employment (including minimum age and wage levels), education, maternity, health and safety, housing and some basic rights.
A rolling programme of estate monitoring is under way beginning with the seven countries that supply 80% of UK’s tea and produce 65% of world tea exports - India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. This is only the start; the rolling programme will be extended and this year we will begin monitoring in China.
Our approach is to work with producers to ensure that improvements, if needed, are achievable and sustainable both for the estate and for the workers on it. We aim to be fair - each estate is different.
The amount of learning since 1997 has been enormous. Not least, some of the biggest competitors in the tea market have had to learn how to work together in an effective and sustainable way.
This has been achieved so successfully that the ETP’s vision now is to become the one global ethical sourcing scheme for the tea industry.
We think this is a realistic vision: ETP members account for 47 tea brands sold in more than 30 countries and for two thirds of all the tea drunk in the UK.
It’s an organisation that is now international with members throughout
Europe and North America. We are looking forward to tea packers in Australasia joining.
We have also had to learn how to listen to and learn from all the stakeholders. In June last year we held a stakeholder forum in London to which retailers, tea producers, NGOs and tea packers were invited. This forum threw up big issues and we will need the help of stakeholders to resolve them.
This spring, ETP brands will start to include information about their membership of the partnership on-pack.
The ETP is not a certification scheme and we have decided not to use the ETP logo on pack, something that could have led to consumer confusion.
What we want to do is to use the millions of tea packs on UK supermarket shelves as the basis of generating greater factual
awareness of ethical trading issues and solutions. We hear a lot about corporate social responsibility, stakeholder involvement, partnership approaches and so on. We only have to look at the obesity issue in the UK to see that this will only be solved by all the major stakeholders learning from each other and working together.
I do not think it’s an idle boast to say that the Ethical Tea Partnership is a real live example of what shared values, co-operation and determination can achieve.
We still have a lot to do and a lot to learn but the desire to establish something really meaningful in ethical trading brings a powerful new ingredient to the commercial lives of all the ETP members.