Making a difference through your daily cuppaPosted: July 22, 2011
Many of us here in Britain rely on that first cup of tea in the morning to wake us up and get us going for the day. And it’s a good job that we do, because in other areas of the world, reliance on tea is far more fundamental than that: as many as twenty million people in the developing world are dependent on tea for their very survival. In India, for example, tea is the second largest employer, and ten percent of Kenya’s population works in the tea trade. It is for this reason that tea is a vital element in the fight against poverty. Despite the huge popularity of tea in wealthy nations, small scale tea farmers and workers in the tea industry benefit little from the money spent when you buy your average brew. Buying fairly traded tea is one way that we can all make a difference and improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people around the world. With this in mind, The Fair Traders Co-operative now stocks a range of ‘everyday’ Traidcraft teas to complement the selection of flavoured green and white Qi teas already available in its shop and online store. Choosing a Fairtrade tea such as those stocked by The Fair Traders Co-operative ensures that the farmer receives a fair price for the tea. And what’s more, it means that workers rights and environmental needs are respected in the production of the tea. Producing tea is a labour intensive process, and workers and small scale producers in the tea sector can work very long hours, suffer back problems due to the bending and lifting involved and are exposed to pesticides and other agro-chemicals that cause ill-health. Workers on the large plantations, or tea estates, can be powerless to change their circumstances as they can be totally dependent on the estates for everything from wages and healthcare through to schooling and sanitation, leaving them with little control over their lives. And, of the many players in the tea supply chain, the small scale farmers and labourers earn a tiny proportion – as little as 1% – of the final retail price of the tea, whilst also carrying the greatest burden of risk when market prices fluctuate. The length and complexity of the tea supply chain means that farmers and tea workers have little relationship to buyers, and often have little choice about who they sell to or what price they get for their produce. The Fairtrade Foundation reports that there is very limited competition in the tea supply chain, with seven companies controlling 85% of tea production through their own factories and estates. Retail sales are also highly concentrated: the top three packers control 60% of the tea market in the UK. This concentration and control by a few western companies is reflected in the breakdown of who accrues the largest share of the value chain: • Around 40% of the retail price of tea accrues to the tea traders and manufacturers, and a further 40% goes to the processors/blenders, packagers and retailers, based mainly in rich countries. • In tea-producing countries, around 15% of the retail price goes to the plantation and factory, and less than 1% to the auction broker. • The plantation worker is likely to earn 1% or less. So whilst lacking power in the supply chain and receiving a very small proportion of the price of tea, small scale tea growers have to cope with the reality of increasing costs, such as for fuel, labour and fertiliser. Inflation has caused the price of living to go up, and yet tea producers have not benefited from increases in the nominal price of tea, receiving in fact only about half of what they did 30 years ago. And climate change is adding to their difficulties by causing unpredictable harvests, with recent droughts affecting crop outputs in many tea producing areas of the world. So, buying Fairtrade tea really can make all the difference. Fairtrade standards act as a safety net against the unpredictable market, providing a minimum price that aims to cover the costs of sustainable production, as well as a Fairtrade premium for investment in social, economic and environmental improvements, and providing credit if needed. The Fairtrade environmental standards require environmental protection, restrict the use of agrochemicals and encourage sustainable farming and processing methods. But perhaps the most crucial element of the Fairtrade standard is that the tea workers on plantations and the smallholder members of the producer organisations are able to take more control over their own future. Small scale farmers are organised into associations and must manage the Fairtrade premium democratically, reinvesting it according to priorities identified by the farmers themselves. This can include improving the services of their own organisation, improving quality control, or investing in social or environmental projects to benefit the whole community. The Fair Traders Co-operative stocks a variety of teas, including Everyday Tea, Everyday Decaffeinated Tea, African Gold Tea and Everyday Green Tea by Traidcraft and a range of flavoured green and white teas by Qi. Click here to browse and buy these high quality teas that really do ensure better livelihoods for vulnerable people.