Abuse of workers at origin leaves a bad taste for tea drinkers that Twinings intends to eliminate.
Last week Twinings, a legendary tea supplier dating to 1706, published a list and map of every Indian plantation supplying its tea blends. “Transparency is part of the journey to improving the lives of tea communities we are sourcing from and is important to drive the change we all aspire to see,” according to the company which is the UK’s second biggest selling brand.
Transparency in sourcing is hardly the norm. Small brands maintain that shining a light on substandard working conditions is essential to rid the tea industry of a shady reputation reinforced by media coverage but brands like Yorkshire and Twinings have long kept their business dealings private.
In June, Bettys & Taylors Group, owners of Yorkshire Tea, became the first large brand to report a full list of tea suppliers. The bold move by these two major brands is likely to force others to do the same. Look for Tetley (Tata Global Beverages), Typhoo, Clipper Tea, and PG Tips (Unilever) to follow suit.
During the past few years the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) along with non-governmental organizations including Traidcraft Exchange, the World Bank and academic institutions revealed abuses that range from slavery to abduction. The afflicted, primarily in Assam, subsist on meager wages, live in uncomfortable hovels with limited sanitation, and suffer mightily when gardens fail. The larger tea companies divested much of their colonial holdings but continue to rely on tea estates that do not always meet minimums.
Traidcraft launched a public campaign “Who picked my tea?” “Full disclosure of a company’s suppliers is a positive global trend and one that all businesses, no matter who their customers are, can and should undertake,” said Fiona Gooch, senior policy advisor for Traidcraft Exchange.
Twinings listed 67 estates* that meet its standards, attesting to the fact that the operation does not abuse workers and is slavery-free.
Nick Knightley at Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) told Reuters Foundation that “Greater transparency from brands means greater scrutiny and accountability. It means exploitation has fewer places to hide.”
Knightley, who works on food and farming at ETI, said simply shining a light would not be enough to ensure all tea plantation workers got a fair deal.
Brands must put pressure on suppliers to ensure workers were free to unionise and demand better conditions, he told Reuters.
*Assam: Amgoorie; Bargang; Behali; Borbam; Borsapori; Corramore; Deamoolie; Dejoo; Dekorai; Dhoedaam; Dimakusi; Dirai; Dirial; Dirok; Dufflaghur; Harmutty; Hunwal; Itakhuli; Keyhang; Koombergram; Langarghan; Margherita; Mijicajan; Nonaipara; Numalighur; Orengajuli; Rajahali; Sewpur; Thowra
Darjeeling: Badamtam; Bannockburn; Barnesberg; Castleton; Chamong; Dhajea; Ging; Lingia; Margaret’s Hope; Marybong; Nagrifarm; Phoobsering; Pussimbing; Soom; Sree Dwarika; Thurbo; Tukdah; Tumsong;
South India: Burnside; Chamraj; Chanduverrai; Korakundah; Kotada; Lockhart; Panniar; Patumally; Wellbeck; Wentworth.