One of the world's most popular beverages, tea has grown from a medicinal crop in China five thousand years ago to being a multibillion dollar global industry.
Millions of farmers and workers around the world depend on tea for their living. China has 80 million tea growers, India has an estimated one million permanent tea workers and double the number of seasonal tea laborers, while in Kenya tea supports the livelihood of an estimated three million people.
While the bulk of global tea is produced on large plantations or estates, tea is also grown on small plots of land by smallholder farmers who sell their freshly-plucked green leaf to plantations or tea factories for processing into black tea. In India for instance, while the average size of a smallholder tea farm is around 3 acres, the average size of a tea plantation is 618 acres.
In the smallholder tea sector, significant in countries such as Kenya and Sri Lanka, the main challenges faced by tea growers are low and fluctuating prices for the green leaf they sell and the vulnerability in tea supply chains controlled by large companies. In particular, smallholder farms need additional support to boost their tea productivity and quality so that they can compete with plantation tea that is usually cheaper. In tea estates, the challenges for workers are many, ranging from notoriously low wages, long working hours and a difficult relationship with estate management on whom they are dependent for basic needs such as housing, health care, access to water and even education for their children.
Fairtrade certification for tea is open to small farmer organisations owned and governed by the farmers themselves and for tea plantations that comply with stricter Fairtrade Standards for hired labor settings. Fairtrade Standards for tea include an origin-specific Fairtrade Minimum Price which acts as a safety net against the unpredictable market, ensuring growers get a price that covers their average costs of production. Standards also include payment of the additional Fairtrade Premium of US$ 0.23/pound black tea, for producers to invest in business or community development.
Since 2004, global Fairtrade tea sales have increased six-fold reaching 12,200 tons in 2013-14. In those years, Fairtrade tea sales globally earned an estimated $6.6 million in Premium for certified farmers and workers, of which 20% has been invested specifically in the education sector.
Watch Fairtrade Matters a landmark film that offers a poignant glimpse into the lives of just two of the farmers and workers at the heart of Fairtrade.