On December 15 we celebrate International Tea Day. This is a relatively new global observance, having been developed in India in 2005 to draw attention to tea-producing countries and the farmers and workers who grow, pick, and process tea leaves. I’m on my second mug of the morning as I write this, and as a tea-lover working in Fairtrade, I wanted to share some of the facts, figures, and impact stories that inspire me on a daily basis.
Tea is the second most popular beverage in the world, surpassed only by water. Most tea is produced on large estates employing hundreds or thousands of workers in East Africa and Southeast Asia. But there are also a number of small tea producers organized through co-operatives and associations who sell their freshly-plucked green leaf to plantations or tea factories for processing into black tea.
Fairtrade in the Tea Sector
Fairtrade has been working in the tea sector for over two decades. Today, more than 390,000 farmers and workers are involved in Fairtrade tea production for 106 organizations in eleven countries, including Kenya and India.
Fairtrade Standards for tea include origin-specific Fairtrade Minimum Prices which act as a safety net to protect producers against an unpredictable market, as well as the payment of an additional Fairtrade Premium, which is democratically invested in facility and community improvements by farmers and workers. These investments contribute to many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals such as:
- SDG 2 – Zero Hunger
- SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth
- SDG 4 – Quality Education
- SDG 1 – No Poverty
Impact in India
United Nilgiri Tea Estates Company Limited (UNTE) was one of the first organizations in India to be Fairtrade certified. It operates four tea estates in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu in the south of the country, producing high quality teas at altitudes of over 2000 metres.
Krishnakumari, Shanmugalaxmi and Birasmani are workers at UNTE. They say: “We are very happy working in this estate as we have good facilities ranging from school to our pension plans when we retire.”
The Nilgiri Premium Committee has a twin emphasis on education and health. In education, the Premium has helped to fund the building of eight classrooms and one audio visual room with 900 students now benefiting from 25 new computers; while two school buses and hostels help those children who live further away to attend classes. In its other core area, a community health centre has already received around 12,000 patients and has given all workers, their spouses and children the option of immunization against Hepatitis B. Daycares and an orphanage have been opened and at the other end of the life scale, there is now a pension scheme.
The biggest challenge for many Fairtrade tea producers is that they can only sell a small amount of their crops on Fairtrade terms. We need consumers to drive demand for independently certified, ethically-sourced tea, meaning that more businesses would purchase Fairtrade, driving impact for farmers and workers.