International Tea Day 2021

Your ethical tea - Reaching over a million people

By Executive Director, Jenny Costelloe

International Tea Day, Friday 21 May 2021

International Tea Day was initiated by the United Nations last year, with the aim of recognising tea farmers and workers across the supply chain who bring us the tea leaves that go into the world’s most popular drink, after water. At ETP, this is what we do, every day: we work tirelessly to help our members address the issues in tea. However, I believe that a dedicated day to reflect on these issues is an important moment in the calendar of any tea producer, packer, retailer or consumer; the challenges are complex and widespread, requiring collaboration and investment on a huge scale if we are going to improve the lives and livelihoods of tea workers.

Globally, more than 13 million people are involved in the supply chain, and for the majority their livelihoods are almost entirely dependent upon the production of tea. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that nearly 60 percent of the world’s tea is produced by small scale farmers. Social inequalities, economic instability, and the threat of climate change are some of the biggest challenges facing these tea communities.

Economic instability for tea communities if often a result of the lower wages and incomes that workers and farmers earn and the context in which they live. This is often in the world’s poorest countries such as India, where nearly one million workers are employed within the tea supply chain.

Globally, the majority of tea workers and farmers are women. In Assam, India and Sri Lanka women make up nearly 50% of the tea workers yet, few manage to rise through the ranks to managerial positions.  

Climate change poses a growing risk to tea communities as increasing temperatures, changes to rainfall, and deforestation impact tea growing and ultimately the livelihood of those working in tea.  

At the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), we work with 50 members – made up of tea brands, retailers and suppliers from across the UK, Europe, North America, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Together we address some of the long-term systemic challenges in tea. We run programmes in China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Malawi, Rwanda, and Indonesia, where much of the world’s tea is produced and where millions of lives are dependent on tea; we support innovative business practices to improve outcomes for farmers and workers in tea; and, we engage with a wide network of stakeholders to inform decision-making and policy development, ensuring that tea communities are put front-and-centre of this process.  

Across Asia and Africa our work has reached over 1 million people in the last five years. To bring about the kind of long-term change needed we tackled economic insecurity through programmes like Malawi Tea 2020. We supported over 12,500 tea farmers to take part in community savings groups. These groups helped farmers save money and start new businesses to supplement their incomes and cover household expenses.  

Our activities also tackled issues such as women’s empowerment from working with young girls in Assam to support them to stay in school or women tea workers in Kenya to encourage them to tackle inequalities in the workplace. In Kenya we supported women to become gender champions and nearly 59,000 people in tea communities were then supported by these gender champions.  

We have heard from many farmers about their concerns that climate change would mean tea growing is no longer viable in their regions – posing a serious threat on their livelihoods. Through our programmes we helped to save between 180,000 – 300,000 trees by encouraging tea factories to improve their energy use and become more efficient. We also supported tree planting through nurseries and planted 464,007 trees.  

In the last year or so, much of our focus has been on the COVID-19 pandemic. We have prioritised prevention, protection and provision activities. As part of this work, we distributed face masks, ran safety campaigns and distributed food aid, among others, and as the situation reaches crisis status in India, we are working with partners to ensure that tea communities can access the healthcare they, tragically and inevitably, will need. 

Our incredible partnerships have made these achievements possible. There is still a way to go, but together we are committed to driving the change that is needed to achieve a thriving tea sector.