A cup of tea is often an affordable source of comfort.
Or is it?
In China, family farms in prestigious areas are thriving, but those in non-prestigious areas face tremendous price pressures. Tea growers are found to have the most disadvantageous position in the supply chain – where small, family tea farms in China often struggle against the favoured, larger chains.
Moving on to other tea-producing countries such India and Malawi, tea there is grown by farmers and workers who are being paid ‘poverty wages’. According to the Ethical Consumer, poverty wages are “are often blanket rates that hover around the producing country’s legal minimum wage or the World Bank’s poverty line.” In India, all tea plantations pay the same wage, which is well below the minimum wage. And while they are also supposed to provide and maintain adequate housing and sanitary conditions, an investigation by the BBC and an audit by the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman found that the living conditions in these estates were far from being in compliance.
Couple this with hazardous use of pesticides and you have dangerous and unsanitary living conditions that trap workers in a poverty cycle. And these are estates that the International Finance Corporation, a sister organisation to the World Bank, invest in. If tea farms with such oversight can fail the farmers this badly, imagine what conditions other farms may be like! Furthermore, an investigation by The Guardian shows that the poor living conditions on these estates make the girls there an attractive target for human traffickers, contributing to the modern slave trade.
I don’t know about you, but that affordable cup of tea doesn’t feel very comforting now.
But don’t lose hope, there are ways we can help and they don’t involve giving up tea (phew!). One way we can help is to make sure that we buy from brands that source their tea ethically, that work with farmers to help improve their lives. A good start would be to look for brands that use tea from the Ethical Tea Partnership, Fairtrade, or Organic-certified sources. For Chinese tea, look for brands that have clear explanations of their tea sourcing processes.
Another method is to buy directly from the farmers themselves — true, that might mean the packaging isn’t as fancy, but the quality will be just as good, if not better and you’ll know that you’re giving money directly to the people who grew the tea.
If you don’t know where to start looking for direct-from-farm teas, you should explore teapasar’s direct-from-farm page here. We work directly with farmers to make sure you get great quality teas at fair prices, whilst ensuring these farmers are remunerated fairly for their effort and expertise. Plus, these are teas that are either rare or available only in bulk, which means that you’re buying teas that can’t be bought anywhere else. Win-win-win.