We were set up in 1997 by a pioneering group of tea experts who wanted to take a coordinated approach to addressing ethical issues in the tea supply chain. Our approach was ground-breaking: at the time there was hardly any experience of social and environmental standards in the sector, and our focus was on raising these.
We learnt a lot from this work, and know that audits can be a useful tool when trying to raise standards, but we are clear that they are not enough to address the fundamental issues that are holding back the sustainability of tea. Now that there is large-scale certification in the industry, we are concentrating our efforts wholly on achieving long-term change, and have phased out our auditing programme.
Today, our priority is to tackle complex, deep-rooted issues that can’t be addressed sufficiently through certification alone. Building on our pioneering history, we convene tea companies, development agencies, governmental and non-governmental organisations to improve the lives of people in tea communities. We work in partnership to tackle the underlying issues that are holding back the sustainability of the sector.
Our work on the ground is far-reaching: we improve the incomes and well-being of tea workers, small-scale farmers and their families, help to empower women to be more independent, reduce gender-based violence, improve nutrition in tea communities and increase climate change resilience. Our work spans the main tea producing regions across the globe. We have expert regional staff in place in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, China, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka who understand the challenges faced by tea workers and farmers, as well as the industry in each region.
As our reach has evolved, so too have our partnerships. We work with a range of public sector partners such as IDH – Sustainable Trade Initiative and German development agency GIZ, as well as NGOs such as UNICEF and Mercy Corps. We have a strong membership base with close to 50 international members, including tea companies and retailers from Asia, Australasia, Europe and North America.