I was very happy to welcome Liz Smedley, ETP’s UK based China advisor to China recently. I’ve been working as the ETP Regional Manager in China since 2007, focusing on helping tea producers to engage with the ethical requirements of international buyers and to assist them in raising their standards. Although I speak to Liz several times a week, the opportunity to review our impacts and to plan the future developments of ETP’s programmes in person is priceless.
Farmer field training
In China tea has huge cultural and historical significance and is more than just a drink. We started our trip in Hangzhou, China’s ‘tea capital,’ visiting the Tea Research Institute of China (TRI), our implementing partner for our farmer training work.
We were cheered by the feedback about how our training is making a practical difference on the ground and benefitting farmers and their production. It’s also really pleasing to hear that the farmers have asked for the training to be expanded so that it tackles other issues they face.
On the back of this we had fruitful discussions with TRI about how it could be broadened.
Factory Health & Safety
Liz and I also spent a lot of time planning the next developments of our occupational health and safety (OHS) programme. In China OHS awareness varies dramatically between factories. While some have state of the art facilities others rely on machinery that was built decades ago when there were far fewer OHS considerations.
Over the last year I’ve been running factory-training sessions around these issues and the producers I work with have been really enthusiastic about the training. When I follow up on these action plans generated at these sessions, I’m pleased to be able to say that I have seen significant improvements which are valued by those working in the factories. As one manager put it: “Through the changes that the ETP OHS project prompted, workers now work in a much more orderly environment with reduced risks.”
New supply chain approaches
A key issue under discussion was how we ‘reach’ the thousands of small ‘preliminary factories’ that can enter the supply chain for often only short periods of time. Because the Chinese market is much more significant than the export market, both factories and farmers often switch between the two, making it more difficult to develop the on-going relationships required to continue raising standards. Liz and I are now beginning to look at new approaches to drive sustainability from the ‘bottom up’ with partners, local institutions and donors, which will complement our existing approach.
On a separate issue Liz was also very pleased to meet our labour law and contractual specialist consultant in person. We had a productive session looking at ways to support producers at different levels in the supply chain around these issues.
All in all a very fruitful trip and as Liz departed we felt that we had very strong plans in place for 2012.