London. On June 7th & 8th the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) held a two day meeting for member companies from Europe, N. America and Australasia. The annual strategic event gave delegates the chance to discuss the progress that has been made over the past year, assess trends in the tea sector and their potential impact on its sustainability, and influence ETP’s strategic objectives. It was also an opportunity to welcome Mars Drinks and Imperial Tea Court to ETP.
The session began with an overview of ETP’s 3 inter-related programmes, Monitoring and Certification, Producer Support and Strategic Sustainability. This included an overview of the status of all the producers supplying the ETP membership, evaluating the extent of certification and the progress that producers were making on raising social and environmental standards.
Members were also given full updates on the 15 producer support projects that ETP is currently coordinating in India, Indonesia, China, Sri Lanka and Kenya. These focus on improving factory health and safety, agrochemical management and environmental management, and tackle gender, harassment and discrimination issues.
For members, who could not attend the recent stakeholder meeting in Kericho, Kenya, an overview of ETP’s Climate Change Adaptation project in partnership with GIZ (the German Development Agency) was also presented. For many members it was the first time they had seen the climate model maps (produced by CIAT) that show the likely impact of climate change on tea producing regions in 2020 and 2050. These indicate that without significant adaptation, producers may be struggling to grow tea in some key areas by 2050.
The predictions of the high level modelling were supported by data on key soil and water indicators that have been collected by the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya. There was a clear consensus in Kericho that climate change was already impacting the sector and that it should do all it could to build increased resilience for the future. Staff from the Cafedirect Producers Foundation, who are carrying out similar work on climate change adaptation in Uganda, joined the meeting to discuss the results of their mapping work and their approach to working with smallholders. Other examples of adaptation projects in tea and other sectors were presented and ETP and its partners will use this information to develop and implement appropriate adaptation tools to 10,000 smallholder farmers.
Carrying on the theme of climate change, ETP updated delegates on the current state of carbon footprinting in the tea sector. The meeting also discussed water, which, as tea is primarily a rain-fed crop, is heavily linked to climate change.
Looking at the social agenda, Corporate Social Responsibility specialist and former ILO and ETI consultant Stirling Smith presented a challenging and interesting insight into how HIV/AIDS is impacting on the tea sector. Stirling emphasised how HIV/AIDS is as much an economic issue as it is a social one. For example estates with a high percentage of workers with HIV/AIDS are affected by loss of skills and experience, reduced supply of future labour, falling productivity (morale issues) and reduced profit and investment. In addition, staff are affected by loss of earning and employee benefits, are subjected to screening and testing at the point of employment and promotion leading to discrimination issues, and also face being stigmatised.
For tea, the main impacts of HIV/Aids are in Africa. While there are a range of major projects on HIV/Aids operating in the countries of concern, they are not yet reaching all of the tea sector, especially smallholder communities. ETP will continue to assess the gaps with tea producers and experts and work to build linkages to ensure that good practice in prevention and management of HIV/Aids reaches those that need it in the sector.
Other guest speaker Frank Mechielsen (Policy Advisor, Oxfam Novib) gave an overview of the current and emerging focus for NGOs in terms of sustainability issues in the tea sector. The session was a first for ETP as it gave members an insight into a campaigning organisation’s perspective and was an opportunity for an open discussion around the campaign agenda. NGO concerns surrounding tea include: low incomes; rights of casual workers; sexual harassment; purchasing practices and multi stakeholder participation. All of these issues are either covered by ETP’s Global Standard (and monitoring programme) or there are projects in place or in the pipeline to address them.
He also emphasised that obtaining certification is not enough; confirmation that ETP’s strategy of developing producer support projects and long-term strategic sustainability initiatives alongside its work on monitoring and certification is what is required if sustained change is to occur.
Frank also gave members an overview of the Oxfam Novib/ETP/IDH project that is looking at wages in the tea sector. With local research being conducted in India, Indonesia and Malawi, and the final report being delivered in 2012 Frank summarised a few of the complexities of the project such as complex wage structures, variable non-wage benefits, government policies, gender issues, seasonality and small holder farmers to name a few.
The meeting was also an opportunity for members to input into ETP’s strategic objectives and prioritise the issues that ETP should focus on in the future. The meeting re-affirmed that the current three year strategy was well-focused. There was a lot of interest in ETP continuing to develop its strategic sustainability work, particularly expanding its work on climate change to other countries, ensure that water issues are well addressed and continue to build up good approaches to working with smallholders. The trends session had highlighted the impact of rising energy prices in the sector, so there was a lot of interest in building on ETP’s previous work with FirstClimate India to assist producers to improve energy management as this should yield triple benefits, to productivity, the environment and the bottom line.
However, there was a clear consensus that this should not dilute ETP’s focus on social issues and that ETP needed to continue to take a lead on building partnerships to tackle the more challenging issues that monitoring and certification alone cannot address, such as discrimination and sexual harassment. The partnership with Oxfam Novib was seen as a good example of a ground-breaking multi-stakeholder approach to an issue where there is currently a lot of confusion and controversy.
Sarah Roberts, ETP’s Executive Director, was very pleased with the outcome from the meeting:
“Once again, I was struck by the uniqueness of ETP. This meeting brought together an amazing combination of staff from across different functions of companies from around the world – buyers and commodity directors, with huge amounts of experience of tea producing regions, CR managers and marketing staff. Combining this with the specialist expertise and perspectives of our external speakers and the experience of our staff, yielded discussions and insights which will certainly strengthen ETP’s strategy and implementation on the ground.”