On Tuesday 17 June the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) and IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative brought together 150 delegates from within and outside the tea industry to discuss the fundamental issues affecting tea sustainability.

TEAM UP 2014 – CHAIN REACTIONS welcomed a diverse array of speakers and guests to analyse issues, assess progress, and catalyse the next set of ACTIONS that will make the tea industry better and fairer for all parties along the tea value chain.

We kicked off with our ‘Outside In’ session looking at some of the most difficult issues facing the sector. From smallholder livelihoods and climate change, to low wages, discrimination and harassment of women, and the programmes that ETP and IDH are involved in to address these.

This was followed by fascinating analysis from senior executives from tea companies, producers, global retailers, and development partners. Together they discussed the global challenges in tea and how they saw them intersecting with sustainability and their own approaches to accelerating a thriving tea industry that is socially just and environmentally sustainable.

Our facilitator, Peter Knight from Context, and the highly informed audience, kept our Producer-Packer Panel on their toes. Questions covered everything from the changing balance of supply and demand and the impact it has on prices and sustainability, to how value is distributed along the supply chain, and approaches to improving wages and livelihoods of tea pluckers and farmers. There were many suggestions on ways forward, including “identifying the ethical George Clooney who can glamorise tea”, as a way of increasing value along the chain!

Some of these themes were explored in more depth by subsequent speakers. Sir Ian Wood, chairman of the Wood Family Trust, explained what it takes to improve the livelihoods of smallholder tea farmers in Rwanda and Tanzania and the role of venture philanthropy in that process. Giles Bolton, Ethical Trading Director, Tesco described how, in today’s world, consumers assume that companies go well beyond simply treating suppliers fairly – expecting them to be improving conditions in producer communities and tackling the issues that matter on the ground. This can only be done through collaboration, which is why Tesco is the first multiple retailer to join the Ethical Tea Partnership.

During the day we held eight interactive workshops where ETP, IDH, tea companies, and development partners led sessions that explored How to:

There are a whole range of activities coming out of the partnerships discussed at TEAM UP, from new programmes to improve tea communities in India; to strategic work with the Malawian value chain to boost incomes for workers and smallholders; to multi-country work to improve opportunities and lives of women in tea. Overall there were five key conclusions from the event:

  1. Good partnerships leads to significant impacts.Throughout the day, we saw evidence of how partnerships involving ETP, IDH and our corporate and development partners are impacting at scale. It’s apparent that if good learning structures are in place, such as they are at KTDA, they can be used to make progress on a variety of fronts from improving farming practices to changing social attitudes.
  2. Learning from partners’ experience is leading to programmes that were unimaginable a few years ago. The analysis of successful approaches in particular regions is leading to their successful scale up and introduction and adaptation in new places. For example, the Kenyan smallholder experience has led to new Farmer Field School programmes and approaches to smallholder ownership of production facilities in Africa and Asia. While initiatives such as the Trustea sustainability programme for the Indian domestic market, has taken the learnings from all the improvement and auditing work in the export sector, to create a practical programme that will raise standards across the board.
  3. Involvement of the full value chain accelerates and deepens change. Having the full value chain involved expands the conversation and leads to new possibilities for change. ETP’s own ability to make a difference has been transformed over the last five years, as the involvement in our organisation from producers, traders, and retailers has increased. Now we have the full value chain applying their collective wisdom and energy to the challenges of improving wages and livelihoods in places like Malawi, new possibilities have developed.
  4. Being open about difficult issues reduces risk. There are huge challenges in many of the countries where tea is grown, many of which cannot be solved quickly or easily, especially since they are part of a wider social, economic, political, and cultural landscape. However, as we are seeing from our experience of working on wages and benefits, if we face up to the issues and work through the underlying reasons for them with different stakeholders, it takes us all into a position where we can figure out what might be possible and who needs to be involved. Similarly as we understand more about the exploitative situations facing some young people and women in tea communities, new opportunities to contribute to solutions emerge.
  5. Strategic approaches to sustainability have to take into account the market. Imbalances in the supply-demand equation and how this impacts on sustainability was a big topic of conversation at TEAM UP, along with questions about how changes from sustainability programmes such as increasing smallholder yields are impacting the market. New initiatives such as the market mechanisms work that has emerged from Tea2030 are very welcome and will be linked closely with existing initiatives.

Download the TEAM UP 2014 delegate list.