Tea is the most popular drink in the world after water – an estimated 70,000 cups are drunk every second. And yet despite this, the farmers and workers behind our daily brew struggle to get a fair deal. This can have a very real and human cost.
One in four children in Kenya’s tea and coffee-growing regions are malnourished, leading to stunted growth. One in 10 children in the tea-growing regions of Malawi die before their fifth birthday.
Most tea is produced on large plantations or estates and picked by employed workers. It is also grown on small plots of land by smallholder farmers who sell their freshly-plucked green leaf to plantations or tea factories for processing into black tea.
In Africa, the average smallholder’s farm is less than half the size of a football pitch. Tea farmers face the challenge of low and fluctuating prices for the green leaf they sell, and a lack of power in a tea supply chain dominated by large companies.
On tea estates, the challenges for workers range from notoriously low wages, long working hours and a difficult relationship with estate management. And it is the management they depend on for basic needs such as housing, healthcare, access to water and even education for their children.
Both small farmer organisations owned and governed by the farmers themselves and tea plantations that comply with strict Fairtrade Standards for hired labour can become Fairtrade certified. Fairtrade Standards for tea include an origin-specific Fairtrade Minimum Price, which acts as a safety net against the unpredictable market. Standards also include payment of the additional Fairtrade Premium of US$ 0.50/kg black tea, for producers to invest as they see fit. Examples include putting resources into better farming so they can earn more money for their crops, or it could be for education, clean water and clinics for the community.
More than 364,000 farmers and workers are involved in Fairtrade tea production. Global Fairtrade tea sales have increased six-fold since 2004, reaching 12,200 tonnes by 2014. This means certified farmers and workers earned around £3.6 million in Fairtrade Premium.
On plantations, workers invest almost half of their Premium in community services such as housing, education and healthcare. However, Fairtrade certified organisations sell only around 7 percent of their tea on Fairtrade terms – this means they don’t benefit from being certified to the extent that they could.
In the UK, while sales of Fairtrade tea have more than doubled since 2000, they still only account for roughly 8 percent of all UK tea sales. When UK shoppers choose Fairtrade tea, tea producers sell more of their product on Fairtrade terms, and can work towards a more sustainable livelihood for themselves and their families.