by Adele Ward from Wessanen UK (Clipper Teas)
Brits love tea, celebrating its unique taste, ritualising the making and drinking it. This article from 2017 asks, how much do we really know about the origins of tea and the people and processes that produce the nation’s traditional hot beverage?
Adele Ward, brand controller at Wessanen UK, owner of Clipper Teas, recently visited the brand’s affiliated tea estates in the Nilgiris Mountains, India. Here she shares her experience with us and explains why Fairtrade is so important to workers and their communities
Clipper’s Fairtrade story
Clipper has been leading the Fairtrade tea sector since the brand launched the first-ever Fairtrade tea into UK supermarkets in 1994. Everyone who works for Clipper is committed to ethical sourcing, so being able to witness first-hand the impact this has on workers, their families and the communities they live in is a valuable opportunity.
We work with just a handful of partner estates, all of which place great emphasis on the quality of life of workers and their families. In this most recent trip I had the chance to visit five tea estates, including the Welbeck and Burnside plantations, both of which we’ve worked with for over 20 years.
From plant to tea cup
One of my greatest experiences when visiting our tea estates, is getting to meet the dedicated workers at each estate who make the tea that goes into our tea.
The pluckers rotate around the whole estate ensuring that the bushes are plucked in turn, meaning that they always look impeccably neat. It’s a tremendous skill; one that requires delicacy, dexterity and absolute precision. And it can take years to truly master it.
The tea industry is very reliant on the workers as there are no machines that can pick the leaves with the same care and accuracy as hand picking. You will never find automation in the fields, which is why it’s so important that workers have decent living standards.
After plucking, the leaves go through a number of processes in the factory to dry them out, break them down and transform them into to the tea we all know and love.
Challenges and opportunities
Throughout the trip, I learnt a lot about the opportunities and challenges faced by the people I met. From poor weather conditions (2016 was a very challenging year for drought in the region), to staff recruitment, retention and wage increases, funds are being stretched.
Staff recruitment is a challenge as younger generations are seeking opportunities outside of the region and aren’t joining their families in the fields as they had done previously. Though if the estate managers can offer more opportunities and a minimum wage through Fairtrade, they can attract workers from outside the region.
Fairtrade tea: Improving quality of life
At two estates we met with the Fairtrade committee, to find out how the Fairtrade Premium investments are making a huge difference to tea workers’ lives. Fairtrade premiums are helping to support workers in many different ways, including providing equipment and facilities for schools, and financially supporting pensions, maternity leave, sick leave, medical care and gas connections for cooking.
The Fairtrade Committee decide where to allocate funding and determine eligibility. Recent projects that have received funding include a new vegetable growing initiative and funding to keep and care for cows on the estate so they can use the milk and sell the extra. There was a lot of positivity about a new idea to give out refrigerators for families using the Fairtrade money, which will make a huge difference to their lives.
We visited a few local schools during our trip, partly-funded by Fairtrade, and were astounded at the level of education each child receives; Fairtrade is really enriching children’s lives here. From funding a new school bus to subsidising teacher salaries, each child is given more opportunity thanks to Fairtrade.
Commitment to quality
It’s important that as a company we visit our tea partners and see the earlier stages in the supply chain to give us a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the industry. Fairtrade is helping people in India overcome the challenges and embrace the opportunities, though it is evident more support is needed to help people prepare for issues like adverse weather and staffing shortages.
I’m so proud to work for a brand that has such strong ethical and fair values. At Clipper, we believe improving quality of life for workers is the most important ingredient in our tea.
Read more about Fairtrade Tea