A little leaf can make a big difference
WHEN sipping on tea, it can be easy to forget there is a long supply chain behind each cup – and it is not always an ethical one.
Unfortunately, modern slavery and poverty are still present in the tea industry today, and there may be more than meets the eye when it comes to buying an ethical cup of tea.
Tea production is a multi-billion-dollar industry with millions of workers, and alongside coffee and cacao, it is a product often harvested using unethical processes, with “pluckers” often harvesting the leaves under difficult conditions and for low wages.
According to Damien Amos, the founding director of local ethical tea company Love Tea, the business launched in 2006 with the vision of keeping things ethical.
“Wealthy countries in the west often are buying these products at a super low price and then most of the profits are ending up in those richer nations.
“The rate per kilo that is getting paid [for tea] is so minimal that it’s hard for the growers and for producing countries to get ahead and make an actual sustainable living from, that’s the main issue in a nutshell.”
Amos said it did not take much to make a big difference.
“I think that’s the thing I find frustrating but also inspiring… for the end consumer in the west, it’s not that big a difference – it’s just a small portion of [the price they pay for tea] that can actually make a big difference to the growing communities.
“So, we said ‘Okay, what’s something we can do to try and tip those scales and make it a bit fairer for growing communities?’.”
Amos said Love Tea did this – as do several other local tea companies – by paying above the premium price per kilogram of tea, with part of the money they pay for a kilogram of tea leaves always going directly to growers and growing communities.
“The best model that we’ve found is we use Fairtrade as part of the auditing and the premium of purchase.
“In addition to what the cost of the good are, you pay [a portion] directly to the community.”
Through Fairtrade, the business collaborates with the estates and small-scale farmers to improve working conditions, wages, and daily life for the workers.
“I often give this story of a community in Sri Lanka we used to work with,” Amos said.
“They used to get married under a tree because they had no accommodation or community space, but by these contributions, they were able to purchase and build a hall.”
“So now that’s a community hall – it’s used for weddings, hired out for events.
“Then it starts to become a bit more of an ongoing income for the community too, rather than just a cash handout. They can hire out the hall and start to feel empowered in the community.”
Amos said they were able to help another community buy a truck, instead of the Australian companies paying for transport of the tea from the farm to the port.
“Then they can do their own transport, and it provides work for the community, hiring out the truck for other services.”
He said that was the ultimate mission at Love Tea: to empower and support the local growing communities where they source their tea.
“Seeing a community that literally can’t afford to have power, and they can’t afford to put coverings on their houses, and they are literally sleeping on the dirt and there’s no flooring, no toilet, no power, and there’s no running water, and they’ve got children that they are wanting to create a better life for.
“It’s really hard to understand unless you’ve been over there and had some world experience, but when you have that understanding it’s just an ethical decision based on how you want the world to look. It’s visualising, if those were your kids, if those were your parents.
“It’s just the start of giving the community a leg up to create an empowerment for the community. But it takes time and effort for a lot of companies and individuals, it’s not a little easy fix.”