5 Tips for Buying Tea Ethically

When choosing your tea, it’s important to consider the ethical implications of your purchase. While most tea is grown in developing countries with poor wages and working conditions, but certified teas provide a means to improve working conditions and cut related pollution. With a little bit of education, you can ensure that your tea choices help support tea producing communities the world over!

1. Understand the Problem

Only four organizations dominate the international market, and they have ensured little change in tea prices in the last several decades. As a result, the industry is marked by poor wages and working conditions, with little of the profits reaching tea-producing countries, much less farmers and workers. A

t the same time, farms rely on monocultures and pesticides that harm local environments. Even some certification programs have failed, as in the recent auditing of Rainforest Alliance farms in Assam where workers were found living and working in dangerous and degrading conditions, including child labor.

2. Know Your Certifications

With a strong understanding of the problem, the next step is to educate yourself on the most common ethical standards and certifications, including the following.

  • Fair Trade certification requires fair prices, labor, and environmental sustainability.
  • Rainforest Alliance is a business-friendly set of standards for better farm management.
  • Ethical Tea Partnership is an alliance of packaging companies that monitors production.
  • UTZ is a farming sustainability certification that encourages better management for estates.
  • Organic certification regulates the impacts of farming on wildlife and local ecosystems.
  • Soil Association certifies organic production and supports direct, fair trade.
  • Equal Exchange certifies fair trade and organic tea on a small farming model.

Some have flaws, like Rainforest Alliance, which only requires a third of tea to meet vague standards, and Ethical Tea Partnership, which gives certification to companies for working towards their standards.

3. Go Organic

Nobody wants to think that our tea habits could actually be harming the environment or other people around the world.
Nobody wants to think that our tea habits could actually be harming the environment or other people around the world.

Buying organic means that your tea is produced using environmentally friendly farming practices with minimal pesticides and other pollution. Organizations like Soil Association provide not only higher quality tea containing fewer pesticides, but also greater support for the farmers producing them. Others like Equal Exchange combine organic and fair trade practices through long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships in support of better working conditions and tea products.

4. Ensure Fair Trade

Fair trade certification ensures direct trade with farming communities while encouraging community development and environmental sustainability. So, buying fair trade tea will pay workers a living wage and train them to better compete in the global marketplace. You’ll also be investing in farming community healthcare, education, and the preservation of their environments. Fundamentally, your money will help cultivate strong relationship between buyers, suppliers, and their communities.

5. Support Local Communities

Tea pickers hard at work in Vietnam.
Tea pickers hard at work in Vietnam.

While buying organic, fair trade, and other certified teas can help raise industry standards, purchasing from organizations that provide more direct support to growers and farmers will help their individual communities. For instance, organizations like Tea People donate portions of profits to educational and otherwise develop tea growing regions. Unlike fair trade standards, which have only limited ability to raise wages, monitoring and developing local economies can have more direct, positive impacts.

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