I don’t know about you, but I personally find the buzz words around everyday products we purchase; more than a little confusing and frustrating. Organic, certified organic, sustainably produced, bio-dynamic…. the list goes on and on. The majority of us are concerned about where our food comes from, that it’s been produced in a good and wholesome way, and that the people who are producing it are being treated and remunerated fairly. Of course, there are those of us who wish to take these principles a little further, but for many as long as the information readily available fits comfortably into our parameters, we’re happy to purchase.
I don’t want to get in to the rights and wrongs of each organisation that has – as core values – higher ethical, sustainability, and environmental standards. We can choose any one of them and easily pick holes in how they perform, but with all this greater attention and consumer driven demand on products, producers must become more transparent in their everyday practises. Will Nirvana ever be reached? Probably not; Just as long as we never return to some of the practises of bygone day’s. As an avid reader and researcher of tea history; I can tell you, there are periods within the tea industry, that make the Dark Ages look positively bright!
In January & February of 2014, my eldest son James and I visited North-east India. We spent a great deal of time visiting and staying at tea gardens, visiting tea factories, and even spent a day at the Tocklai Tea Research Institute. While staying with my very good friend Mr. Ashish Phookan at his Sundarpur Tea Estate in the Baruanagar region of Assam. I was introduced by him and his manager to a new initiative, that they are involved in as one of the pilot scheme estates, “trustea”.
This new initiative by the Tea Board of India is helping tea estates, tea factories and tea smallholders, reach international standards and expectations with regard to sustainable tea production. So what does that mean? It means that each business – whether it be a tea estate, tea factory, or small holder – has a four year period in which to achieve, certain requirements to attain certification from the ‘trustea’ program. The program is supported by key Indian tea stakeholders and internationally recognised bodies including Rainforest Alliance, Ethical Tea Partnershipsand Solidaridad. The program is now being benchmarked by ITC Standards (Joint agency of the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations) and will eventually target the production of 500 million kg’s of tea, from over 600 factories, positively impacting the livelihoods of 500,000 tea plantation workers and 40,000 smallholders by 2017. Initially this program is aimed at the domestic tea market which equates to 70% of all tea produced in India, but the obvious spin off’s for foreign buyers is immense.
So how do these businesses achieve certification? It’s a four year program of development. In the first year mandatory requirements must be achieved by 100%, other criteria must be raised each year with 60% being achieved by year two, then 70% by year three and 80% by year four. It is envisioned that achieving certification will not only raise competitiveness within the gardens but will help facilitate national regulations and international sustainability standards in a step-by-step approach.
Basics of compliance to achieve certification:
Policy, reports and documentation to be created and kept up to date for viewing by internal and external auditors.
Product traceability – records for all aspects of production, transportation and storage, plus clear and easily identifiable systems to prevent tea contamination by non-verified tea. Soil management, soil conservation, and soil fertility practises to be applied as recommended by an affiliated research institute, approved by Tea Board of India.
Water management, conservation, protection and use in the most suitable ways, while abiding to local and national legal requirements.
The correct storage and use of any chemicals, to minimise any possible negative impacts on humans, wildlife and the environment.
Food Safety – the compliance with Indian legislation especially the Food Safety & Standards Act 2006. Health, Safety & Welfare of the workforce – a policy statement which must comply with Indian national legislation. Clear documentation on all aspects of training, risk assessment, records of workplace accidents and the management’s actions. Trained first aiders in each group, first aid facilities for workers and their families, the provision of clean & safe drinking water, the provision of safe and hygienic washing and toilet facilities for workers.
Working conditions and labour rights – clear, up to date and precise documentation of each worker employed including names, age, gender and payments. Workers have the right to join organisation of their choice, the right of collective bargaining and no bonded or forced labour. Mimimum age for adolescent work is 14, with restrictions on any work between the age of 14 – 18 years. Remuneration – equal pay for equal work. A maximum working week of 48 hours (maximum of 27 hours for adolescent workers). Penalty rates to be paid were applicably. A Provident Fund, gratuity and pension scheme for full time employees.
Equality of treatment – regarding access to jobs, training and promotion on equal terms, irrespective of gender, age, ethnic origin, colour, marital status, sexual orientation, political opinion, religion or social origin.
No, engagement in corporal punishment, mental, physical or sexual harassment or any kind of intimidation in the workplace.
Primary education should be encouraged or provided, depending on the number of children of workers. Maternity entitlements and protection in line with Indian law. Maternity leave does not result in any discrimination, loss of seniority or deduction of wages.
A reporting system for grievance, which protects the identity and rights of workers and action being taken.
Biodiversity and environmental management. Records and protection of animals from hunting, trafficking or commercial collection. No deforestation or degradation of notified forest land. Historically tea gardens have been created in some of India’s biodiversity hotspots and so protection of environment and habitat for some of India’s most prominent wildlife, including tigers, elephants, leopards, gibbons and rhino is of utmost importance.
These are just the outline requirements for certification and verification of a tea entity, who wishes to participate in ‘trustea’.
I hope in the near future we are able to see the ‘trustea’ logo or identification of certified entity’s tea being sold in many countries around the world. The more focus that is placed on consumer requirements when it comes to ethically produced and traded tea, the greater the transparency and accountability from tea producing countries, brokers, producers and growers -which in turn allows us the choice; and knowledge of where our tea is coming from, who is producing it, and that the workers and environment are not suffering for our daily cuppa.