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Brewing Justice:
Fair Trade Certified Tea in the U.S.


While Fair Trade Certified coffee has become the fastest growing segment of the specialty coffee industry, many in the hot beverage industry are just beginning to recognize the importance of Fair Trade for tea workers and the emerging market for Fair Trade Certified tea in the U.S.

Fair Trade Certified Tea Estates

In contrast to Fair Trade Certified coffee, which is exclusively produced by cooperatives of small-scale family farmers, Fair Trade Certified tea is typically produced on large plantations (e.g. India, Sri Lanka, East Africa) with private ownership and management distinct from the working population, which resides on and within the estate. Like coffee farmers, tea workers are able to make meaningful improvements in their living standards as a result of Fair Trade.

To become certified, a tea estate provides workers with fair wages, democratic working conditions, adequate housing and healthcare. Certified estates encourage sustainable farming methods, prohibit child labor abuses, and create a Joint Body - a special council on the estate composed of workers and estate managers. The Joint Body decides how the Fair Trade premium (paid by licensed tea importers) will be used to benefit the whole worker community. The premium is often invested in social development projects relating to housing, healthcare, education, or local infrastructure. For example, in Ambootia, a certified tea estate in Darjeeling, India, the Fair Trade premium has been invested in specialized medical care, recreation, environmental restoration, scholarships, and additional income-generating projects.

Currently there are 45 Fair Trade Certified tea estates in seven countries across Asia and Africa, benefiting more than 120,000 workers and their families. Since Fair Trade focuses on supporting the poorest workers in developing countries, tea estates in Japan (a fully developed nation) are not eligible for certification. FLO has recently created a “small holder agreement” under which a small landowner, or a collective of small landowners, may work with a tea factory to have their tea produced within Fair Trade criteria. Under this agreement, the Fair Trade premium would go directly to these small landowners and be used to benefit the worker community.

Fair Trade Certified Tea in the US

In September 2000, Seattle-based Granum, Inc. (manufacturers of Choice Organic Teas), became the first company to launch Fair Trade Certified tea in the U.S. Blake Rankin, Granum’s president, feels that American consumers are quite receptive to the concept. “Interest in Fair Trade teas is very high. Especially in the market segments where Fair Trade coffee has prospered, support has been tremendous, and we have found that certified organics and Fair Trade certification represent marketing positions with great appeal. For us, Fair Trade is a perfect way to give back to tea-growing communities, and provides our company with a greater sense of workday fulfillment.” Granum has certified all of its black and green teas (bulk and bag) that are eligible for certification.

The market for Fair Trade Certified tea is still new, but growing quickly, and may yet become, as it is in coffee, the fastest growing segment of the specialty industry. In the past year, four more companies have joined Granum in offering Fair Trade Certified tea, and TransFair continues to receive growing interest from tea companies all over the U.S. Most recently, the Sierra Club, one of the nation’s largest environmental organizations, announced they would be launching a Fair Trade Certified tea (to join its recently launched Fair Trade Certified coffee) later this year.

To find out more about Fair Trade tea, call TransFair USA at (1)(510) 663-5260 or e-mail info@transfairusa.org.

Tea & Coffee - August/September, 2002


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