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The Arbor Teas Blog

Is Fair Trade Certification the Only Option for Ethical Tea Production?

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Worldwide, millions of growers and workers have dedicated themselves to the production of tea. However, because most tea is grown and manufactured in developing countries (which often lack fair wages and suitable working conditions), a growing number of ethically-minded consumers shop for teas produced under various ethical production/labeling programs.

Within the tea industry, there seem to be two distinct perspectives on the subject of ethically-produced tea. These are represented by the two most visible labeling programs in the marketplace -- TransFair USA's Fair Trade Certified® program and the Ethical Tea Partnership.

What is Fair Trade Certified® Tea? Fair Trade Certified® teas are those which have been certified by TransFair USA to meet the international Fair Trade standards established by Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO). These standards include:

- Fair prices,
- Fair labor conditions,
- Direct trade,
- Democratic and transparent organizations,
- Community development, and,
- Environmental sustainability.

These Fair Trade standards empower farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty by developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace. By guaranteeing minimum floor prices and social premiums, Fair Trade enables producers to invest in their farms and communities and protect the environment.

What is the Ethical Tea Partnership? As I understand it, the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) is an alliance of tea packing companies that have joined together to monitor the conditions of tea production around the world, encouraging improvement where needed. At the core of this program is an independent monitoring network that checks living and working standards on tea estates. Six key areas of estate life are reviewed, including:

- Employment (including minimum age and wage levels),
- Education,
- Maternity,
- Health & Safety,
- Housing, and,
- some areas of Basic Rights.

Unlike Fair Trade, ETP monitoring is free to all estates who take part. ETP is unique in this respect.

So Why Has ArborTeas.com Chosen to Support Fair Trade? While there are definite pros and cons to both programs, there are certain things about the Fair Trade Certified® program that (in our minds, at least) tip the scales in its favor. Specifically:

1) Buying a product under the ETP Label does not guarantee that the product in question was produced in compliance with a particular set of ethical standards -- just that the producers have committed to "work towards improvement" in the ETP's focus areas.

2) No hard and fast compliance milestones or thresholds must be met for a product to be included in the ETP program. As I understand it, a producer could participate indefinitely without ever achieving full compliance with a recognized set of ethical standards.

3) ETP does not address environmental sustainability.

4) While ETP's monitoring is undertaken by an independent third-party, the program as a whole is driven/managed by members of the tea-packing industry, not an independent third-party such as TransFair USA.

As avid tea drinkers, and folks who make their living in the tea industry, we feel a deep responsibility to support a higher standard of living and a sustainable future for the individuals who bring us these fantastic products. We also believe that consumers deserve access to products which they can be assured have met definite ethical production standards. So, until it can be demonstrated to us that ETP-labeled products explicitly comply with a set of acceptable standards, we will continue to whole-heartedly support TransFair USA and their Fair Trade Certified® program.