What is Fair Trade?
Millions of growers and workers worldwide have dedicated themselves to the production of tea. We have their knowledge, skill and artistry to thank for this exquisite product. Most tea is grown and manufactured in developing countries, which often lack fair wages and suitable working conditions. However, the best tea gardens and cooperatives understand that high-quality specialty teas depend on the people and the environment that produce them. Fair Trade Certification verifies and acknowledges the commitment of these producers to meeting internationally recognized Fair Trade standards, which include:
• Wages that meet or exceed legally established minimums
• Absence of forced or child labor
• Freedom of association and organization
• Safe working conditions, including protection from exposure to harmful agrochemicals
• Adherence to national and international labor protections, including those established by the International Labor Organization of the United Nations and, in India, by the Plantation Labor Act
If you asked a stranger on the street, “Do you care about people?”, you’d probably get a confused look, and maybe even offend the person. Of course, we all care. But it’s not always obvious what aspects of our lives this question touches. Most everyone is concerned about acting ethically towards our friends and family, our coworkers and colleagues. But what about actions that affect people we’ll never even meet? People halfway around the world, whose names we’ll never know, whose faces we’ll never see?
The truth is, we make global decisions every day. When we drive our cars, we change the climate of Mongolia. When we throw away an old computer, we could impact the environmental health of a third world neighborhood. And when we choose which bananas, chocolate, or tea we’re purchasing (whether online or in a grocery store), we’re making decisions that affect the livelihood of families all around the world. This is often an unsettling realization for us, and as person who cares, it’s probably unsettling for you, too. But as transparency in business grows, we can begin to understand just how each swipe of our credit card changes the world – and a great place to start learning is by understanding Fair Trade certification.
Wondering what’s happening in the Fair Trade Certified tea estates that supply Arbor Teas with its exceptional organic teas? Here is an update on the Singampatti Oothu Estate which supplies Arbor Teas with an organic, Fair Trade Certified black tea that is full-bodied, smooth, and subtly sweet with light to medium astringency. It is one of our favorites!
The Oothu Singampatti Tea Estates cover the rolling hills of Tirunelveli in the Nilgiris district of southern India. The group of estates are surrounded by the tropical evergreen forests of the Kalakkad and Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. Situated at the southern end of the Western Ghat mountain range, the Oothu Tea Garden is surrounded on all sides by rainforest that hosts a rich diversity of unique wildlife. Jungle corridors among the tea fields have been carefully preserved in order to maintain this rare natural ecosystem. A pioneer in sustainable tea production, Oothu was the first tea garden in India to adopt biodynamic principles and among the first in the country to become certified organic. Fair Trade Certified since 1995, Oothu Singampatti continues to make a significant social impact on the community
The Fair Trade price has enabled workers at Singampatti Group to establish various programs, including:
1) Education — The Oothu Singampatti Estates provide scholarships, focusing on deserving children and those from the most impoverished families within the organization.
2) Health — Health programs, implemented with Fair Trade revenue, contribute to primary care and also allow for specialized treatment that was previously unavailable to estate families. Additionally, life insurance now covers all workers and their families, and funeral expenses are provided.
“Fair Trade has reduced my burden by providing me the finances, which help me put my son in special care. I am thankful to the consumers who pay the extra premium, which reaches people like me and makes a difference.” — Sita, Oothu worker with a son diagnosed with cerebral palsy
Well, we find ourselves at October once more, which many of you know is National Fair Trade Month. And while sales of Fair Trade Certified tea have never been higher (Fair Trade tea sales more than doubled worldwide in 2008), there are many – both consumers and professionals alike – who still have only a vague (and often inaccurate) understanding of how Fair Trade Certification works. In an over-simplified nutshell, the Fair Trade program seeks to use market forces to improve the standard of living for producers in the developing world. While one could write volumes on the ins and outs of Fair Trade, we’ve outlined some key points below that (hopefully!) help give a reasonable understanding of how Fair Trade works.
Two primary organizations are responsible for operating the Fair Trade program in America. The first, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), provides the international oversight for Fair Trade efforts across the globe. FLO is responsible for establishing the internationally-recognized Fair Trade standards, and then certifying those producers who operate in accordance with them.
The primary components of FLO’s Fair Trade standards are (excerpted from TransFair’s website):
- Fair price: Democratically organized farmer groups receive a guaranteed minimum floor price and an additional premium for certified organic products. Farmer organizations are also eligible for pre-harvest credit.
- Fair labor conditions: Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions, and living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.
- Direct trade: With Fair Trade, importers purchase from Fair Trade producer groups as directly as possible, eliminating unnecessary middlemen and empowering farmers to develop the business capacity necessary to compete in the global marketplace.
- Democratic and transparent organizations: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers decide democratically how to invest Fair Trade revenues.
- Community development: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers invest Fair Trade premiums in social and business development projects like scholarship programs, quality improvement trainings, and organic certification.
- Environmental sustainability: Harmful agrochemicals and GMOs are strictly prohibited in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers’ health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.
As many of you may know, October is Fair Trade Month. With another October fast approaching, we wanted to share a few ways that you can help promote Fair Trade in your community. Of course, we strongly encourage you to buy Fair Trade tea, but Fair Trade matters across a wide variety of products, including coffee, chocolate, vanilla, sugar, honey, fruit, rice and wine. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Traditionally, the Fair Trade system operates by rewarding certified producers with a premium that is collected in addition to the wholesale cost of their products. These premiums are then reinvested into the producer’s communities for their social and/or environmental betterment. However, beginning in February of this year, FLO International will (for the first time ever) introduce minimum prices for certain Fair Trade Certified teas.
A Diverse Tea Marketplace
Tea is one of Fair Trade’s most diverse products, with grades and types of tea ranging from the fine-grade mass-market teas that are used in tea-bags to high quality specialty leaf and organic teas (such as those featured by www.ArborTeas.com). Market prices for tea vary tremendously, not just according to grade and type, but also depending on what production methods are used and the geographical origin of the tea.
A Challenging Environment for the Tea Producer
FLO’s decision to introduce minimum prices reflects concerns over downward trends in global market prices for tea over the past five years. Faced with global oversupply of tea, producers in many regions are now selling much of their product at below the cost of production. FLO anticipates that the new pricing system for tea will help tea farmers around the world to meet their costs of production, and to support the sustainable development of their business, even if market prices fall still further.
According to a recent article in Sri Lanka’s English-language newpaper, The Sunday Times, that country’s Fair Trade Certified tea producers have continued to receive growing demand for their products, particularly in Western Europe. We are very proud to carry an exceptional example of that country’s organic and Fair Trade Certified tea production – our Greenwood Estate Ceylon Black Tea.
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. continue reading »
This blog serves as a more casual forum for news and updates about Arbor Teas, as well as issues related to tea and sustainable living. Check out Arbor Teas for one of the largest selections of organic and Fair Trade Certified teas available!