Yorkshire first – an update on ‘Who picked my tea?’

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A month ago we launched a big new campaign aiming to bring about change for the women who pick the tea we drink. And today we celebrate our first campaign win!

Yorkshire have become the first big UK tea brand to publish their list of suppliers in full – a direct response to our campaign.

A quick recap of how we got here…

Around 10% of the world’s tea is grown in the tea estates of Assam in India. And nearly 1 million workers and their families are directly dependent on the tea industry for their livelihoods.

If you drink any of the tea sold by the big UK brands the chances are that there is tea from Assam in it – it’s a key ingredient in many popular blends and prized for its unique malty flavour.

Yet the women who pick it are not so prized – they are trapped in poverty with no easy way out.

Our campaign aims to change that.

We started by gathering evidence. It’s not easy to gain access to tea estates in Assam and we wanted honest responses from workers rather than scripted answers to our questions. So we hired an investigative team to go undercover into Assam and see what conditions for workers are really like.

Then we put that evidence to the UK’s 6 biggest tea brands – PG Tips, Twinings, Tetley, Yorkshire, Typhoo, and Clipper - and gave them a chance to comment before we went public. None of them disputed our central findings of poverty wages and appalling conditions for workers on tea estates.

Then we went public. Our evidence was covered by the Daily Mail, BBC’s The World Tonight (which you can also download as a podcast), and in The Grocer (a specialist publication which is widely read by people in the tea industry).

Over two thousand of you have sent in ‘Who picked my tea?’ postcards and taken our online action targeting the big 6 UK tea brands.

If you’ve taken our action you’ll know that the brands have now responded. Yorkshire is the first big brand to publish the full list of tea estates that they buy from. The other brands’ responses are encouraging but so far no one else has gone as far as Yorkshire has.

Most brands have talked about projects they are supporting to help tea workers in Assam. These often provide some relief without addressing the structural problems of low pay and poor living conditions.

Some brands have disclosed the names of tea estate groups that they buy from – certainly a step forward. But this is a bit like answering ‘Tesco’ when asked where you do your weekly shopping rather than ‘Tesco Extra, 1 Trinity Square, Gateshead, NE8 1AG’. You can see the difference. 

We’re not into brand-bashing and we certainly don’t want to see customers to stop buying products that include tea grown in Assam. So over the next few weeks we’re planning to sit down with the rest of the big 6 and talk about how they can start being transparent about where their tea comes from.

We’ll keep you posted.

But for now – well done Yorkshire!

P.S. If you’ve had a response from a UK tea brand and would like some ideas on how to respond please email us at campaign@traidcraft.org

Tom Sharman