June, 2018

TEAM UP 2018

Our tea sustainability conference, delivered with IDH - the Sustainable Trade Initiative

Sarah Roberts, Executive Director, Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) & Jordy Van Honk, Program Director Tea & Landscapes Africa, IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, reflect on TEAM UP 2018.

It was a great pleasure for us to host over 200 people from across the globe at our recent TEAM UP event in London, all sharing one common goal: to make the tea sector more sustainable for the future. As usual we had strong representation from all areas of the supply chain – producers, brands and retailers. There was a strong mix of high-level speakers from across the value chain alongside NGOs and thought leaders, enabling us to discuss the challenges we face as a sector very effectively. We were also pleased to welcome Solitaire Townsend, Co-founder of Futerra, as our Facilitator.

The result was a lively and dynamic debate with a highly engaged and committed audience who really added to and shaped the conversation. Seven interactive sessions enabled discussions on how to move forward on key issues such as housing, sanitation and agrochemicals. In the coming weeks, we will be reflecting on these more and reporting back to you on next steps.

In the meantime, we wanted to share with you a few of the key personal reflections that immediately struck us as we left London:

  1. There is now a strong momentum for building a collaborative approach to resolve global industry issues. Producers, packers and government can unite further and there is also potential to unite industry and government in a deeper, more ambitious level of collaboration in the world’s key tea producing countries.
  2. Raising the level of ambition by industry and government in making the tea sector structurally more sustainable is key. New ways of working are required to address long standing issues relating to poverty and improving infrastructure and services in tea communities. Ensuring government is included as a central part of any new strategy is crucial to success.
  3. Clear goals and effective collaboration across the value chain and within government will unlock increased financial investment to build a sustainable tea sector.
  4. The sector needs to continue to focus on several key social issues, including moving to living wage for workers on tea farms, whilst ensuring the industry remains sustainable, plus building on initial progress to improve gender equality in the sector and reduce gender-based violence.
  5. Taking a landscape approach is an effective way of moving towards a more sustainable industry, bringing together the right partners and finance to tackle long-term issues such as deforestation and climate change.

ETP and IDH are committed to continuing to convene partners from across the supply chain to go further and faster together to achieve sustainable systemic change and outcomes for the industry, its workers, farmers and their communities. The recent launch of the Improving Lives Commitment to help women, children and families in Assam shows the new strengthened appetite to drive further commitment and change in the future.

We have been inspired by the outcomes of this recent event. We believe that the time is right and the sector is ready to move forward to a new phase of deepening collaboration, working more closely together for a more sustainable tea sector. IDH and ETP will take this forward.

Key Takeaways

1. Deepening collaboration and ambition: The time is right for the sector to move into a new phase of its development. This new phase will be about raising the level of ambition of the tea sector to help us build a deeper global collaboration. Linking government and industry strategies will help ensure systemic and sustainable change can happen, particularly on issues such as human rights, gender, climate change and landscapes.


One of the recurring themes of TEAM UP was the agreement from all parts of the industry that it needs to work more closely together – and with government. As Andy Brown of Taylors of Harrogate stated, “It is time to put aside individual agendas and work together.” Ajoy Misra of Tata Consumer Products concluded ”the issues and scale of what is required is beyond the ability of any one organisation to solve – many individual efforts needed to come together to effect change.”

Addressing fundamental issues such as human rights will only be effective when government, business and civil society work together under a shared agenda. Unilever’s Mick von Ettinger summarised it thus “We have to say – this is what we stand for, this is what we measure and this is where improvements need to be made”.

Participants at TEAM-UP strongly supported the work that ETP and IDH have been doing with New Foresight, which has been looking at how options for greater collaboration work in practice – and agreed this should now be taken to the next level.

There is increased experience of effective government – business collaboration to solve systemic issues, such as the work to address the Mau forest and watershed issues in Kenya, which can serve as important learnings for the future.

Pathways Forward

All parts of the industry to take a proactive stance on closer collaboration and be strategic on what they can do as individual companies, how they can collaborate with other companies and how they can use their influence in multi-partner programmes and with government.

Identify effective ways to work with government, to drive improvements in terms of infrastructure and service provision, regulation and sustainable practices.

2. There are increased calls for greater transparency and accountability to drive change and increase trust. A variety of different approaches, from companies publishing their supplier lists, to the use of blockchain technology for sustainability could support this.


Trust is fundamental to the tea industry’s ability to flourish and move forward and increase the value to consumers. Many participants at TEAM UP made this point, with greater transparency seen to be essential to achieving this goal.

There were good examples shared of transparency in action from all parts of the supply chain. For example, at the field level, the use of digital scales in estates ensures that everyone has confidence they are being paid the right amount. This has resulted in increased trust and productivity.

Taylors of Harrogate’s decision to publish its suppliers list was acknowledged as a significant step for the industry and the subsequent decision by Twinings to go down the same route is very positive.

There was excitement about the potential of blockchain technology at TEAM UP – and its ability to improve transparency, inspire consumers and link sustainable practices to financial incentives, thereby delivering an effective mechanism to reward companies, workers and farmers who are doing the right things. A trial is currently underway to test this approach, linking tea sold by UK retailer Sainsbury’s and Unilever back through the supply chain all the way to the farmers supplying it in Malawi. This work will not only test the concept and benefits in Malawi, but look at its applicability to the tea industry more generally, so there is much interest in the outcome.

Pathways Forward

The entire tea supply chain is encouraged to promote transparency in all dealings to build trust and increase understanding. This should include reviewing practices at all stages of the chain, revisiting what information can be shared between its different parts (and what can be put into the public domain) and analysing new practices and technologies such as digital technologies that might enable new types of transparency.

3. The historic undervaluing and commoditising of tea reduces the economic sustainability of the industry and its ability to achieve a sustainable income for workers and farmers. Finding ways to create enough value at all stages of the chain is key.


Tea has long been undervalued compared to other beverages in the market. Many TEAM UP delegates agreed that this must change so that tea’s true value is realised and then shared to benefit those at the poorest end of the supply chain.

There were calls for the industry to work on the image of tea, raising it above the ordinary through creative branding and marketing, encouraging brands to ‘tell the story of tea’, highlighting quality and sustainability aspects in the way that has been done successfully with coffee. There is no silver bullet answer, but some delegates felt that there were now good opportunities to ‘premiumise’ tea and that it will be crucial to incorporate transparency and sustainability into this process. Working together, showing good practices and transparent ways of working will all contribute to increasing the image and therefore value of tea across the supply chain.

Pathways Forward

The time is right for all parts of the supply chain to review opportunities and implement ambitious projects that could improve the image of tea and value of tea. Ensuring that there is consistency in the implementation of sustainable practices is essential and transparency and trust will be critical components to achieving this. Effective mechanisms that enable value to be shared along the chain so that workers and farmers benefit are essential.

4. New ways of working are needed to tackle long-standing issues relating to poverty and gender which restricts the lives of many tea workers and farmers


The Fit for the Future Producers Session discussed a range of actions underway across the industry designed to address the pervading poverty trap for many tea workers.

Sebastian Hobhouse of PGI Group commented “Progress is being made in Malawi towards introducing a living wage.” The Malawi 2020 programme is now mid-way through a 5-year large-scale multi-partner approach to support improvements across the Malawi industry and its value chain. This will enable wages and benefits to workers to increase whilst maintaining the competitiveness of the industry.

In Sri Lanka, radical approaches are underway to change the plantation model and the relationship with workers. Roshan Rajadurai of Hayley’s Group reported on the lessons from their approach to establish an outgrower model where workers are moving from pluckers who are told where and when pluck, to outgrowers with full responsibility for an area of tea bushes. They go through Farmer Field School training so that they can effectively manage their bushes and Roshan reports that “this is leading to incentivised workers, increased incomes and productivity”.

Other innovations tackling poverty were reported in the interactive smallholders’ session. The Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) has had considerable success enabling participants to grow their savings, start new businesses plus other benefits, such as invest in their homes, support their children’s education and improve health.

There has been considerable ongoing work to understand and address gender issues in the tea industry. For example, ensuring all workers and farmers are paid directly through bank accounts, rather than ‘cash in hand’ can have a very positive effect since this usually results in women having more control over the money they earn. Representatives from McLeod Russell and the Kenya Tea Development Association inspired the audience with their reflections on the how the various programmes they are implementing to reduce violence against women and increase their empowerment, is leading to positive change for both women and men.

KTDA in partnership with ETP and IDH have been working on these issues for several years and are now seeing changed attitudes, more effective procedures for dealing with issues and more women in senior positions, including on factory boards. Through the Kenya Tea Gender Empowerment Platform convened by IDH, companies are exchanging learnings and best practices to address gender issues. Most recently a cross-sector learning event was organized between the tea and flowers sector. Flowers and tea have much in common in terms of work environment and the issues that the sectors face in terms of gender equality are of a similar nature.

Oxfam and UN Women reflected on their experience of addressing gender issues and how the experience in the tea sector compared with the challenges other sectors faced. UN Women has been working with producers such as McLeod Russell in India and Unilever in Kenya with a focus on four key issues: gender equality, women’s empowerment, sexual harassment in the workplace and domestic violence. It is now developing a framework to support progress in these areas across the global tea industry.

Pathways Forward

Progress on changing attitudes and practices that hold back women and make them vulnerable to violence require comprehensive, widespread programmes that tackle the issue at organisational and field level, as well as sector-wide collaboration to tackle what is an international issue. There is now a range of very positive practical experience from across tea producing countries. It is crucial that this experience continues to be built on and we utilise knowledge sharing tools and processes such as the Gender Empowerment Platform effectively so that momentum for widespread change continues to build.

5. Certification organisations are reassessing the role that they can play. This is welcomed by industry and partner organisations, who agree that certification needs to adapt if it is to lead to real, sustainable change.


There was considerable interest in the reflections from Han de Groot, the new CEO of the Rainforest Alliance, (now merged with Utz), who said it was time to reinvent certification so that it has greater impact. Certification has long been a useful tool but there have been concerns across the industry about its robustness and ability lead to meaningful change on key issues.

Han explained that the new Rainforest Alliance is working on the creation of a new standard which encompass three areas of focus i) more rigorous auditing procedures ii) extending the standard to include continuous improvement, to embrace the idea of ‘beyond compliance’ and iii) to broaden its scope outside of farms to incorporate areas such as landscape and agrochemical management issues. In particular, living wage and incomes are top priorities and the RA is keen to work closely with the industry to find ways to move forward on these issues together.

Pathways Forward

ETP and companies will liaise with Rainforest Alliance to help ensure that the future direction and implementation of certification is more effective in the tea sector. ETP, IDH, companies and Rainforest Alliance will continue to work closely on issues such as living wage and living income through programmes such as Malawi 2020.

6. Working on climate change and at the landscape level, is an effective way of developing large-scale and long-lasting environmental and social benefits.


Climate change adaptation and mitigation programmes improve the environment through tree planting, energy efficiency and moving to renewable energy in factories and homes. There are also a knock-on financial and well-being benefits as workers and farmers lives are improved through saving money and providing secondary health benefits such as those offered by installing clean cook stoves. Programmes are in progress to improve general agricultural practices, training workers on efficiency measures and maintenance, building resilience and productivity.

There are now good results from energy saving work in parts of the industry. This has been particularly impressive in Kenya, where some factories have managed to reduce energy use by as much as 40% with direct benefits to the farmers who are shareholders in the factories. KTDA have worked to spread good practice across their many factories. ETP and GIZ which have been supporting the work in Kenya have now carried out analysis of the potential for similar programmes in China, India, Indonesia and Rwanda.

Now there is so much experience of a range of impactful climate change programmes, a range of organisations, including ETP, are working together to assess what it would take to achieve a carbon neutral tea sector.

Examples were shared at TEAM UP of the landscape programme in the Mau forest and watershed in Kenya that IDH is convening. Companies from a variety of sectors including tea, are working effectively with communities and governments to reverse the deforestation that is having a whole range of negative impacts. Similar issues face the critical Mulanje watershed in Malawi on which the tea industry and hundreds of thousands of people depend, where there has been extensive deforestation. Initial analysis of how an effective landscape approach could be developed there is now underway.

Pathways Forward

The sector should continue its efforts to scale-up effective energy efficiency programmes and embed proven energy savings approaches across the industry. There are a whole range of opportunities to build on existing work and the focus on achieving a carbon neutral tea industry should continue. The industry should join government and other stakeholders in developing new landscape level programmes. More concretely, we will start with scoping a landscape program in tea growing areas in Malawi.

7. Successful farmer training programmes and financial access initiatives bring a wide range of benefits that allow greater self-sufficiency and quality of life for families


Farmer training and development is a vital foundation stone on which the development of the tea industry depends. ETP’s local staff shared their experience of implementing farmer development programmes in four different tea growing regions – Malawi, Rwanda, India and China. There are different emphases in different regions; in India and China the focus has been mostly on supporting farmers to reduce their use of agrochemicals and improve safe application, while in Africa the focus has been on interventions that will improve the income that families receive from their farming.

What is clear is that the best result come when multiple interventions work together effectively. For example, the Farmer Field Schools in Rwanda and Malawi, as well as focusing on improving productivity and quality of tea production, support farmers to diversify into other locally appropriate crops. Training on farm business management is also being offered through GIZ’s Farmer Business Schools in Africa, with nearly 1,000 farmers in Malawi now completed the training and a similar pilot programme due to start in Rwanda later in 2018. In both countries, a Village Savings and Loan (VSL) programme is supporting farming families to develop their savings, enabling investment in family needs and small business development. In Malawi, additional support is being provided on literacy. Work has also been done to ensure that the roles that men and women play in farming are understood and that training is developed in a way that enables both sexes to access it effectively.

There is also much better analysis of other factors that limit the ability of farming families to achieve a living income, including plot size and greenleaf pricing. This context for each region needs to be well understood, so that the potential impact of different interventions is understood.

Pathways Forward

Everyone involved in farmer development work should ensure that they understand the factors that can improve farmer income. Interventions must be implemented in a way that support and reinforce each other and appropriate levels of effort are put into each, according to their potential for impact. This includes finding ways of working on the more difficult issues, such as pricing mechanisms.

8. The tea industry needs to reduce reliance on agrochemicals, to protect the health of workers and communities and to prevent harm to wildlife and the environment.


While there has been considerable focus on reducing agrochemical use in Asia, climate change raises concerns that as well as increasing the challenge in Asia, it may lead to wider use in other parts of the world.

TEAM UP reported that good progress is being made in some areas such as Assam and South India, where trials on reducing pesticide use have been conducted by CABI in partnership with Tea Research Association and Unilever. Initial results have been positive with no significant impact on yields and a reduction in pest management costs. In Africa, the Sustainable Agriculture Network is piloting a new app called ‘Which Pesticide?” in 5 countries. The app provides information on toxicity, restrictions on use and less toxic alternatives for technical decision makers.

Other developments include the trialling Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) better suited to tropical climates. New technology is providing other opportunities in the management of agrochemical use using GPS-enabled drones to apply agrochemicals in certain areas and monitor use.

Pathways Forward

The creation of an Agrochemical Working Group for the sector is needed to agree priorities, set targets, discuss customised solutions and review how to scale up existing initiatives such as the CABI/TRA trials in more estates in Assam.

The Last Word

Speakers share their favourite TEAM UP moments.

Sudi Mataara – Head of the KTDA Foundation, Kenya Tea Development Association
Nikki Van Der Gaag – Director of Gender Justice and Women’s Rights, OXFAM