Britain's leading tea brand reveals suppliers in bid to end worker abuses

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 29 January 2019 19:04 GMT

A shopper picks up a box of PG Tips tea bags at a Sainsbury's supermarket in London February 6, 2008. PG Tips is a brand owned by consumer products company Unilever. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

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Food giant Unilever shared details of suppliers for all its British tea brands, including market leader PG Tips

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Jan 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain's biggest tea brand has revealed details of its suppliers on Tuesday in a fast-growing campaign to break a "club mentality" of silence over sourcing and stamp out abuse of workers on plantations.

Food giant Unilever shared details of suppliers for all its British tea brands, including market leader PG Tips, after a campaign for transparency by charity Traidcraft Exchange. It means that two in every three cups of tea drunk nationally comes from a company which has opened up about where its products come from.

When the campaign first launched last year, none of the major brands shared details of their suppliers.

"We are quite surprised – I don't think we expected it to happen this quickly," Mary Milne, head of campaigns at Traidcraft Exchange, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"I think there may have been a bit of a club mentality in that none of them did it … and once one or two started moving, the others wanted to catch up."

India's tea industry, the second largest in the world after China's, employs 3.5 million workers, many of whom are paid below minimum wage and live in poverty on the plantations where they work, research has shown.

Traidcraft Exchange launched its 'Who picked my tea?' campaign to improve conditions for tea workers in the Indian state of Assam.

Data published by Unilever showed that it uses a number of suppliers in Assam as well as plantations elsewhere in India and in Indonesia, Japan and Kenya.

"We believe it's important to know where our tea comes from as this is the starting point for any action that makes a positive impact where it matters most," Unilever said in a statement.

"As a next step in our journey to become more transparent, we are happy to share this information."

Milne said Traidcraft will use the data to help workers in Assam identify who is buying from the plantations where they work and ensure welfare pledges made by brands are upheld.

"By persuading the brands to publish where they source their tea, we've succeeded in putting a bit more power in the hands of the people who work on tea estates in Assam," she said.

"They are the true experts, and the only people who can verify the good practice claims that brands may make."

Yorkshire Tea, owned by Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate, was the first to publish in July 2018, followed by Twinings, Tetley, Clipper and most recently Ringtons.

Typhoo is the only major British tea brand which has not yet shared details of its suppliers, the charity said.

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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