Tea is a big business. It is the world’s most consumed drink after water with the first known mention of tea dating back to China 5,000 years ago. 

Tea production and processing is a main source of income and export revenues for some of the poorest countries, and as a labour-intensive sector, provides jobs in these remote areas. Although tea production can play a significant role in rural development and food security in developing countries, it keeps 13 million workers in a state of permanent poverty and sadly, many abuses still remain in the supply chain.  

In this article, we outline some of the ethical challenges typically unearthed within tea supply chains, and explain how supply chain software can help to mitigate risk, whilst protecting people vulnerable to exploitation. 

The harsh reali-tea of supply chains

A report published by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) revealed that the tea industry was considered high risk for poverty level wages, dangerous working conditions and human rights abuses. Among the abuses reported by the BHRRC were forced labour and systematic gender-based violence. 

  • 13 million workers have suffered endemic abuses
  • 90% of female tea pickers in Kenya have been victims/witnesses of sexual or physical abuse at work
  • 50% gender pay gap between male and female tea workers

These long standing issues are due to a lack of binding regulation, lack of awareness and lack of willingness from tea brands to accept responsibility for human rights breaches in their supply chains. The tea sector is beset by a widespread lack of transparency. Without supply chain transparency, workers don’t know where the tea they pick goes, and remediation for abuses from forced labour to sexual violence stop at the estate instead of being discovered higher up the chain. 

The report also uncovered that some of the largest and most profitable tea companies have evaded responsibility for those in their supply chain, with only 10 out of 65 companies providing full disclosure on supplier lists, human rights and sourcing policies. The BHRRC said companies should publish legislation and codes of conduct, including audit reports and plantation worker pay levels on a regular basis. 

Tighter regulation brewing 

A reckoning is coming for the tea industry. The risks of failing to address human rights abuses are rapidly rising and the tea industry is ill prepared. New legislation, alongside an increase in import bans and ESG-focused investing is spelling the end of companies eluding direct responsibility for workers who pick tea.  

The EU has proposed a mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence law to set the standard for responsible business conduct in Europe. The new rules will give victims a legal right to access support and seek reparations and will ensure standards are upheld and protected, all the way back to source. 

As ESG concerns continue to rise, it is unclear exactly where this orientation will take companies but it is expected to have a huge impact which businesses will need to take seriously.  

Commodity traders will no longer be able to hide behind complex and opaque supply chains and their impact on communities and management of natural resources will be assessed. All companies will be expected to conduct human rights due diligence to identify and address adverse impacts that they contribute or are linked to.  

Putting the t(ea) in transparency with supply chain software 

The urgency for complete transparency has never been greater. Increasing visibility into tea supply chains is an effective method for eradicating abusive and exploitative working conditions on plantations.  

Out innovative technology has been helping businesses to see the scale of commodity supply chain networks since forming in 2013. Trusted by leading brands including Hello Fresh and Premier Foods, the Authenticate platform has already helped to map almost 400 tea products, from over 20 countries down to tier 4. 

Facilitating supplier collaboration, delivering actionable insight at the touch of a button and mitigate ethical risks why not join over 35,000 companies from 130 countries using our platform and explore our digital supply chain solutions to help protect people through the tiers of tea supply chains?

  • Supply Chain Mapping – map, monitor and visualise live supply chains across all tiers for complete transparency
  • Audits & Assessments – monitor compliance, mitigate risk and benchmark suppliers globally 
  • Certifications – track live certification status and standards against globally recognised schemes including Fairtrade 
  • ESG Assessment – review supplier performance and progress against critical environmental and social matters with our standardised ESG assessment 
  • Document Management – collect, store, request and share critical documentation such as code of conduct, worker welfare policies, modern slavery statements and more in a secure, central location 

To drive positive change and demonstrate commitment to ethical and transparent tea supply chains, get in touch with our team to discuss further. 

For more information on the Authenticate platform or to discuss your challenges and requirements, get in touch with the team.