Fairtrade Tea in the UK

Fairtrade labelled tea now accounts for 10% of the total tea drank in the UK.

Tea is one of the products most associated with Fairtrade and with Fairtrade sales on the increase things are looking up for Fairtrade tea sales in the UK. Sales of Fairtrade goods were up to £1.57bn in 2012 which was a massive 19% increase on 2011.
For tea to be labelled as Fairtrade it must meet international Fairtrade Standards set by The Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO) with the key objectives to;

•    Provide an additional Fairtrade premium to be invested back into projects that enhance social, economic and environmental development
•    Emphasize the idea of partnership between trade partners
•    Enabling pre-financing for producers who require it
•    Facilitate mutually beneficial long-term trading relationships
•    Set clear minimum and progressive criteria to ensure conditions of production and trade are economically and socially fair and environmentally responsible
•    Ensure a guaranteed Fairtrade minimum price which is agreed with producers

Fairtrade tea picker

Fairtrade tea picker – ©Anette Kay

In essence Fairtrade aims to support the development of disadvantaged and marginalised small-scale farmers and plantation workers. Small scale tea growers receive only a fraction of the price their produce receives at auction, sometimes as low as 4% because they are in a very poor bargaining position against a small number of companies who dominate the tea industry and can use their power to push prices down. This is why the Fairtrade minimum price is so important to redress this balance and to protect against fluctuating tea prices.

Most Fairtrade tea in the UK originates from Kenya, India and Sri Lanka and the UK is now the global leader when it comes to Fairtrade tea accounting for a whopping 70% of global Fairtrade tea sales.

The benefits from Fairtrade are obvious, producers from marginalised communities are given the chance to grow and develop their communities and create a sustainable business model for future growth. The other side of the coin is that consumers in developed countries can choose products which they know have a clear visible supply chain in which there is no exploitation, price fixing or serious environmental damage. Recent supermarket meat scandals, although not related, may have a positive effect on Fairtrade as people are made aware of issues with complex and opaque supply chains which can have disastrous results.

Tea is undeniably part of the British culture (I would estimate most people reading this have had at least one already today!) with the earliest importing of tea to Britain being in the 1660s after the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza who was a tea addict, her love of the drink established tea as a fashionable beverage amongst the wealthy classes, this prompted the East India Company to begin importing tea into Britain.

Clipper Tea

Clipper Tea

Fairtrade tea is relatively new in the patchy history of tea produced for Britain, with the Fairtrade movement having its origins in the 1960s and launching the first Fairtrade label in 1988. The first product to be certified Faritrade in the UK was Green & Black’s Maya Gold Chocolate, this was shortly followed by the first tea; Clipper tea in 1994, now there are a multitude of options for Fairtrade tea from the likes of Traidcraft, Cafédirect, Qi and Equal Exchange who all produce Fairtrade foods and drinks as well as promote the Fairtrade message.

However it isn’t only traditional ethical suppliers who have taken Fairtrade on board, many supermarkets are now getting involved in Fairtrade. In 2006 Marks and Spencer announced it would stock only Fairtrade tea and coffee, the following year Sainsbury’s announced it would switch all of its own brand tea to Fairtrade whilst the Co-op converted their entire range of own brand hot drinks to Fairtrade. Other supermarkets such as ASDA and Tesco have also introduced ranges of Fairtrade teas. As a result the UK now accounts for 70% of the global Fairtrade tea sales.

So how does Fairtrade tea compare with other Fairtrade products?
Whist tea is certainly one of the most popular Fairtrade products, Fairtrade has made greater gains in some other markets such as coffee where Fairtrade labelled coffee in the UK is at 27% of all coffee consumed here, chocolate is also a growth area. Fairtrade specialists such as Traidcraft, Divine Chocolate and Green & Blacks have been selling delicious Fairtrade chocolate since the 1990s, in addition now the larger mainstream chocolate companies are switching many of their products over to Fairtrade such as Mars and Cadbury’s whose Maltesers and Dairy Milk bars are now certified Fairtrade.



So what for the future?
Well looking at how Fairtrade tea has taken off in the UK and how the British consumer is responds well to the Fairtrade label with 80% of consumers in the UK recognising the Fairtrade mark find fact things are certainly looking positive, however whilst a 10% market penetration is impressive there is still the other 90% which is not Fairtrade.

The 10% growth so far has been pushed by brands which are ethical through and through such as Cafédirect, Clipper and Traidcraft. The British consumer has responded very well to these brands and what they stand for, however there will always be a significant percentage of British consumers who do not take an interest in Fairtrade, or even an interest in the origins of the products they buy so the key to increasing the percentage share Fairtrade takes is not only down to the growing success of traditional Fairtrade brands, but the adoption of Fairtrade standards by bigger long established brands such as Yorkshire Tea, PG Tips and Tetley which many British tea drinkers have known and loved for many years could be the key as is slowly happening with the big chocolate brands.

Big brands respond to demand and have an obligation to their shareholders to make profit, so the power is in our hands to choose tea labelled as Fairtrade, if that is where the money is they will follow it!

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