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Article originally published on 12/09/2019 on unilever.com

Ever wondered where your favourite cup of tea comes from?

It may come as a surprise to learn that ekaterra is the world’s largest tea company. We have a portfolio of more than 34 brands including Lipton – the world’s most popular tea, PG tips, Brooke Bond, TAZO® and Pure Leaf. Our brand Pukka is leading in herbal infusions, and we have great local icons such as Red Rose, JOKO, Lyons and T2.

We buy 5% of the global tea supply from 21 different countries every year, from India and China to Argentina and Australia, as well as to our own plantations in Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda. This allows us to serve circa 385 million consumers of ekaterra tea, every single day.

Black and green tea – or Camellia sinensis, to give the plant its proper name – makes up 90% of our tea business. And it’s the details of where we source the leaves for our tea blends – for all our brands across all countries – that we will continue to make public.

Transparency is the basis for action

As such a big buyer of tea, we are continually working to make our supply chain more sustainable. This starts with caring about the people who pick our leaves and goes all the way through to how we blend and package our products and the environmental impact the tea production has on the planet.

Our brands connect us to millions of people whose livelihoods depend on tea production, and to the ecosystems they share – including on 750,000 smallholdings, mostly in Africa and Asia.

For some time, we have full traceability of where our tea comes from, which has guided our efforts to make a positive impact in the sector. Through increasing transparency across our global supply chain, we believe we can accelerate our ongoing efforts to transform the entire tea industry.

The uplifting stories of workers and their families

As part of publishing our global supplier list, we have created an interactive map that highlights some of the social programmes we are leading on the ground with NGOs and supplier partners. These programmes aim to enhance the livelihoods and wellbeing of local workers, farmers and their families.

To earn a living, farmers often sell their best crops. This leaves them with a monotonous diet of rice, maise and wheat which, while inexpensive and filling, lacks much-needed nutrition. Poor hygiene is also a big problem, with diarrhea being the second biggest killer of children under five years old.

Healthy Diets for Tea Communities is a coalition led by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), with funding from with eight leading tea companies – including Unilever. It aims to improve the diets of tea workers, farmers and their families in Kenya, Malawi and Assam State in India, and is part of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition’s (GAIN) Workforce Nutrition Programme.

Tea workers and farmers can suffer from high undernutrition rates because their diets, which consist largely of staple foods such as rice, bread, maize and wheat, are often not varied and balanced, lacking foods rich in essential nutrients and vitamins needed for good health and for supporting the many physical functions needed for an active life.

By working to increase demand for and access to nutritious foods, while improving the enabling environment for companies and governments to support workforce nutrition, the coalition seeks to
reach 750,000 people between 2020 and 2023, including farmers and their household members.

See our joint paper on seeds of prosperity results

Addressing some big challenges

The tea pickers and farmers are part of a broad and complex supply chain that involves an estimated workforce of nearly 1 million people. This inevitably brings challenges. For instance, we know that human rights abuses persist in some of the countries we source our tea from.

That’s where our Responsible Sourcing comes in. This underpins our commitment to conduct business with integrity, openness and respect for universal human rights and core labour principles throughout our supply chain.

We have a range of programmes that address specific human rights issues around tea. These include women’s safety and labour conditions on tea estates in regions such as Assam in India and Kericho in Kenya, where we continue to work to eradicate unacceptable practices. Last year, in partnership with UN Women, we launched A Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces. The Framework aims to empower women and girls socially, economically and politically, and it helps tea producers to understand the issues facing women, then how to identify and prevent them.

Working with partners like ETP, Dharmalife and GAIN enables us to tackle wider social and environmental issues on an even bigger scale.

For example, in 2017, we became a member of the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), a not-for-profit organisation that brings together the world’s most influential tea businesses to create a fairer, better and more sustainable tea industry for workers, farmers and the environment.

We believe that with transparency comes transformation. We are working more effectively with partners and suppliers to bring about positive change for people and planet. We consider our consumers to be part of this process too, so they can see where their favourite tea comes from and how the process is also supporting the communities work within. Our aim is to make our tea supply chain even more socially and environmentally sustainable, from bush to cup.