M&S reveals tea suppliers to address worker abuse concerns

by Amber Milne | @hiyaimamber | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 5 March 2019 19:38 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A tea garden worker plucks tea leaves inside Aideobarie Tea Estate in Jorhat in Assam, India, April 21, 2015.

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Much of Britain's tea comes from Assam in northeast India, where research has showed many plantation workers are paid below minimum wage and live in poverty

By Amber Milne

LONDON, March 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Marks & Spencer has become the first British supermarket chain to publish details of its tea suppliers, responding to a campaign to address worker abuses on plantations.

Traidcraft Exchange, the charity behind the campaign for greater transparency, said it hoped more supermarkets would follow suit as it announced the move, citing the impact of their lower prices on the industry.

"I'm really pleased with Marks & Spencers' decision because they sell tea under their own brand," the charity's senior policy advisor Fiona Gooch told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Tuesday.

"These brands pull the price of tea down across the market and can be quite a negative presence, so obviously we'd like to see more supermarkets publish."

Much of Britain's tea comes from Assam in northeast India, where research has showed many plantation workers are paid below minimum wage and live in poverty.

Major British tea brands including Twinings, Tetley, and PG Tips have already made similar pledges in response to concerns of labour abuse highlighted in the "Who picked my tea?" campaign for transparency and improved working conditions.

Marks & Spencer has published information online about its supply chains since 2016, but this is the first time it has chosen to include tea and coffee.

"Every cup we sell is Fairtrade certified and we're committed to building resilient supply chain communities by investing in programmes which build livelihoods, protect the environment and improve wellbeing," a spokeswoman said.

"As part of this, we think it's important we're transparent about the 135 producers we work with around the world."

Two in every three cups of tea drunk in Britain now comes from a company that has opened up about where its products come from.

Traidcraft Exchange said there was more work to be done in tackling modern slavery in the tea industry, but that this response reflected a wider change in consumer attitudes.

"We've seen an increase in transparency go through the garment industry, the palm oil industry, electricity, milk, vegetables," said Gooch. "I feel like the trend is on the increase."

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

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

(Reporting by Amber Milne, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers 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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