The Ethics of Tetley Tea: Response

I’m delighted to announce that Tetley have responded fully and promptly to last week’s letter, where I asked some questions regarding Tetley’s environmental and ethical policy. A two page letter from Customer Services Advisor Mary Reid (printed on recycled paper I may add), fully outlined Tetley’s activities in this area.

It is our firm belief that estates who supply our tea treat their workers fairly… However, we recognise that ‘believing it’ is simply not enough. The issue is of unversal interest and it is to everyone’s benefit – both the estates overseas and packers like ourselves in the UK – to make sure that practices in the producing countries are more visible to the consumer, who may be many thousands of miles away.
In order to do this, in 1997 Tetley became one of the founder members of the Tea Sourcing Partnership

The Tea Sourcing Partnership became the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) in 2004. According to Ms Reid, it is “the biggest ‘ethical sourcing’ scheme of its kind” and has a network in place to monitor:

  • Terms and Conditions of Employment
  • Education
  • Maternity Provsions
  • Health and Safety
  • Housing
  • Basic Human Rights

The ETP website may be found at I notice PG Tips are members too.
The site gives a fairly comprehensive run-down of the groups activities, with PricewaterhouseCoopers monitoring the work that they do. My main criticism is that no actual facts or figures are given. For example, agreements are in place regarding working hours is pretty meaningless if the union and the employers have ‘agreed’ that 126 hour working weeks are acceptable! The site needs to provide full reports on exactly what the agreements and regulations actually are, and how they relate to the laws of the country in question. Only then will consumers be able to make a meaningful judgement on the ETP’s activities.
My correspondent at Tetley provided a double-whammy. By way of an explanation of their energy policy, Ms Reid provided an article from their in-house magazine. Apparently, the excess waste from cutting round tea-bags is burnt in an on-site furnace, heating the boiler at their Eaglescliff factory. Land-fill is reduced and energy is saved. My question regarding excess packaging was left unanswered, so they don’t get ten out of ten… but nevertheless I am pleased my letter was taken seriously and addressed fully.
A key criticism of the campaigns for ethically produced foodstuffs is that stricter controls lead to a rise in prices. Poorer people can no longer buy the goods, while the chattering classes consume their organic, fair-trade Java from their chrome cafitiere. It is good to find cases where a more ethical approach seems to be working accross the industry, without consumers being priced out of the market here in Britain.
Either way, it looks like I can drink my tea with a clear conscience. Kellogs Cornflakes are next.

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