The Euston Manifesto

The Euston Manifesto proposes a fresh political alignment. Their suggestion that their viewpoints are bing under-represented in the mainstream media doesn’t ring true for me: Everyone, of every political persuasion is saying that! Nevertheless, it is an interesting document with sentiments I support.
From Clause 11:

Drawing the lesson of the disastrous history of left apologetics over the crimes of Stalinism and Maoism, as well as more recent exercises in the same vein (some of the reaction to the crimes of 9/11, the excuse-making for suicide-terrorism, the disgraceful alliances lately set up inside the “anti-war” movement with illiberal theocrats)…

After Mark Lynas’ lecture last week, I am convinced that climate change will be just as disatrous for humanity as Stalinism, Maoism, and Nazism. I am also convinced that in a generation, the shame of our inaction on this issue will be comparable to the Left’s shame over communist ‘apologetics’, and European soul-searching over our inaction during the Holocaust.
Global warming is a ‘meta’ issue. It is likely to be a catalyst for many future conflicts, as different countries, groups and ideologies fight for control over scarce resources. Climate Change will emphasise the political divides we see delineated by the Euston Manifesto group. The group makes statements on particular issues (such as Iraq, and Israel/Palestine) so one on global warming, or rather, “a shared responsibility for the earth’s resources”, needs to be in there too. It is the elephant in the room, one that must be ejected before I will sign the manifesto.
Updates: Mike Marqusee has posted an interesting critique of the Euston Manifesto at Comment Is Free; Devil’s Kitchen calls me a hippy… plus further interrogation of the climate change/global warming premise at PooterGeek.

The Six Degrees

I’ve just been at an interesting lecture by Mark Lynas, run by the WWF as part of Edinburgh’s International Science Festival. The talk was titled ‘The End of the World by Degrees’, and charted how the global climate and ecosystems would change – and get progressively less hospitable for life – as the average global temperature rose, one degree at a time.
What was interesting was how the human disaster unfolded, not so much through a single catastrophe that wipes out millions of people in a single event, but how much the systems upon which our economies are based are slowly undermined. Rivers will dry up along with any industry based upon them, for example. The insurance market will slowly decline as flooding destroys property. The rest of the financial system crumbles soon after.
Although the subject of the talk was what happens if temperatures continue to rise, the commentary from the audience was of course all about politics, and forcing a downward trend in CO2 emmissions. Mark’s suggestion was that we should treat the ecological crisis as something akin to war, where people have to remain stoical despite (carbon) rationing, and the nature of the economy is drastically altered in order to mobilise the change. How much more positive than our current ‘War on Terror’.
Also telling is how much of the problem comes from what I can only describe as human stupidity, the inability to see past the end of one’s own nose. The fact that people still need to be told to conserve energy, for example by buying energy saving lightbulbs, is a case in point. The bulbs save you money even in the short term: How come everyone doesn’t have them? That we depend so much on oil (expensive, under the ground, in foreign countries) when we could generate a vast amount of energey from the sun, wind and water, is quite ridiculous. If it is impractical to create the infrastructure via the market alone, then surely the government needs to change the market – if only temporarily – to ensure this stupidity comes to an end.
Mark’s ‘state of emergency’ idea holds a certain fascination for me in this case (although I know that is a classic tactic of a proto-totalitarian state: everyone believes they would make a wonderful benevolent dictator). He made the point that carbon-rationing (Domestic Tradable Quotas) would actually have the effect of making many people, especially the poor, better off. Co-operation within the community to produce food (rather than buying it from Tesco) and travelling on foot and bicycle means heathier people living in a friendlier community. Strangely, a more local outlook could help on a global scale.
A bleaker point came from a member of the audience, who outed the elephant in the room: Humans are the problem. Although the current unprecedented rise in average temperatures would eventually destroy the human race, the earth as a life-bearing planet would persist and survive. Ice-ages and the melting of the ice-caps is nothing new, geologically speaking.

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 www.ethicalteapartnership.org. 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.

The ethics of Tetley Tea Bags

a packet of teabagsEthical consumerism begins at home, and what could be more homely than a nice cup of tea? If we are to hold governments and big buisness to government, It’s important we question those every day things too. Otherwise we’re just a bunch of hypocrites.
Dear Sir/Madam,
In a moment of idleness as I waited for my cup of Tetley tea to perculate, I pondered the shape of your tea bags. If my memory serves me correctly, Tetley pioneered the round tea-bag, with a memorable animated advert based on a Beach Boys classic “I Get Around”. However, it occurred to me that circles cannot tesselate, and therefore the cutting of the bags must create some waste, where a square tea-bag would not.
While considering waste, I noticed that a whole new “50% extra” packet of 40 tea-bags was taped to the standard 80 tea-bag packet, rather than a new packet that would have used less packaging. Finally, I noted on the packet that Tetley tea is grown in India, Sri Lanka and Africa, but no ‘fair trade’ or environmental sysmbols are present on the pack.
By the time my tea was brewed, I had compiled a list of several questions for your team:

  1. How much paper waste is produced by Tetley in the manufacture of round tea-bags?
  2. Do you have a recycling policy?
  3. Do you have a strategy for reducing waste in your packaging? Do you think the excess packaging caused by your 50% offers are appropriate?
  4. What is your ethical policy towards growers in India, Sri Lanka and Africa? How do the wages they earn, and the prices they are paid for their tea, compare to the UK retail price?
  5. As an obvious market leader, why do you not have any Fair Trade or environmental accreditations?

I would be very grateful if you could provide answers to these questions. Your product is of a very high standard, but I believe your brand could be enhanced further by addressing the issues raised above.
Yours sincerley, etcetera.
I hope they reply. I should point out that Tetley do produce an organic range of tea-bags, but the method of growing is not relevant to the environmental impact of the packaging, nor to the way a company treats its employees and suppliers in developing countries.
PG Tips will be getting a letter soon too, but I don’t really trust those monkeys not to eat it or something.