Ethical Tea PartnershipWeb: www.ethicalteapartnership.org | Wikipedia: Ethical_Tea_Partnership
Last Updated: Apr. 28, 2014
The Ethical Tea Partnership logo. Members are allowed to display this logo on their products.The Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) is a non-profit organization consisting of member tea companies, aiming to address human rights, labor, and social issues, and promote sustainability among tea producers.
This article gives a brief overview of what the ETP is and how it works, and explores the degree to which the ETP is effective at achieving the goals of addressing ethical and human rights issues associated with tea production.
The ETP's certification is usually seen as less stringent and easier to obtain than fair trade tea certification. In 2010, the ETP began recognizing the fair trade certification of tea producers, carried out by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), when it formed a partnership with the FLO.
History and membership changes:The ETP was founded in 1997 as the Tea Sourcing Partnership, and its name was changed in September 2004 to the Ethical Tea Partnership. It began as a coalition solely of UK-based tea companies, but has since expanded to be global. The ETP currently claims membership of over 50 brands of tea, ranging from large, multinational brands, to small independent tea companies.
Unilever, the company that owns Lipton, PG Tips, Red Rose, and many other mainstream tea brands, was one of the 11 founding members of the ETP, although it is no longer listed among current members. Unilever, like many companies, undertook its own initiatives to promote sustainability and address ethical concerns. Many past and present members of the ETP also have gone above and beyond the base involvement in ETP to address environmental and ethical issues in tea production through other means, such as fair trade and organic certification, direct sourcing, or other more individualized initiatives.
Programs and initiatives:The ETP conducts monitoring and certification, which consists of audits of the tea producers who supply the member companies. This program is free of charge to the producers, and encompasses both issues of social concern, and environmental issues. Some of the social concerns include health and safety, freely chosen employment, wages and benefits, working hours, and a variety of other issues such as are typically handled by labor organizations. Environmental issues assessed in the monitoring include water and energy use, soil and ecosystem conservation, chemical use, and waste management.
The ETP also aims to provide support to tea producers, to assist them with labor questions, environmental issues, safety, and other issues. An increasing component of the issues addressed by the ETP are relevant to sustainability.
Criticisms of the Ethical Tea Partnership:The Ethical Tea Partnership has intentions and goals that nearly everyone would agree on as being good and worthwhile goals. Criticisms of the ETP do not argue that it directly causes any harm, but center around the argument that it is not effective at achieving its supposed goals, and that it makes the member companies appear to be concerned with ethics, without thoroughly addressing the ethical issues in the tea industry.
A 2006 report, Sustainabilitea: The Dutch Tea Market and Corporate Social Responsibility, examined the ETP in depth, and found that it had numerous shortcomings, notably:
- ETP auditor visits are planned and announced, allowing tea plantation owners to hide or temporarily remove or change anything that would negatively impact their audit.
- Although the ETP does undertake efforts to help their auditors relate to tea workers, because the auditors arrive with the plantation management, it is possible that workers will identify or associate them with management, and not trust them with any information that could potentially reflect poorly on management.
- The whole model or approach of the ETP is based on what the report dubs a "compliance mindset", in which an operation follows a set of rules in order to achieve certification. The report asserted that the ETP does not make a strong business case for considering social and environmental issues, and the ETP does not do a good job of helping management to see the ETP audits as an genuine investment rather than a series of hoops to jump through.
- The outcomes of ETP audits are not shared with stakeholders, including suppliers, trade unions, and related NGO's.
- The auditing checklist does a good job of including labor standards, but does not include any environmental standards whatsoever.
In summary:The Ethical Tea Partnership is a non-profit organization, formed by large and small companies, to work with tea producers to address social and environmental issues in tea production. The ETP has ambitious and worthwhile goals, but has attracted criticism that it does not do enough to successfully address the issues it sets out to address. Many companies, including members of the ETP and non-members alike, have gone above and beyond the efforts of this organization, undertaking their own initiatives to promote sustainability and address social and ethical issues in tea production.
References and Further Reading:
1. Sustainabilitea: The Dutch Tea Market and Corporate Social Responsibility (PDF), ProFound, March 2006.
4. Joint commitment with FLO and ETP announced, Fair Trade Foundation, Mar. 2, 2010.