Corruption in the Tea Industry

pouring tea

Photo by: Jonna Pennanen

My first example is Twinings. Everybody knows Twinings, they make a heck of a lot of tea. To start off with Garfield Weston Foundation owns 79% of Wittington Investments Ltd which then owns 55% of Associated British Foods, which owns R Twining & Co Ltd (Twinings). So there a few bigger names behind Twinings, which is expected but along with being owned by a bigger brand comes the hidden issues and corruption. When we see a box of Twinings or think of their adverts, it isn’t instinctive to think that there is more than meets the eye. All we think is, “I really want a cup of tea, Twinings will do” today branding means nothing if you consciously think about ethics.

Luckily, there have been no major reports on Twinings directly which is good. Unfortunately, Associated British Foods do not just work with food, but retail too and guess which company they own, it is of course Primark. Dun dun duuuuun! I won’t go into this too much, but when clothes are so cheap it more or less means cheap/no pay for factory workers, and poor living environments and I quote from SOMO Reports: Flawed fabrics: The abuse of girls and women workers (October 2014) “All mills offered accommodation which was cramped with 30 – 40 people sharing just one toilet. – All workers were prohibited from leaving the hostel alone, and were not allowed to use mobile phones. Calls could be made from a telephone at the hostel, but phone numbers were pre-approved and then checked at the time of the call” So next time, a little complaint slips out that the price of clothing in Primark has gone up, maybe remember that you are lucky enough to be in the position to purchase it in the first place. Just sayin’

I don’t want to focus all the negativity onto Primark since the factory of course supply to other high street brands too. Taking a step back, Associated British Foods have also been found to use animal testing whenever possible. So this is not a direct attack at Twinings Tea, but to bring awareness of the negative impact these larger companies have on the smaller ones. A boycott isn’t even possible when so many other brands are under the same umbrella such as Ryvita, Ovaltine, and Silver Spoon.

Moving on from the effects other companies can have, we go to the source of where our tea is grown. The report ‘What’s really in your cuppa’ published in the Ecologist 2011 states the death of a worker who collapsed while spraying pesticides over tea plants, and was then refused any medical treatment. A protest was brought on after the news of the workers death which was shut down by the police resulting in the deaths of two protesters! This was all in an estate owned by Tata Group which owns Teapigs Ltd, Tetley and Quickbrew. Tata Group have also been found of blackmail to landowners, human rights abuse, and involvement in animal testing.

The worst case I have read so far however, is PG Tips which are owned by the notorious Unilever. Unilever are almost Uni-versal, owned so many companies and organisations growing into this mega company where profit is the most important outcome everything else is brushed aside. Unilever own Ben and Jerry’s, Bertolli, Colman’s, Knorr, Marmite, and Walls just to name a few. In regards to their tea, cases of sexual harassment and abuse have been brought to attention within their Kericho plantation however Unilever “was criticised for not showing due diligence in its response to allegations”. The report published by the School of International and Public Affairs states Unilever “took a defensive rather than proactive approach to the allegations.” To make matters even worse CEO of Unilever was paid £6,030,000 and the CFO £3,878,000 in 2012.

Thankfully we have products such as Qi teas which ethically source their organic ingredients directly from independent Fairtrade Farmers. Pukka Herbs teas also scored highly as a good product using certified organic ingredients by the Soil Association. Everyone should be entitled to safe living and working arrangements as well as a fair wage to live off and equal treatment.
Full reports can be found through including the shopping guide to tea.