What is behind organic fairtrade loose leaf tea?

As consumers, we are looking more and more what is not only good for us but what is also good for the environment and for the people who produce the things. Therefore our hands often reach out to products labelled with all kinds of certification stickers - Fairtrade, organic, Rainforest Alliance etc. But do we really know what is behind those names? And does the certification "organic fairtrade tea" always promise that it is actually organic and that the people behind it do get a fair share of the profits?

tea plantation

When we started in the world of tea, we found out that it is not only those romantic and beautiful scenes what we have been used to seeing on the internet or tv commercials. Sometimes, behind those beautiful pictures lies a cruel world. Inhumane working and living conditions, shortage of food and medicine in the estates. Fairtrade, UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certified and everything, that doesn't change the picture. 

Why don't certifications guarantee that you are buying ethically produced tea?

The cause of all those certifications is noble, and the problem is not so much in the organizations, the real issue lies elsewhere. The main factor is how the system is built- the tea world is dominated by big corporations and middlemen. Who are demanding for certifications and at the same time pressuring the price as low as possible. This results in the fact that tea estates do the bare minimum to get the certification and often showcase that they are following the rules only when a checkup is being made (strangely enough the checkups by controlling bodies are pre-announced). It also means that the wholesale prices are so low that there is basically nothing left for the producers and farmers.

So where does the money go? Let's break it down. If we take that a 50-gram box of tea bags costs around 1,8 Euros, then let's see how this price changes at different points. A very simplified model:

It starts with the farmer who sells the fresh leaves to the factory. 

When the tea goes out of the farm, the price per box of tea is 0,03 Euros.

The factory sells the tea for 0,12 Euros

Importer sells it for 0,30 Euros.

A company which packages and brands it sells it for 0,9 Euros.

And finally, the supermarket sells it to you for 1,8 Euros

So, if you think about it, then the people who actually grow and produce the tea you are drinking, get around 1,5-6% of the final price of the package. So, the fact is that it's not so much about the fact that the producers would not want to pay for the fresh leaf or that the estates wouldn't want to provide a pleasant environment for their workers. The problem is the price we are willing to pay at the supermarket.

not really fairtrade

Be the change

The market price decreases every year under pressure from big corporations. And they are able to do it, only if we as consumers let them do it. 

If you buy a package of tea bags for 1,8 euros, it means that you pay 0,07 Euros for a cup of tea. And the farmer gets 0,0012 Euros per that same cup…

It's also not just making a different choice at the supermarket and buying the most expensive tea out there. If you really want to make a change, then whenever you can, buy directly from the farmer. And not just tea, with every product. Next time try to find out where the product is actually coming from, who has been growing and producing it. Tea that has a sign "Made in Germany" should start some alarm bells in your head. It is definitely not grown in Germany, so where is it grown? Is it free from pesticides and herbicides? Do the workers get fair pay for what they produce? Ask those questions and choose accordingly.

Whenever you can, choose real farmers, so you know where and how the products were grown and you actually know the people behind it as well. And the profits will go straight to the farmer, not to the middlemen.

 Learn more about what are the costs to produce good quality tea.

 Written by Kristiina