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A new era of tea2014-01-11

A new era of tea industry leaders gathered in Unilever and House in London to carry out cooperation in the tea, the leader of the future of global sustainable development nonprofit forum.

Last week, tea industry leaders gathered at Unilever House in London to launch a new era of collaboration within the tea sector, led by global sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future.

The call was for cross-sector action to improve livelihoods, respond to climate change and engage consumers in the roadmap to develop a sustainable tea industry by 2030.

Unilever, Yorkshire Tea, Tata Global Beverages and James Finlay are among members of the Tea 2030 partnership calling for the sector to find legal ways to work together - whilst continuing to compete vigorously - to turn tea from a standard commodity into a "hero crop", which benefits the millions who work in all parts of the industry as well as the wider environment and economy.

Every cup of tea you drink should help better the lives of the people who produce it, improve the environment where it is grown, and contribute to a thriving global industry, according to the Tea 2030 report, which was launched at the event and co-written by Forum for the Future and the project's partners.

Sally Uren, CEO of Forum for the Future, who chaired the event said: "The tea industry operates in some of the world's poorest countries that are most vulnerable to climate change and faces serious challenges. We are urging organisations across the sector to collaborate to find solutions that will safeguard its future and transform the lives of millions of people working throughout the industry.

The Tea 2030 partners will now focus their collaboration on three key areas:

•Sustainable production - benefitting the environment and communities where tea is grown;

•Market mechanisms - which deliver greater value to all players in the supply chain;

•Engage consumers - so they both demand more sustainable tea and reduce impacts associated with tea consumption.

Over 100 delegates from tea companies, retailers, Tea Boards, and NGOs, gathered to launch the report and collaboration platforms. We heard from the largest global player in the tea industry on how collaboration is critical for ensuring the future of the tea industry. Unilever's chief supply chain officer Pier Luigi Sigismondi said, "This initiative allows us to have a platform to talk about […] complex environmental and social challenges […] It is only through critical mass and collaboration that we can tackle these one by one."

In the report Forum for the Future identifies profound challenges facing the industry, including climate change, population growth, and competition for agricultural land and water. It sets out key principles that will allow the sector to overcome these challenges and achieve a sustainable future. And it calls on everyone across the tea supply chain - workers, growers, processors, traders, packers, retailers and consumers - to unite to achieve the shared vision.

Ron Mathison, Chief Executive of James Finlays, reinforced the complexities of the challenges ahead of the tea industry: "Different factors affect different people throughout the value chain; it is important that we understand these […]interconnected issues."

Sarah Roberts, Chief Executive of the Ethical Tea Partnership emphasised the track record of the tea industry in addressing environmental, social and economic issues - from the earliest stages of certification in the 1990s through to current concern around sustainability and the social economic issues facing tea producing nations. Tea 2030 represents a new wave, and critical this time is engagement with consumers: "There has been hardly any collaboration […] on the consumer end so this emerging platform is significant."

When the panellists were asked about what they would like to see this collaboration achieve in the next 5 years, Ron Mathison said: "What I'm hoping is that Tea 2030 becomes an umbrella platform for broad-based collaboration in the industry." Pier Luigi focused on Unilever's specific desires to resolve socio-economic issues such as rights for women: "There are huge endemic issues in Africa, India with […] women's rights. There is nothing we can do individually, we must build critical mass. It is my dream that in 5 years' time there will be platform for their voice." Sarah Roberts from Ethical Tea Partnership responded by focusing on a wider view of tea production, citing the need to "scale up" the current work across the whole industry, whereas Jordy van Honk from IDH - the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative, focused on the importance of making smallholding more resilient and more sustainable.

One member of the audience asked a question especially important for the industry around how to guarantee the continuing value of tea against other commodities. Ron and Luigi focused on guaranteeing the stability of purchases for farmers whilst Sarah reiterated the importance of market mechanisms such as guaranteeing a fair price. Jordy focused on the making the farms themselves better equipped to support themselves: “We must also give farmers the tools to be more adaptable, not necessarily for tea but for the farm itself.” 

The questions returned to how to get the consumer to value this hero crop. Ron said, "Consumers have been trained to be promiscuous, we need to train them back. I would like to see more work from the retailers and from brands taking the lead."

The panellists returned to how this initiative is critical for the health of the tea industry. Sarah commented, "There does need to be radical change in the sector. There is so much change in the countries where tea is produced and we need to be geared up for that. Per Luigi summarised, "this is just the end of the beginning; the foundation of good talk and good ideas. Frankly speaking there is a challenge here; we need to understand the value of critical mass and ensure there is a platform here we can all benefit from. It's up to us to make it happen."

Sally Uren summed up by saying that tea industry would be judged on transparency, engagement and action through Tea 2030.