Working Collaboratively to Improve the Sustainability of the Tea Sector

By Sarah Roberts, Executive Director, Ethical Tea Partnership

Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) is a membership organisation of more than 40 international tea companies and retailers. We exist to improve the sustainability of the tea sector, the lives and livelihoods of tea workers and farmers, and the environment in which tea is produced.

It’s a fact that the tea industry faces many challenges. While global poverty, according to the World Bank, has declined sharply over the last couple of decades, it does endure in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa – many of the places where tea is grown. Poverty so often comes hand-in-hand with a range of other issues such as poor health and well-being, malnourishment, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, low quality housing, unsafe migration, and limited access to education to name a few.

So where does ETP fit into all of this? For a number of years we’ve been running projects and programmes that address issues that are holding back the sustainability of the sector. We also know how important it is to have sensible (sometimes tricky) conversations with the right people (Governments, NGOs, and development agencies etc.) in order to create the systemic and structural change required to improve the livelihoods of the people that grow and produce tea.

Much of our thinking at ETP is aligned to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to end poverty, fight inequality, and tackle climate change by 2030. Of the seventeen goals, ten are pertinent to tea (see image).


Since I don’t have the space to cover all the ways in which ETP is contributing towards achieving the SDGs, I will limit myself to two examples:

In Malawi, we’re part of a coalition of stakeholders from across the entire tea value chain working to create a competitive Malawian tea industry where workers earn a living wage and smallholders are thriving. The Malawi 2020 Tea Revitalisation Programme aims to deliver six key outcomes.

The second project I want to briefly cover is our partnership with UNICEF. Together with the support of the Indian tea industry, the programme is working across more than 100 tea estates to equip more than 25,000 girls with the necessary knowledge and skills that will help them secure a better future and reduce their vulnerability to violence, abuse, and exploitation including trafficking and unsafe migration.

I’m looking forward to speaking at the North American Tea Conference where I’ll provide further insight into these programmes and others, look at how the sustainability landscape and ETP have changed, and why it’s important for the industry to work collaboratively through organisations like ETP in order to make the tea industry truly sustainable.

etp-teamup16-0213Sarah Roberts has been the Executive Director of the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) since 2009. The ETP works on behalf of 40+ international tea companies and retailers to improve the sustainability of tea production, the lives and livelihoods of tea workers and farmers, and the environment in which tea is produced. Sarah started her career at the International Institute for Environment and Development and has held a number of senior sustainability and CSR roles.


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