Tea prices are too low! …and other roundtable insights

Tea prices are too low! …and other roundtable insights

On 31 May 2022 a group of close to 50 tea sector stakeholders took part in a virtual roundtable to reflect on the findings of THIRST’s literature review, Human Rights in the Tea Sector – The Big Picture.

Participants included representatives of tea brands, producers, national tea associations, NGOs, multi-stakeholder initiatives and law firms etc, and joined from Canada, Germany, India, Iran, Kenya, Nepal, the Netherlands, Sweden, Thailand, UK, USA and Vietnam.

The purpose of the roundtable was to bring a multi-stakeholder perspective to the issues raised by the review and to start to explore collaborative ways to address the problems.

The roundtable report contains an overview of the literature review findings, reflections from three of the advisors on the literature review, a summary and notes on the discussion and next steps, including how you can get involved.

Below is a summary of the key discussion points.

Tea prices are too low!

Multiple stakeholders concurred that prices for tea are currently too low to enable producers to provide decent pay and working/living conditions. Changes at every stage of the value chain from retailer back can help to address this.

Improving quality and value

Raising the quality of tea will raise its value and there is a growing demand for speciality tea. While this will likely never replace cheap commodity tea, growing this part of the sector could improve the way that tea is seen and therefore how it is valued by consumers. Higher value tea means that there will be more value in the chain to share with workers and farmers.

New business models could help to improve human rights in the sector

There are already good examples of new business models at different levels of the industry, and there is scope for more, whether for the industry as a whole or for parts of the industry – such as the plantation model, the retail model, the auction model etc. Are there better approaches that would have better outcomes?

Mapping the future

It is vital that any planning for change in the industry should take into consideration emerging and future trends such as AI, mechanisation, the practice of outsourcing work, climate change etc.

Law makers should be part of every change programme

Positive and lasting change, particularly for issues endemic to tea origins, can only happen if backed by legislative change. States listen to businesses, and organisations like ETI and ETP are in a good position to coordinate private sector and civil society dialogue with states abou change in the tea sector.

The tea sector could lead on tackling endemic issues

Many of issues raised in THIRST’s report are endemic to tea production countries – so what can the industry do? For any industry that is the same and any industry – including tea – can choose to take a leadership position, seek to find ways of addressing those issues and share lessons with other sectors.

Collaboration will maximise effectiveness and promote cross-sector learning

It is really important that all stakeholders collaborate on analysis and action and to have cross sectoral learning in order to minimise negative consequences of the solutions we develop. Tea stakeholders can learn valuable lessons from each other, from past initiatives such as Malawi 2020 and Tea 2030, and from other sectors who are tackling similar issues.

Human rights intersect with the environment

Tea does not grow in a vacuum. Any efforts to improve human rights in the sector should incorporate consideration of bio-dynamic, environmental and climactic change.


To be notified of future roundtable discussions or to discuss how you might be involved in the HRIA, please:

Contact THIRST