Response to Canton Tea’s Position on Fairtrade

Recently, Canton Tea sent out a mailing detailing its position on Fairtrade. We were a little surprised and concerned at what appears to be a distinct lack of understanding. Here is a response from the Fairtrade Foundation.


We welcome Canton Tea’s approach to encouraging direct trade between businesses and tea producers. However, Fairtrade and direct trade are not mutually exclusive, as many people who look to adopt a direct trade model share the same ambitions as Fairtrade. Both approaches seek to bring producers into a deeper and more direct relationship with buyers of their teas.

What Fairtrade offers businesses is the opportunity to source tea from producers who have met standards that ensure environmental, social and economic sustainability. This means there is a consistently strong approach to trading directly and supports the security of tea producers’ livelihoods and the tea market in the future. These standards offer a transparency and structure for brands in the UK to make connections with tea producers, encouraging them to develop relationships that meet both the business and producers’ needs.

Fairtrade is 50% owned by the producer networks themselves, meaning they are involved in decision making at all levels of Fairtrade, which stands us apart from direct trade and indeed other certification schemes. Fairtrade enables clarity of where tea comes from but also offers the additional security of Fairtrade Minimum Price and the Fairtrade Premium as a basis of strong relationships. A unique aspect of Fairtrade is the payment of an additional premium on top of the agreed tea price for investment in the future by farmers and workers. .It’s important to stress that the Fairtrade Premium is spent on business and community projects of their own choice, democratically decided on by farmers and workers themselves.

More than €4 million in Fairtrade Premium was paid directly by traders to small farmer organisations or workers’ organisations on Fairtrade tea estates in 2013. Small farmer organizations invested 30 percent of their Fairtrade Premium in community, education, and health projects. They used more than 46 percent of their Fairtrade Premium to make investments in strengthening their producer organisations, for example investing in infrastructure to support more efficient production and processing—such as renovation of the tea buying centres where the smallholders bring their green leaf. The balance was spent on direct services to tea farmers such as agricultural training, and the provision of tools and inputs.

Fairtrade continues to work on several fronts to support better impacts for Fairtrade tea workers. Our new Hired Labour Standards have introduced a quality requirements for on-site housing for workers, and strengthened workers’ rights with greater support for collective bargaining and freedom of association, as well as progress requirements toward a living wage.

Fairtrade is working with a wide range of partners to support improved wages for workers on tea estates, beginning with living wage studies and participation in industry-wide initiatives such as the Oxfam Tea Wage Report and Tea 2030. We hope such collaborations will facilitate new approaches to setting tea industry wage benchmarks, so that making progress towards a living wage, and ensuring better wages in the meantime, can become a commitment for everyone along the supply chain.

On tea plantations, a wide range of services for workers and their families—such as the provision of housing, educational support, medical care, subsidised goods and loans—account for 64 percent of Fairtrade Premium spending. Support for the wider community—such as support for local schools, scholarships for children, and community health projects—accounted for 28 percent.

Finally, whilst we accept that certification requires work which carries a cost, it also offers a completely independent certification and auditing function to ensure that such benefits are accruing properly to farmers and workers, and that agreed standards are being met. As it is very difficult for individual shoppers to distinguish between different company claims around fairness and sustainability, we believe Fairtrade also plays an important role in providing the simple, direct assurance that many shoppers and businesses value and trust.

You may also wish to view the following films:

How Fairtrade premiums make a difference:

How Fairtrade benefits tea workers: 

Fairtrade supporting tea farmers to adapt to climate change:


28 April 2015


If you would like to see the initial piece “why we don’t sell Fairtrade” click here