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The Pros, the Cons & the Business of Selling
Fair Trade Tea - Part Two

By Wendy Komancheck

In Part One of The Pros, the Cons, and the Business of Selling Fair Trade Tea, Fair Trade tea buyers, importers, and retailers explain their passion for the global community. In Part Two of the series, Wendy Komancheck reports on how organizations such as TransFair U.S.A and FLO International are the headships of this global movement.

In order to be considered a Fair Trade Certified tea, a Federal Trade Committee (FTC) label must be placed on the tea’s packaging. FTC entrepreneurs work closely with TransFair USA and FLO International organizations. Maya Spaull, tea accounts manager with TransFair USA says, “Currently, there are over 70 FLO, Fair Trade Labeling Organizations, inspected and certified Fair Trade tea producers in China, Egypt, India, Kenya, Nepal, Peru, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.”

Model For A Better Life
Fair Trade is not ‘Free Trade.’ According to TransFair USA’s FAQ sheet, “Conventional or ‘free trade’ favors multinational corporations by dissolving barriers to trade - often at the expense of local communities and the environment. Fair Trade enhances the quality of life for tea growing communities. Fair Trade is not a charity, but an innovative model for international trade that supports a better life for tea estate workers in developing countries by providing fair, livable wage and premiums for their efforts.”

TransFair USA describes itself as a “non-profit certification agency that is the only organization in the U.S. monitoring adherence to internationally-recognized Fair Trade standards.” TransFair USA also works to educate consumers and industry about the role of Fair Trade. The group ensures a decent standard of living for producers in developing countries,” according to their position paper, Fair Trade Certified Specialty Teas: How Fair Trade Makes a Difference.

Spot of Tea Rooibos, chai, bottled tea beverages, loose and bagged teas, green tea mints, ice cream with tea extract, and nutrition bars with tea extract can be found with Fair Trade labeling. According to the FTC position paper, “In 2005, the total volume of Fair Trade Certified tea was 517,500 lbs., an incredible 187% of growth from 2004, nearly 90% of which is estimated to be organic.” Spaull adds, “There are currently over 70 U.S. importers, manufacturers, and blenders signed on with TransFair USA to source and label Fair Trade tea products.”

The Fair Trade labeling system works as a democratic system enabling tea plantation workers to financially better themselves, their families, and their communities. Matter of fact, FTC teas are found on tea farms in underdeveloped countries, where there is a definite need for this type of system, rather than in fully-developed nations, like Japan. Yet, there are national initiatives in Japan, Canada, the U.S., and 17 European countries, where FLO International works in partnership with these developed nations. Spaull says, “Each national initiative works with industry partners in their respective markets to certify Fair Trade products and guarantee farmers and farm workers behind Fair Trade Certified goods are paid a fair, above-market price, and fair wages.”

Spaull continues to explain that the FTC system works to fight against a variety of issues surrounding these impoverished countries. She says, “Often tea worker wages cover only basic needs, thus there are limited opportunities for social development programs, limited access to higher education, and no funds to repair dilapidated housing and facilities.”

Additionally, there are health and safety concerns in regard to non-Fair Trade plantations, such as water contamination, worker health, unsanitary sewer systems, limited access to healthcare and prevention, and no emergency transit. Spaull says, “Fair Trade promotes worker empowerment, worker autonomy, and facilitates social and economic mobility for tea workers and their families.”

Quality Concerns
For the tea businessperson, who might be interested in adding Fair Trade teas to their offerings or to import and blend FTC teas, how do they know that there is any accountability on the part of the tea workers to uphold FTC standards? Spaull answers, “TransFair USA tracks each unit of Fair Trade product from producers on the international FTC FLO register to importers, manufacturers, and distributors in the U.S. For every unit purchased from a Fair Trade producer group, TransFair USA receives supporting documentation - contracts, bills of lading, and invoices - from licensed importers. These documents demonstrate both that FTC criteria were met, and that tea workers received the Fair Trade social premium funds.”

Quality of tea and its cleanliness is important, too, when considering importing, blending, and selling tea to the consumer. It’s reassuring to know that the accountability is thorough, and that the expectations for fine tea is still being met. Spaull says, “The producers on the FTC register, cultivate, and process some of the world’s finest teas. There are plentiful volumes of FTC tea available from the growing list of FLO registered producers that supply markets in Europe, Asia, and North America with premium tea (Camellia sinensis), rooibos, chamomile, hibiscus, and mints.”

Tea Boom
From the introduction of FTC teas’ to the U.S. in the late ‘90s until now, the market has boomed and may soon catch up to FTC coffees sales. According to Spaull, “There was a market growth of 187% in FTC tea imports from 180,000 lbs. in 2004 to 500,000 lbs. in 2005.”

If someone wants to import FTC tea or manufacture FTC tea, they can contact TransFair USA “to sign on as a registered partner to source and label FTC tea products.” Tea retailers or tea shop owners can buy their FTC teas directly from FTC manufacturers, national, and regional distributors. Spaull adds, “Consumers can find FTC products at over 34,000 retailers throughout the U.S. They can join Fair Trade USA supporters for events and promotions happening on World Fair Trade Day in May and during Fair Trade Month every October. Consumers and industry members can visit (www.fairtradecertified.org) for a complete list of TransFair USA’s partners and the ‘Where to Buy’ retailer database.”

Consumers Respond to Fair Trade Tea
Jonathan Blakesee of White Heron Tea shares that his type of FTC consumer tends to care about the environment, community, and healthy living. He also stresses that he sells mostly to grocers, specialty food retailers, restaurants, and cafes. “We do have regular contact with the consumer as we offer a lot of tea tastings,” Blakesee stated.

A White Heron tea tasting at Fresh Market
Although Blakesee has run into some dissatisfied coffee shop owners over Fair Trade issues, overall he’s found retailers and their customers to have a positive attitude about Fair Trade. “While some companies may view FTC as more of a marketing tool, the fact that a few large companies are starting to incorporate FTC products into their selection promotes the idea that all people should be paid for a living wage and be treated fairly. Hopefully, over time, the world will see some positive repercussions as a result (of selling and buying FTC products).”

Blakesee also states that there’s a financial commitment to investing in FTC tea. “For a small company, like White Heron Tea, I’m investing more financially than I would be for non- FTC teas. But I really believe that everyone should be able to feed their families and offer their children a brighter future. It’s that simple. Currently, I have 13 out of 26 organic teas that are FTC-certified-that’s a good ratio for any company.”

Wrapping up, Blakesee says that his customer base has responded well to his FTC selection, and seeks his company out as a valued FTC provider of teas. “I think it’s important to ‘speak with our dollar’ and a lot of my customers are doing just that. Most people would like to see the world become a better place. Those who want to do something about it, spend their money consciously on companies that are trying to make a difference.”

Janet Rowe of Teaphoria and Joel Pace of SLO Chai have marketed their products through their websites as well as through environmentally-conscious open air markets and ‘greenfests.’ Pace says, “Greenfests are large, organized retail expos for the consumers to meet the companies who they support, and for new consumers to ask questions. Two greenfests take place: one in San Francisco and one in Washington, D.C. There are more in the future. Also, smaller expos are held around the country.”

Rowe says, “I sell tea at a local outdoor green market and on the Internet.” This outdoor green market allows Rowe to educate her customers to FTC teas. She continues, “When that happens (explaining FTC teas to a customer), the customer always seems interested. Those conversations seem to spark some thought about where the tea actually comes from. FTC does seem to be growing - more and more people want to talk about FTC and those affected by it. Selling FTC teas has been profitable for my company, Teaphoria.”

Pace concurs, “FTC tea and coffee are booming! Not only does it paint a healthy future for our company, but globally, the rise in demand for FTC commodities - tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar, etc. - is increasing tremendously since FTC’s inception in the ‘90s. FTC is not a trend, but a necessary tool to benefit the world.”

From FTC-certified chai to FTC-certified black teas, and all other FTC products manufactured from tea, work to help the tea farmers who grow teas for our consumption. As seen in the business world, those entrepreneurs who invest in importing, blending, and selling FTC teas, do it for more than just a profit - they do it to benefit the tea farmers who want to have a decent life in their respective countries.

About the Author: Wendy Komancheck freelances from her home in Pennsylvania. She writes about small business, agriculture, and tea. You can reach her at wendykomancheck@yahoo.com.


Tea & Coffee - October/November, 2006
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