Why did just 10 tea firms fully disclose their suppliers?

5 January 2022

Tea companies should reveal all their suppliers across the entire supply chain to ensure complete transparency and ethical operations, according to a report.

In the report the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) said the tea industry, which employs 13 million workers and has a global retail value of more than $50bn, was considered high risk for poverty level wages, forced labour and other human rights abuses.

The BHRRC said companies should publish policies and codes of conduct, including audit reports and plantation worker pay levels, and they should commit to open data reporting.

In the study 65 companies – 49 of whom were members of the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) – were asked to disclose supplier lists and complete a survey on human rights and sourcing policies, as part of efforts to create a Tea Transparency Tracker database.

However, 36 firms did not reply and only 10 provided full disclosure. These were: Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate, Jenier Limited, Twinings, Ringtons, Tesco, Yogi Tea, East West Tea company, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, and Plus (Superunie). A further seven companies provided partial disclosures.

The report said reasons for not supplying data included companies feeling ETP membership or sourcing from certified producers was sufficient to demonstrate ethical practice and commercial sensitivity.

The report said: “The key hurdle for companies in the decision to disclose or not to disclose appears to be entirely internal and depend on how important the company judges supply chain transparency, how well they grasp the link between transparency and human rights, and their assessment of the reputational damage of non-disclosure.”

BHRRC said most of the facilities listed on the database were in India (2,219), followed by Kenya (262) and Sri Lanka (226).

Responding to the report, Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate said it had first published its supplier lists in 2018.

“As a family business we’re committed to improving the social and environmental standards on the estates we buy from,” the company said. “Working with suppliers, influencing trade associations, the ongoing development of monitoring and certification standards, and expanding existing and establishing new programmes on the ground – often in partnerships – are all part of our work.

“We believe that sharing information and being open about where and who we buy from enables collaboration and underpins the action needed to drive change within the industry.”

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