Case Study: Tata Global Beverages

Tata Global Beverages first identified the need to take action on the sustainability of its supply chains following some short term disruptions to the company's raw tea supply both in terms of availability and price.

It was at this point that “the business recognised that sustainability, specifically of our tea supply chain, was crucial if we were to remain a tea business for years to come,” says Sebastian Michaelis, Tea Taster responsible for ethical sourcing at Tata. “As a consequence, the business looked at the different options available and recognised that Rainforest Alliance was the best option for securing our supply chain in the long term.”

The first packs of certified tea under the Tetley brand went on sale in May 2011 with over 30% of the tea inside from Rainforest Alliance (RA) certified farms, rising to 50% RA in June 2012. Tetley Extra Strong (50% RA) and Blend of Both (100% RA of Black tea) have now been launched, along with some other products for Europe and the Middle East at 100% RA. Tata's ambition is to reach 100% RA certified for its Tetley brand by 2016.

All farms that are Rainforest Alliance Certified™ have met the environmental, social, and economic standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN). The SAN standards cover ecosystem conservation, worker rights and safety, wildlife protection, water and soil conservation, agrochemical reduction, decent housing, and legal wages and contracts for workers.

“The real effects on the ground can be subtle but put together they make a big difference,” explains Sebastian. “For instance, I've observed water treatment and filters installed across estates to ensure no chemicals contaminate local rivers; buffer zones of indigenous grass planted on vulnerable soil to mitigate soil erosion; improved washing facilities and equipment to ensure chemicals are safely used by workers; and the documentation and protection of local wildlife.”

Tata has also been highly innovative in how it has communicated this work to its consumers. For example, its Farmers First Hand initiative, launched in the UK in 2012 from the Lujeri tea estate in Malawi, aims to give consumers a direct insight into the tea-growers' experiences. . Tea farmers and estate workers use phones and cameras provided by Tetley to share what they are doing via the Facebook page, allowing consumers to experience the estate's journey towards certification as it happens, and get a sense of day to day life on a tea estate. Consumers are also able to communicate directly with the tea workers and each other, asking questions directly to producers.

Lucy Denny, Global Marketing Manager for the Tetley brand explained the reasoning behind the initiative at the time of launch:

“We want Tetley tea drinkers to enjoy their favourite cuppa knowing that by choosing it they have helped to protect the environment on tea estates and provide sustainable livelihoods for the people there. What better way to achieve this than by allowing them to personally connect with people on the estates and see and hear their story first hand.”

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Last reviewed: 28 Jan 2014