Worker and Community Empowerment - Tea

Members of 3 Village Savings and Loan Associations in Malawi

Tea is strongly linked to Tesco’s heritage and is a key product for customers in the UK. It also face a number of challenges. Globally, it is associated with extremely low wages, and we also know gender discrimination and low livelihoods are issues for tea workers and smallholders respectively. This is why, for a number of years, we have been working actively and collaboratively to address these complex issues. As a starting point, all our UK Own Brand tea is certified with Rainforest Alliance Certified and the Ethical Tea Partnership. We also work in partnership with industry and NGOs in key regions, such as Assam in India and Malawi, to help address the root causes to these challenges.

Protecting children from exploitation in Assam

Our partnership with the Ethical Tea Partnership and UNICEF is focused on addressing gender inequality in the Assam region of India, where girls and young women can be at risk of sex trafficking. Directly working with tea gardens, we funded capability building to train women, girls and the wider community to help them secure a better future and reduce their vulnerability to violence, abuse and exploitation. As a result of this multi-stakeholder pre-competitive collaboration, more than 33,000 women and girls were supported, as well as engaging national, state and district governments to protect children and review policies for those living in tea communities. In the next phase of the programme the partnership is upskilling the wider local community on issues including child protection, education, health, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, and business engagement to build broader community resilience.

assam tea

Supporting the Malawi tea industry

In addition to our work in Assam, we are members of the Malawi Tea 2020 coalition, with the objective of paying tea workers a living wage by 2020. By bringing together committed industry buyers and producers, we have already supported two collective bargaining agreements between the Tea Association of Malawi and the Plantation Agricultural Workers Union, ensuring increased wages for workers, and raising awareness of the opportunity to join a trade union. 

Additionally, from October 2018, 5p from every pack of Tesco Extra Strong tea bought will be directly donated to run community projects in the two tea estates we buy all our Malawian tea from. The first beneficiaries will be 10 Village Savings and Loan Associations. These groups support smallholders and communities to increase their incomes through simple savings and loan facilities for those that do not have easy access to financial services. Loans are typically used to invest more in the tea farm, pay for education fees, as well as to develop other business activities which generate new income. Training under the programme is delivered by a local expert team, and entirely funded through donations.

We are collectively supporting the setting up of women welfare and gender committees on Malawi tea estates, to ensure gender issues are raised and acted upon, and that women are appropriately represented. Training will be delivered to discuss unequal gender norms with the aim of ensuring no sexual harassment and discrimination is taking place.

Women in leadership is another important focus areas. As part of this work, development opportunities are reviewed to support women to apply to senior positions. Additionally, breastfeeding breaks and free crèches to support women in work were set up, giving them the peace of mind of knowing their children are taken care of during the day.