20 Years of Fairtrade – Clipper’s Tea Estate Anniversary Visit
This year marks 20 years of Fairtrade certification and as the pioneers of Fairtrade tea, we wanted to go back to where it started for us, Southern India. At Clipper we made the decision to work with just a few progressive, partner estates, to ensure the best quality tea is grown with the lowest environmental impact, and the biggest positive effect on the workers and their families.
The South Indian State of Tamil Nadu is where the British first introduced tea as a plantation crop at the turn of the 19th century, and we visited some of the Fairtrade and Organic tea gardens that Clipper has been working with for the past two decades.
Tired and triumphant after travelling for 24 hours, we started our trip in Ooty, high up in the Nilgiri Hills romantically known as the Blue Mountains, the oldest mountain range in India. They are known as the Blue Mountains as it is here, that the Neelakurunji (Strobilanthes Kunthiana), flowers once every twelve years and bathes the entire mountain range in a lavender hue. It is largely due to progressive growing and farming methods on the Fairtrade and organic estates that wildlife has flourished here.
At Clipper we source all of our tea, including our organic teas, from producers who we know and trust, where we are confident that the workers are being treated fairly and with respect.
Every estate we buy from pays at least the minimum wage, but the workers also receive many supplementary benefits, paid for by premiums, donations and estate funds. These benefits range from schooling, holiday and sick pay, medical expenses, food and fuel allowances, education and crèche facilities and housing for families both in the estate and for those who remain in their villages and also safe travel for both workers and their children to and from schools.
For our trip, we had the honour of being accompanied by two food journalists, bloggers and influencers, Ravinder Bhogal and Vanessa Kimbell. Both Ravinder and Vanessa are key supporters of Fairtrade and organic produce, and we asked them to come and witness first-hand the positive impact that Fairtrade and organic certification has on the tea gardens and the surrounding communities.
First stop was a visit to the team at the Welbeck Estate, where we buy Fairtrade and organic tea for our Green and Earl Grey blends. Welbeck was certified Fairtrade in 1994, and was one of the first tea gardens to achieve status.
These guys are real trailblazers not only in the ethical production but in the environmentally responsible production of tea. Since becoming an organic garden, without the use of pesticide in the area, Wild Bison and indigenous plants have once again returned to the hills.
Walking through the beautiful gardens, 7500ft above sea level, we were accompanied by bird song and the intense whispering rustle of tea-pickers, selecting and harvesting the young tea leaves. If it was possible to invite every tea drinker from the UK to spend just five minutes in this magical place, we wouldn’t need to persuade them to start buying Clipper.
Next stop, the Burnside Estate to visit some of the Fairtrade projects in action!
We spent time with the joint Fairtrade Committee, the tea workers who have been elected to decide how the Fairtrade Funds are spent. Many of the members are women, ladies with a vision for the future of India’s children, and it is because of these women that funds are being used to support education and medical facilities. One of the committee proudly said, “I might be a tea worker, but my daughter will be a doctor”.
Burnside Primary School, built and funded with Fairtrade premiums, was an absolute joy to visit as we were given such a fabulous welcome by the children and teachers. With additional funding from the Fairtade Foundation, the children were all learning English and computing, as well as learning through playing games such as chess. The Fairtrade funding has given them something else too; ambition. Children as young as five already want to be teachers, doctors and one little boy had his heart set on a career in comedy!
The children are happy, fulfilled, articulate and their parents are hardworking but proud. On a personal level, I was completely in awe of the projects we visited. From the Burnside Estate Crèche which allows mums to go back to work and provide for their families, whilst knowing that their children are happy and safe, to the NPA Centenary Polytechnic College, which provides the older children with vocational training, such as engineering and electronics which sets them up for life.
Every cup of Fairtrade tea we drink in the UK, helps to support projects such as these and in return these producers are providing us with fabulous teas, made with love and skill. Every cup of tea represents a powerful choice for change and change really does taste good.
- Rebecca Vercoe
Read Ravinder’s Fairtrade review here and view her tea recipes here!