Unilever, the world's largest tea company, is to revolutionise the tea industry by committing to purchase all its tea from sustainable, ethical sources. It has asked the international environmental NGO, Rainforest Alliance, to start by certifying tea farms in Africa.
Lipton, the world's best-selling tea brand, and PG Tips, the UK's No.1 tea, will be the first brands to contain certified tea. The company aims to have all Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe certified by 2010 and all Lipton tea bags sold globally by 2015. This is the first time a major tea company has committed to introducing sustainably certified tea on such a large scale and the first time the Rainforest Alliance, better known for coffee certification, has audited tea farms.
Announcing the move in a speech to MBA students at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France, today (25 May 2007), Unilever CEO Patrick Cescau said: "This decision will transform the tea industry, which has been suffering for many years from oversupply and underperformance. It will not be achieved overnight, but we are committed to doing it because we believe it is the right thing to do for the people who drink our tea, the people along the entire length of our supply chain and for our business.
It has the potential to reassure consumers about the source of the tea they enjoy drinking so much; to improve the crops, incomes and livelihoods of nearly 1 million people in Africa and, eventually, up to 2 million people around the world; to protect the environment from a further drain on its resource and to provide us with a means by which we can differentiate our brands from those of our competitors."
Unilever has a long history of developing sustainable agriculture and a strong record in driving good practice in tea cultivation, manufacture and supply. Indeed, in 2002, Unilever published its own sustainable agriculture guidelines for tea cultivation.
Unilever has asked the Rainforest Alliance to start auditing its tea suppliers with immediate effect. The first tea farm to apply for certification will be Unilever's own tea estate in Kericho, Kenya, which has pioneered sustainable tea production for many years. Other tea farms, in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Indonesia, India, Argentina and Sri Lanka, will follow. Eventually, certification will extend to thousands of farms in Africa, South America and South East Asia, improving the livelihoods of around 2 million people across three continents. The first certified tea will be made available to restaurants and the catering trade in Europe from August 2007.
Commenting on the announcement, Tensie Whelan, Executive Director, Rainforest Alliance said: "Unilever's commitment to take its entire tea supply sustainable is unprecedented in its scale. We are delighted to be working with Unilever to bring better management practices to 2 million people, helping them to protect water and wildlife as well improve working conditions and help them access better markets and better prices."
Rainforest Alliance was chosen by Unilever because of its experience in crops like coffee and fruit, its exacting standards and the comprehensiveness of its certification process, which covers social, economic and environmental factors. These include water conservation, wildlife protection, fair treatment and good working conditions for workers, and soil management and conservation. Certification will enable growers to improve the quality of their tea, increase their competitiveness and ensure a more sustainable income stream. Based on Rainforest Alliance experience with other crops, it is expected that certified tea will command higher prices than current average prices paid at auction. Unilever estimates that it will be paying farmers around €2 million more for its tea by 2010 and around €5 million more by 2015.
Jonathon Porritt, Founder Director of Forum for the Future, who advises Unilever on sustainability issues, said: "This is an extraordinary commitment by Unilever, which will make a huge difference to a very large number of people in Africa and elsewhere. Unilever has led the way on sustainable agriculture for more than a decade, and this decision confirms that leadership role - one which I very much hope many others will now follow."
Note to Editors
The Rainforest Alliance is an independent, international non-profit NGO that works with individuals, communities and companies whose livelihoods depend on the land to reduce environmental impacts and increase social and economic benefits. RA pioneered the practice of setting standards and certifying well-managed forests nearly 20 years ago, and developed comprehensive principles and standards for sustainable agriculture shortly thereafter.
Rainforest Alliance certifies coffee, chocolate and bananas in products worth over US$1 billion annually, including such brands as Starbucks, McDonald's, Chiquita, Innocent and Kenco.
Unilever's mission is to add vitality to life. We meet everyday needs for nutrition, hygiene and personal care with brands that help people feel good, look good and get more out of life.
Unilever is the world's largest purchaser of black tea, currently buying around 12% of the world's black tea supply. Its major tea brands are Lipton, the world's favourite tea brand, which has been producing tea for over 100 years, and PG Tips, the number 1 UK brand.
Unilever is also one of the world's leading suppliers of fast moving consumer goods with strong local roots in more than 100 countries across the globe. Its portfolio includes some of the world's best known and most loved brands including twelve €1 billion brands and global leadership in many categories in which the company operates. The portfolio features brand icons such as Flora/Becel, Dove, Ben & Jerry's and the 'Dirt is Good' laundry brands ((Persil / OMO / Ala / Skip / All).
Unilever has around 179,000 employees in approaching 100 countries and generated annual sales of€40 billion in 2006.
Lipton is the world's best-known and best-selling brand of tea, with sales of nearly €3 billion today. Lipton is the global market leader in both leaf and ready-to-drink tea, with a global market share nearly three times larger than its nearest rival. Available in over 110 countries, Lipton is particularly popular in Europe, North America, the Middle East and parts of Asia.
Unilever's tea estate in Kericho, Kenya, acquired when Unilever bought Brooke Bond tea in 1984, provides a benchmark for the improved standards of living Unilever hopes will be extended to more growers and pluckers in the developing world, as more tea estates and smallholdings become certified.
Unilever has been working to ensure the sustainability of its East African tea estates for over 15 years. In1998, the company started to measure the key aspects of sustainable tea production and developed a set of 10 sustainability indicators covering social, economic and environmental factors. In 2002, it published sustainable agriculture guidelines for tea cultivation. Since then they have been communicated to over two-thirds of Unilever's tea suppliers globally. Around two-thirds of Unilever's total global tea purchases come from suppliers who either meet its guidelines or are fully engaged in its tea sustainability programme.
In 2006, Unilever entered into a partnership with the UK's Department for International Development and the Kenya Tea Development Agency to roll out a programme to communicate tea sustainability guidelines to 450,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya.
Photographs and video footage are available on request.