Responsible trade with tea
The question of working and living conditions of the people producing tea is one that is very present for us at Länggass-Tee; and for us, this is directly linked to what type of tea we want to trade.
Digging a bit further, the complexity of the question becomes apparent and one realises how deeply the issues are linked to the historical context and the currently dominant economical system. To fully explain them would go beyond the aim of this short text, so in a nutshell.
There are different ways of trading tea. For us, the main distinction is between China on the one side and India and other countries where tea is heavily influenced by their colonial history on the other side. In China, tea and its production are deeply rooted in its culture. A tea producer in China will sell most of his tea within the country and is a respected person.
In India and other countries with a colonial past, on the other hand, tea production was introduced by the colonizing countries (mostly Great Britain and the Netherlands); this in order to counter the Chinese monopoly on tea and the resulting trade deficit. Hence, the growing and production of tea has been planned for large scale production and (mostly) for the export from the start. Cheap and replaceable labour are the norm, producing tea of simple quality at low prices, destined for the world market.
Whereas in China simple teas as well as very expensive and qualitatively outstanding teas find buyers, the Indian teas move within a lower price-range in order to compete globally.
Out of this a political movement started in the 1970s, with the aim to establish a fair trade, by promoting “fair” prices and with this ensuring sustainable production methods and acceptable living conditions. Nowadays, a considerable number of labelling Organisations trade Fair-Trade products in ever increasing quantities; but this new, economic situation may lead to new conflicts, which in turn affect the initially improved living conditions of the producers. This shows how complex the question is, and how difficult it is to find an adequate solution.
Where do we position ourselves in this maze of questions? We realize how little impact we have on the wholesale of teas from India and other countries with a colonial past. So we focus on what we know best, which is to trade teas of a quality that we, as a specialized shop, want to guarantee. All the while we are constantly open for independently produced tea, keen to learn about the story behind them.
In China, on the other hand, we can proceed very differently. There we have the possibility to buy the tea ourselves, to visit the tea gardens and the producers. This allows us to buy traditionally grown and produced teas, while increasing our knowledge and building long lasting relationships. All this following the ensuing train of thought:The better the quality of a tea, the more care went into its production.
- The more careful the production, the more important is every step of the production
- The more important every step is in the production, the more knowledge is required to produce the tea
- The more knowledge is necessary, the more the producers are valued
- The more the producers are valued, the fairer are the working conditions
- We add to this the fact that small scale, family businesses generally act in a more careful and social way