Ethical trade aims to improve the working conditions experienced by employees involved in a company’s supply chain –for Ringtons, this is the chain of processes and people which bring the tea leaves from a field to cup.
Ethical Trading practices are usually regulated through corporate codes of practice and are concerned with where value is created and added in a company’s supply chain. At every stage at which something is done to the tea leaves, whether that is plucking them, transporting them or blending them, value is added and by managing our supply chains ethically, we aim to recognize the contribution that each person makes to the product we create and to ensure that their human rights are respected.
Each Ringtons employee is an important part of the supply chain that brings tea leaves from many different countries around the world to Ringtons’ customers. We, as Ringtons employees, work for a company whose core values include taking care of its employees and fostering long-term, ethical business relationships. However, Ringtons also aims to ensure that human rights, good employment conditions, and ethical business practices are upheld at every stage of the supply chains we are engaged in.
Because of its history and the way in which it is structured, the tea trade and the tea estates and factories which work within it do, generally speaking, uphold ethical standards. However, it is important for Ringtons, as a brand and as a sustainable business, to accurately assess and monitor our suppliers’ commitment to human rights, good employment conditions, and ethical business practices.
There are many Ethical Trading Codes of Conduct in existence but the majority of them have coalesced around core standards established by the International Labour Organization (ILO) assess similar issues. These are:
1. Employment is freely chosen
2. Employees have freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining
3. Health and Safety;
a) Workplace Safety
c) Health & Welfare
d) Accommodation/ housing
4. Child labour and young workers
5. Wages and Benefits
6. Working hours
8. Regular employment
9. Disciplinary Procedures
Alongside these, an increasing number of businesses are recognising the importance of environment sustainability and monitor issues such as:
1. Environmental Management Systems
3. Soil conservation
4. Ecosystem conservation
5. Water conservation
6. Energy use
7. Waste management
Many of these issues are monitored and regulated through the extremely rigorous standards of certification schemes such as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance or Utz. For these certification schemes, producers are audited every two or three years by independent auditors against strict codes of practice and either pass or fail against these standards. Despite this, none of these certification schemes can guarantee that all of these standards are being fully applied by producers all of the time.
Ringtons, because of the way our business has developed, does not buy and sell the majority of our own brand teas under any certification scheme but we are still concerned about the traceability of our teas and about good employment conditions, human rights and ethical business practices at every stage of our supply chains.
We visit a number of our suppliers each year to assess the production processes both in terms of quality and ethics, to ensure that they align to Ringtons’ high standards and to improve our relationship with them – strengthening trust and understanding.
However, with a supplier base of more than 300 individual suppliers, it is impossible for a small business such as Ringtons to visit all of the tea gardens we buy from. We have been buying from some suppliers for more than 20 years but, because a high number of new tea blends which we have started making in recent years, we also have a large number of producers in our supply chain which we do not have such strong relationships with
Ethical Tea Partnership
Therefore, we have joined a different organisation called the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP). This organisation conducts social accountability audits on tea estates on behalf of its members and shares this information between them. Unlike a certification schemes’ audits, producers cannot pass or fail these ETP audits; rather, the audits provide a gap analysis showing how far or near a factory is to the ideal. ETP brings together a number of European tea companies, NGOs and international aid donors to tackle the causes of human rights infringement within the tea industry.
Ringtons chooses to work outside of ethical certification schemes. However, it is still important to understand what Fairtrade is as Fairtrade has extremely high levels of recognition and trust.
Fairtrade is a certification scheme which audits and monitors producers, awarding the Fairtrade certification mark if they meet Fairtrade International’s extremely strict ethical standards. These standards cover social, economic and environmental development of producers. Production sites are audited by social accountability auditors every two to three years.
The Fairtrade mark shows that, so far as is possible, producers have been paid a fair and stable price; producers have longer-term trading relationships, with more stability; producers have access to training to develop their businesses; and producers get a little extra, the Fairtrade premium, to decide for themselves how to spend it, to strengthen their businesses and their communities.
While Fairtrade and Ethical Trade both aim to improve the lives of producers, they aim to do this in quite different ways. Ethical Trade is specifically focused on improving the lives of employees in a company’s supply chain while Fairtrade aims to alter the wider trading relations that underpin supply chains and to fundamentally change the way in which global trade works.
There are several reasons why Ringtons has decided to stay outside of any certification scheme for our own brand teas; it is partly because we feel that certification schemes seem to offer too much assurance, with consumers often assuming that they are buying a product that is 100% guaranteed ethically traded even though this is an impossible promise. Additionally, Fairtrade, because of its very specific rules and standards, involves a lot of ‘red tape’ for producers and manufacturers such as Ringtons. It is very difficult for producers to raise their production standards to meet Fairtrade standards without external funding and support. Instead, we have always sought to trade ethically. Ethical trade is not a pass or fail certification scheme but involves a gap analysis of producers in a supply chain. This highlights what our suppliers are doing well but also indicates those issues where we need to work more closely with them.