Tea grown in Assam is delicious – and it’s an important part of our Yorkshire Tea blends.
But Assam is one of the most challenging regions we source from, with a wide range of social issues affecting the living and working conditions of the people who pick tea. This week our Sustainable Sourcing Manager (Krisztina) and our Senior Tea Buyer (Suzy) have been there visiting some of our main suppliers.
They’re there to explore how we can do more work to improve standards and deliver meaningful change in estate communities.
Strong relationships and trust are vital, so we’re focused on working with growers who believe a long term sustainable future is as important as we do. That means buying from fewer suppliers in India and only working with those who are committed to improving standards on their estates.
It’s been a three part approach, according to Suzy.
She says: “Firstly I've been working with factories on setting benchmarks for quality, which has involved tinkering around with the manufacturing process to absolutely optimise it.
“This gets us the tea we need – but also adds value to the product for our suppliers, through our quality price premiums. It takes patience, and spending a lot of time in the factory tweaking and tasting, to get the flavour just right for Yorkshire Tea.
“Whilst this work has meant sometimes getting under the feet of tea makers at a busy time of year, we’ve learnt a lot and are expecting some top teas as the season progresses.”
“Secondly, we revisited the four community development forums we’re supporting to see how they’re doing one year after inception - and we were blown over by the progress made by the communities.
“For example, on one of the estates we saw an innovative and much-needed project manufacturing sanitary pads and distributing at a heavily discounted rate to girls and women in the estate community.
“Other initiatives include vocational training and skills development for school leavers, and support to people who don’t have identity documents – a common problem in Assam – helping them to access government benefit schemes.”
Krisztina adds: “Considering the short time in which these new groups have been established, the energy and enthusiasm is inspiring, and meeting them was a really positive experience. They have shown that great progress can be made when you bring communities together and the potential to build on this even further is huge.
“The third part of our approach involves working up plans with our producers to increase investment in sanitation for tea workers living on estates.
“The vision is that each home should have its own usable latrine and bathroom with piped water - not too much to ask and something we take for granted in the UK. There is much to do to achieve this in Assam and we need to play our part in ensuring decent conditions. We’re committed to investing over the coming years and are keen to share more as this project progresses.
“It's been quite a trip, but one that will really help us move forward. Assam has its challenges, but we're committed to working here and doing our bit to solve them.”
To read more about what we’re doing in Assam, click here.