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Why we don’t sell fair trade teas…or do we?

A lot of tea companies sell tea using Fair Trade labelling. This is great – I am in FULL support of paying everyone a fair wage. I often choose fair trade products over non fair trade especially with coffee and chocolate. The reason that we don’t market our teas as fair trade is because the term doesn’t really exist in China.

Of course that doesn’t mean that fair trade does not exist it’s just the term and the labelling of trade as such. China produces a lot of tea (in 2009 they produced approx 1,359,000 tonnes the highest producer of tea in the world!) but China also demands a lot of tea as does the rest of the world. So it seems unlikely that we could approach a farm to buy tea directly from them (which is how we operate), offer a low price and have them accept it despite that meaning they couldn’t make a profit. No they would simply tell us goodbye and move on to the next interested party until they get the price they need.

picking long jing San picking Long Jing

So we have to go in wanting to pay a fair price. A price based on the quality of the tea, the labour gone in to the picking and processing and a healthy profit margin for the farmer. Most often the farms we buy from are small and the people who work on it are all part of a family or small community. We pay them a fair price that is shared between them. Now that is trading fairly – that is fair trade. To have a certified Fair Trade product in China would not mean anything to Chinese workers/farmers and quite frankly is an expensive certification to get, one that many tea farms/retailers cannot afford. It is not a project that I think the Chinese Government would support.

That doesn’t stop us from sourcing all our chinese tea ourselves and see what’s going on in the tea gardens that we support. We’ve been to them – we’ve seen the workers in the gardens together during peak tea picking season – we’ve seen the difference our buying makes to their lives. But we also know that they don’t depend on us – that if we weren’t buying their tea, someone else would.  It is not the same as India for example where some huge tea estates employ masses of tea pickers who don’t get paid very much. Tea Estates do exist in China but we do not buy from them – the farms or gardens we purchase our tea from are small and are usually run by a family.

oolong tea farm Hans and San at an Oolong farm in Anxi April 2011

I can only speak for the tea farms where our teas are from. We have been to them, met the workers, on many occasions we have spent a few days with them. We know they are getting a fair deal from us and us from them. It’s all about working together.  We rely on each others business to flourish or else ours will collapse.

I’d like to finish with a quote from a Seven Cups blog entry with regards to Fair Trade labelling.

 “This is further proof that the absurd can be effectively marketed in America. Keep in mind that the little extra you pay for a Fair Trade product from China may be deceptive marketing.  As a consumer it is a much better buying choice to reward quality. Don’t compare tea to coffee; wine is a more appropriate metaphor. When you look for quality you are rewarding skill at the source, and the team of professionals that produce a tea. There is no need for fair trade because skilled workers already are getting paid better than the unskilled workers that are making commercial grade tea. If you focus on quality in a global economy, you are, in the end, making a more meaningful purchase. Rewarding skill and substance always has more impact at the source; so don’t reward the clever marketing of middlemen.” (Click here to see the whole entry)


  • JT Hunter

    Great article! I couldn't agree more as I am here in China with direct and indirect experience on this subject. I wrote several in depth articles here: and part 2
    Fair Trade is a scam in my opinion and being used by the tea companies across the US as a way to boost their image. In the end, the only people benefitting from this are the tea companies.

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