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Tea is the world’s second most popular drink, next to water, with an ancient heritage dating back 5,000 years. Between 1993 and 2010, the global consumption of tea jumped by 60%. Today, India and China are the largest producers and consumers of tea. India, China, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Indonesia account for over 75% of the tea exports in the world. According to the UK Tea & Infusions Association, around 165 million cups of tea are drunk in the UK each year alone.

The tea industry is a major global employer and millions of farmers and workers around the world depend on tea for their living. China has 80 million tea growers, India has an estimated million permanent tea workers and double the number of seasonal tea labourers, while tea supports the livelihoods of an estimated three million people in Kenya. Unlike coffee and cocoa, most of the tea is grown in large plantations and millions of hired plantation workers live in the plantations. The exception is Kenya where 60% of the tea produced is from small-scale farmers.

The industry faces unprecedented challenges and an uncertain future. It is grown in countries most vulnerable to climate change, it faces competition for land, as well as higher costs of energy and water. The industry also faces a number of social challenges such as exploitation of workers. Global tea markets suffer from oversupply and resulting volatile commodity prices are compounded by continually changing consumer habits and trade patterns driven by cost. 

We understand how important a great cup of tea is for our customers and for 40 years we have worked with one single expert supplier to responsibly source the best tasting and quality tea from tea gardens around the world. 
Commitments and targets
We want to lead our sector in sustainable production and consumption, offering our customers the good value, high quality products and services they expect from M&S, while respecting planetary boundaries and the need for social equity. 

Our goal is to ensure that all the tea we sell both in store and in our M&S Cafés is Fairtrade certified. We are also committed to building resilient supply chain communities by investing in programmes which build livelihoods, protect the environment and improve wellbeing. 

Tea is very important to M&S. We sell the equivalent of 400 million cups of tea each year and our M&S Gold Label product is award-winning. We source all our tea through one expert supplier who we’ve worked with for 40 years. They source from tea gardens on our behalf and blend the teas for the range we have on offer in our stores and M&S Cafés. We source from a number of locations including India, Kenya and Malawi. You can find out more about our Tea producers on our Interactive Supplier Map. Whilst we don’t source from these locations directly we have developed close relationships with many of our growers. We regularly visit these locations to understand how we can contribute to a sustainable future for our tea growers and their workers in partnership with our main supplier, The Fairtrade Foundation, and other leading stakeholders.

In 2006, we became the first retailer to source only Fairtrade certified tea across all of our range of products. This commitment means that our growers receive over £580,000 a year in Fairtrade premiums which go to a communal fund for workers and farmers to use. 

Our approach to sourcing tea more responsibly is as follows:

To understand our supply chain and work with our main supplier to secure a quality supply chain
Minimum Standards
Our Technical Terms of Trade set our minimum technical expectations for suppliers to meet. It also sets out our position on a number of areas.

We have adopted the Fairtrade standard as our minimum global sourcing standard for tea. This means that in addition to the price they receive for their tea, our growers receive over £400,000 a year in Fairtrade premiums which go to a communal fund for workers and growers to use to enhance the lives of people and communities. Our growers determine what is most important to them; whether this is education or healthcare for their children, improving their business or building vital infrastructure such as roads and bridges for their community. The use of the premium is decided by an elected premium committee which meet regularly and consult with workers and smallholders. 

We expect our growers to meet high environmental as well as social standards.  We see our commitment to Fairtrade as the best way we can support the long-term sustainability of our tea growers due to the premium that is paid to them and the overall breadth of the standard. Our growers also get vital support and expertise from Fairtrade local liaison officers.

Our suppliers are also required to meet the requirements set out in our Global Sourcing Principles. Find out more about our approach to supplier management.

Establishing positive relationships with our growers
Understanding our supply chain is really important to us. We know the name of every grower and get quarterly updates on how much tea we are buying.

There have been a few occasions where our growers have fallen out of the Fairtrade system, usually when they have not met one of the requirements of the audit standard. We have had relationships with our growers long before Fairtrade and as such we want to ensure we continue these relationships. When this does happen we work closely with Fairtrade Foundation, our supplier and other stakeholders to help our grower re-enter the Fairtrade system.

We are so proud of all of our Tea producers that we have shared all of their locations on our Interactive Supplier Map. Within this, we have also shared key information such as gender make up of the organisations and case studies on key growers.

To support market transformation through working with industry partners, standard setting organisations and other stakeholders
Living Wage in Malawi and Rwanda
M&S were a member of the Malawi 2020 Tea Revitalisation Programme. The aim of this multi-stakeholder partnership is to achieve a competitive and profitable Malawian tea industry where workers earn a living wage and smallholders earn a living income. It aimed for significant improvements in general working and living conditions of tea estate workers, especially women.

The programme was supported by companies all along the tea value chain: producers, brokers and traders, tea buyers and retailers, as well as unions, NGOs, international donors, and government agencies. Activities are coordinated by a Steering Committee comprising the Tea Association of Malawi (TAML), which represents producers, the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), Oxfam, and the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), which brings together the buying companies. In total, 20 different organisations signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2015 committing them to the programme and its success. 

M&S, our tea supplier and Fairtrade International actively participated in this programme.  We believe that as an industry-leading forum involving the full supply chain there will be many lessons learnt which will be applicable to other sectors.

Ethical Tea Partnership
We are supporters of the Ethical Tea Partnership which works with tea products and tea companies to improve the sustainability of the industry.

Our direct supplier is a member of the Ethical Tea Partnership and all of our tea covered by this initiative. We meet regularly with their leadership team to get updates on the key challenges facing the tea industry and make financial contributions to a number of their programmes.

Supporting programmes which enhance the lives of people and communities
Alternative fuel sources
Makomboki is one of 66 tea factories operated by Kenyan Tea Development Agency (KTDA) in Kenya. These factories rely on huge volumes of firewood to run the boilers providing steam for the withering and drying of tea. The firewood is expensive and must be transported long distances due to scarcity of supply - energy might account for as much as 40% of the total cost of tea production.  A typical factory might consume around 18,000 cubic metres of firewood every year, equivalent to perhaps 30,000 trees.

With our support, Living Earth Foundation purchased a biomass briquette machine from India and installed it at the factory site and trained workers in the safe and efficient operation of this simple but game-changing technology.

Following the installation of the briquette machine, Makomboki has transformed the way that it fuels its boilers. Biomass briquettes can be made from a wide range of waste materials including sawdust, coffee husk, nut shells, rice husk and other agricultural bi-products 

Since April 2015, Makomboki tea factory has not used any firewood in the tea production process. The factory has used only biomass briquettes, produced on site, supplemented with other waste materials including macadamia shells. This has reduced production costs from around 10 KSH to 8 KSH per kilo of made tea and saved more than 10,000 trees from being burnt.

Working with others
Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business. 

We are working with a number of industry and civil society organisations to tackle many of the challenges in the tea industry. Outlined in more detail above, with our direct supplier and Fairtrade Foundation we are improving the livelihoods of our growers through the Fairtrade premium that is paid. 

We also participate in multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the Ethical Tea Partnership and the Malawi 2020 Tea Revitalisation Programme to improve wages and poor living conditions in Malawi.