Virtue & Reward in the Tea Industry


‘Consumers are in a better position to drive the sustainability agenda by choosing ethical products.’ This quote in the Tea 2030 project by Forum for the Future, reminds me of the pithy Sri Lankan Folk saying – ‘Using ones own hands is better than borrowing someone else’s axe.’ My vision for HYSON is to unite ethical production with good manufacturing practise. Thus, we recently added the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standard to our list of international certifications. HYSON is now among a handful of Ceylon Tea brands with BRC Global Food Safety Initiative certification (GFSI).

Stringent labour laws, a highly unionised plantation workforce that leverages its collective bargaining power regularly, plus non cash and cash benefits such as housing, electricity, water, crèches, maternity benefits, and a national system of education that is free up to University level support the ethical production of Ceylon Tea. In this respect Sri Lanka is perhaps ahead of the other major tea producing nations in advancing the welfare of workers on tea plantations beyond the colonial heritage that continued post Independence in 1948, till the early 1970’s.

Production of Ceylon Tea is labour intensive, in the field where the two leaves and a bud are hand picked to ensure better quality, and, in the factory where the artisanal orthodox manufacturing method pioneered by James Taylor in 1867 is still practised.

Ethical manufacturing is well established in Sri Lanka in our two major manufacturing industries – Tea and Garments. Yet, as a country we are yet to see a premium from the consumer in either. This is due to two reasons. The power of established brands to dominate the conversation with consumers, and the growth of mass retailing. The market is dominated by strong brands that were initially synonymous with Ceylon Tea, but now driven to source their teas cheap. The downside to this is that the mass market consumer is no longer educated on quality. Tea therefore seems to be on the same slide as coffee was till Howard Schultz created its new resurgence. Breaking into mass retail chains requires getting the attention and interest of their logistics chain which is a tough task for  HYSON – a small brand from a small country. Reaching them through a distributor means consumers have to be willing to pay higher prices to accommodate margins along the supply chain, and steep listing fees.

For HYSON my belief is ethical production in plantations must be supported with good manufacturing practise by the brand owner. While we offer Fair trade and Organic certified tea, we also have our process certification from HACCP, ISO 9000:2008, FSSC 22000. Apart from this HYSON is now among the handful of Sri Lankan tea brands certified by the British Retail Consortium GFSI Global Standard.

Will  distribution partners and the consumer reward our virtue?  The jury is still out on this.

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