Tea, as the story goes, is the second most popular beverage in the world, after water. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that large numbers of people derive their livelihood from growing and producing it. In the past many of these people have not always been well-treated, a fact that helped give rise to various groups seeking to better conditions for workers.

Fair Trade TeaOne of these groups, the Ethical Tea Partnership, strives to bring about a more ethical and responsible tea industry. As their Web site notes, the group’s mission is “to monitor living and working conditions on tea estates, with the aim of making sure that the tea you buy from the members of our Partnership has been produced in a socially responsible way.”

The Ethical Tea Partnership began in 1997 as the Tea Sourcing Partnership. It was the creation of several UK-based tea companies, including Twinings of London. In 2004, the group’s name was changed to the Ethical Tea Partnership. The group’s 22 members produce more than 60 brands of tea and membership is open “to any tea packing company selling tea into Europe, North America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.”

Transfair USA is the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. It came into existence in 1998 and began certifying Fair Trade coffee a year later. These days the group offers several programs, including one for tea and herbs. This includes tea, rooibos, chamomile, hibiscus, and plants in the mint genus. Fair Trade Certified tea was launched in 2001, rooibos in 2005, and chamomile, hibiscus and mint in 2006. As Transfair USA points out, “tea is one of the fastest growing Fair Trade Certified product categories.”

Other initiatives striving to improve conditions for tea industry workers include the Community Health and Advancement Initiative (CHAI), which tackles the tea-growing Assam region of India.