Hailing from Singapore, TWG Tea has successfully branded itself as a symbol of luxury. Walk into any TWG retail outlet and you’ll find yourself in an air-conditioned room with elegant tea boutiques, a magnificent display of tea collections, and ornate gold tins of tea and tea-infused goodies. This might appear impressive, but I’m certainly not impressed by their sustainability efforts. There’s a whole webpage dedicated to their sustainability efforts but I’m not convinced by their vague claims. What are TWG’s target goals? Where’s their sustainability report? We’re talking about a company with the largest tea collection in the world with over 800 kinds, 77 stores in 23 countries globally, and $90 million annual sales in 2017. The only point worth mentioning is the organic nature of TWG teas and boy, do they remind us of it on that page. Even with serious digging, I still couldn’t find much information about their other sustainability efforts and labor practices. The same goes for their parent company, OSIM International. Overall, TWG’s lack of transparency coupled with their vague claims just doesn’t cut it — and that’s the tea.
TWG has a wholesale teabag range of organic tea, which is more sustainable as their tea leaves were grown without harmful chemicals that damage surrounding biodiversity. TWG claims that many of their teas come from countries “so remote that organic methods are the only recognized methods of farming.” Furthermore, TWG claims to source its tea directly from tea plantations that have good labor practices rather than going through middlemen. This decision is a more environmentally friendly choice as TWG can ship containers straight from the source, with less freight and carbon footprints from imports. TWG Tea is also sourced from 47 countries such as India, China, Japan, Argentina, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Malawi. Having sources in different countries is much more sustainable as TWG can reduce carbon emissions from shipping. In terms of tea packaging, TWG is also relatively sustainable. Their tea bags are packed in recyclable cartons made from mostly cardboard, are 100% biodegradable, and hand-sewn using 100% cotton material and thread. This does away with using glues and staples in tea bags, which affect biodegradability. However, I couldn’t find any information on whether their cotton was sustainably sourced. It’s also important to note that their teabags are commercially compostable and biodegradable — this means their teabags can only be composted in industrial composting facilities rather than your own backyard. Home compostable is what we actually need, so it seems likely that these teabags end up in landfills anyway. Overall, good efforts TWG but there’s definitely still room for improvement in transparency and packaging.
I can’t find any information on TWG’s specific tea plantation except for their Okayti plantation in Darjeeling, India, so I’ll touch upon that. Darjeeling tea’s production process is quite labor-intensive! To ensure quality, experienced workers need to pick tea leaves by hand, seeking shoots bearing two leaves and a bud. Machines would hurt the bushes and cannot differentiate between quality leaves. To further put things in perspective, approximately 20,000 to 22,000 shoots produce a kilogram of Darjeeling tea. The picked tea leaves are then rolled to release their natural juices and initiate the fermentation process, and then dried and sorted to various grades. I’d also like to point out that the Okayti plantation uses organic farming. One example would be growing native plants and wild grasses between tea bushes to prevent top soil from washing away. This is an example of working with nature for organic produce as opposed to adding chemical fertilizers. Ultimately, I like the aspects of organic farming but would appreciate further transparency on other tea plantation locations and also how energy-intensive their production process is. I couldn’t find any reports detailing their production emissions, even after checking TWG’s parent company sites. For that, TWG loses planets.
TWG states that they show preference to organic planters in countries where these standards can be trusted. Personally, I find this claim quite vague and would appreciate more transparency on where their plantations are located and their labor standards with suppliers. The only plantation I found was their Okayti plantation in Darjeeling, and even so, I couldn’t find anything about the tea plantation workers’ labor conditions or wages. In fact, my digging led me to a Facebook post about the Okayti tea plantation, where the tea workers went on strike in 2019. The tea workers in Darjeeling also do not seem to have fair wages, as several trade unions went on strike and demanded a higher bonus payout at 20% against their 12%. Moreover, I checked out Glassdoor reviews to see what TWG retail workers thought. Overall, not great. TWG got an average rating of 2 out of 5 from the different sites I visited. Common complaints include a bad and distrusting management, long working hours, and an overly image-conscious culture at the expense of employee well-being. Given the especially vague claims and glaring lack of transparency, I’m only giving 0.1 planets.