Although Twinings prides itself on providing tea since 1706, one look at history will tell us that the British sourcing of tea from Asia was far from ethical. As standards for ethics have improved, Twinings has improved with it. However, could they have undone the historically unethical practices with social initiatives going back to only 2004 and having done their first company wide human rights risk assessment report in 2017? Yet, I don’t want to undermine the efforts Twinings has made by partnering with Unicef, Save the Children, Wateraid and others to respond to the modern demands on ethics and sustainability. Twinings is listening to the demand for ethical tea and plastic free tea bags, however, at the moment, the company overall seems to be patchy in their good deeds.
In Twinings “Sourced with Care” Report, phrases with “aim” and “we work on” really stuck out to me and no specific target dates and numbers were stated. They seem to know that improvements are demanded of them, due to issues of modern slavery, gender inequality, low income for smallholder farmers and poor living conditions in the tea industry and they start making promises of future improvements. It seems like Twining is improving their supply chain for their image, therefore, it is important to hold them accountable for their aims and targets and make those changes a priority. Overall, whilst I think that they have been late and patchy, Twinings is moving towards the right direction. As a consumer I would ensure to buy their plastic-free, organic and fairtrade products to show them that this is what we want to see more of.
Twinings use plastic foil to wrap the tea bags to preserve the tea's freshness. In addition, Twinings traditional tea bag range contains a small amount of oil-based plastic. I used to mistakenly believe that all tea bags are biodegradable and can be composted, but in fact most tea bags, like Twinings’, are made with plastic. This means that a range of Twinings products end up in the residual waste and therefore in landfills. This is sad to see as they show to be totally capable of making a company wide change to plastic-free tea bags as they show in their ‘tag’ tea bag range made from a biodegradable plant fibre based paper that is stitched with cotton, instead of the usual plastic. In addition, their ‘mesh’ tea bags are made from corn-starch derived material. Those can only be composted by local authority composting, which is an amazing improvement from plastic. Therefore, I am hopeful and waiting for Twinings implementation of the targets to make their entire product fully compostable in home-garden compost as well as industrial composting.
Twinings has certain products that are organic, certain ones that are labeled as fairtrade and some that are both fairtrade and organic. This makes me really question the quality and ethical sourcing of the rest of their traditional line of products. Are their ‘Sourcing with Care’ and ‘Ethical Tea Partnership’ not sustainable and equitable enough to meet the fairtrade standards that the fairtrade products have to be sourced differently?
In addition, the fact that only a part of their line is organic means that the rest of their products were produced with chemicals which have harmful effects on the environment and farmers.
Twinings sources their tea from 160 tea gardens and claims to have full traceability of it. However, they admit that they do not have “full transparency”. Twinings’s Source with Care Progress Report shows that their tea leaves are more thoroughly sourced than their herbal teas, with over 80% of tea gardens being certified and only 38% of top herbs being certified with international sustainability standards such as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified, or Fairwild. This leaves me wonder where the rest of those 62% come from. The tea leaves are processed by local factories and smallholder farmers which are then blended and processed in the Twinings factories. Twinings admit their faults and are aiming to improve their supply chain, yet, it cannot go unsaid that there is a lot of room for improvement.
Twining has partnered with initiatives such as SaveTheChildren, Unicef and others to work on the UN’s Sustainability Goals in their supply chain. They insure living wages, support women and youth in their health and education and install water systems. I believe that the initiatives Twinings puts are beneficial and make their supply chain more ethical. However their timing of ‘good initiatives’ made me critical. The very first company wide human rights risk assessment was only held in 2017 and improvements in the report are only shown from 2016 to 2018. This made me think that the Sourced with Care initiatives were done merely to cover up the image of the historically highly problematic industry, as customers are increasingly looking out for more ethical products. In addition, they state that a significant number of their herbs and their tea are not certified and comes from unknown sources shows that their initiatives and ethical supply chain is a rather patchy one. They admit that there is room for improvement and aim to become increasingly sustainable and I hope to see their aims become reality.
BBC Teabags: Is there plastic in yours?
Twinings Sustainability and Environment
Twinings Sourced With Care Progress Report 2018
Twinings English Breakfast Organic