Tea Sustainability Perspectives Report: People


Firsd Tea recently released a first-of-its-kind Sustainability Perspectives Report in 2022 to capture the tea and coffee industries’ views on how well the tea sector performs in areas of sustainable practices. The study was developed with guidance from industry peers and an academic research and think tank. Survey respondents included a diverse spectrum of wholesalers, importers, exporters, retailers, and others based in North America, Europe, and Asia. While many studies have examined consumers’ perceptions of sustainability, this study targeted professionals in tea, coffee, cocoa and wine sectors to understand their concerns and views on the tea industry’s sustainability performance. 

The findings of the research can generally be grouped into perspectives about three areas: environment, people, and certifications.

This article represents the second of three articles on the survey respondents’ perspectives on sustainability within the tea industry. The previous article looked at perspectives on sustainability and the environment, while this one explores perspectives on the human side.




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Overall, 67% of respondents in tea and related industries say the tea industry implements general sustainability practices very well or somewhat well. “General sustainability practices” can be understood as including issues related to people and the environment. Looking at some of the specifics in the area of human welfare, however, suggests that the tea industry may not be as strong in those areas of practice. 61% of respondents feel the tea industry performs very well or somewhat well on workers’ rights. This performance is seen as stronger than that of the coffee industry, of which only 46% of respondents feel that coffee did very well or somewhat well. Further questions indicate that the tea industry is believed to have weaker performance in fostering safe and caring communities (53%), gender equity (51%), and poverty reduction (46%). Respondents are roughly split down the middle in these areas, although some respondents’ write-in comments mention the importance of gender equity. These remarks call for more women in management positions. A number of comments also emphasize the need for fair/better wages for farmers and laborers.

Some respondents’ write-in comments mention the importance of gender equity. These remarks call for more women in management positions. A number of comments also emphasize the need for fair/better wages for farmers and laborers.


This split in sentiment stands in contrast to the more widely shared environmental concerns expressed in the previous article. Those findings reveal that 80% of respondents are worried about the effects of climate change on their business operations. 84% of respondents also feel that the environment/carbon footprint is the most important sustainability issue to consumers. This partiality toward concern for the environment appears to misalign with many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) regarding social welfare. The SDGs include, among others: reducing poverty, ending hunger, providing quality education, improving gender equality, and promoting safe and equitable workplaces. It remains unclear as to why concerns about the environment show stronger numbers than those related to people.

Similarly, sustainability certifications that aim to promote the welfare of tea industry workers carry less importance than other product factors. Organic certification beat out other certifications as being considered more valuable to consumers. 85% of respondents feel organic certification is the most important, compared to Fair Trade (68%) and Rainforest Alliance (56%) - certifications that exist to overtly raise awareness of the social justice aspect of sustainability.


The findings of this research raise further questions to explore and address within the tea industry and beyond. Some of the more pertinent questions include: 

  1. Is there a greater, perhaps unbalanced, emphasis in the perceptions of sustainability that prioritizes the environment above human welfare?
  2. To what extent are equity and social justice issues viewed as tea-industry specific versus seen as larger issues of a culture or society? Perhaps human welfare problems are perceived as beyond the tea industry’s purview, and more as widespread/inherent national or societal problems.
  3. How well are sustainability certifications perceived in terms of their roles in helping people and the planet?
  4. Are the human stories of sustainability being sufficiently and accurately told, so that industry members and consumers have a full and accurate understanding?
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