MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling deplores the gilding of Tata's tarnished image

Published by MAC on 2010-02-23
Source: Nostromo Research, Planet Ark

What the heck is the Rainforest Alliance up to?

New York-based Rainforest Alliance has certified Tata (Tetley brand) teas as "sustainable".

The first products carrying this highly sought-after stamp of approval will be selling in the UK before April, and throughout the world over the coming few years.

Yet, Tata is on record as violating Indigenous Peoples' rights, threatening the integrity of rainforests, and embarking on several mineral-related ventures that have prompted grave concerns in Asia, Africa and Europe.

Tata Steel - a key arm of the Tata Brothers dynasty - has become a byword in its home country of India for complicity in the seizure of Adivasi (Indigenous Peoples') territory.

In early January 2006, the company was pilloried for standing-by, as police murdered a dozen people protesting against construction of its Kalinganagar steel plant in Orissa. See:

More recently it's been accused of financially backing India's military offensive against Maoist guerillas in Chhattisgarh state - aggression that has resulted in numerous human rights' abuses. See:

Tata is one of the few global companies to have breached a widely-practiced boycott of investment in Burma. See:

Among its other major foreign ventures is investment in coal mining in rainforested East Kalimantan. See:

In late 2007, Tata Steel announced it would commence mining of a significant part of the Mount Nimba iron ore deposit in West Africa - a site of established special scientific significance. See:

Earlier that year, Tata Chemicals was also roundly criticised over its intention to establish a soda ash factory in Tanzania, close to one of the world's leading flamingo breeding grounds. See:

Furthermore, Tata is a "pioneer" of the technology to convert coal into liquid fuels -  considered by some scientists as one of the worst contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions. See:

These are by no means the only ventures that severely call into question any claim the Tatas may make to being "ethical".

When it proudly breaks into the UK "fair trade" tea market this April, many British workers will fail to be impressed. These are the employees of Corus Steel - bought out by Tata in 2007, when the company guaranteed them jobs they're now about to lose. See:

Poisoned chalices

According to the Rainforest Alliance's website: "Our independent seal of approval ensures that goods were produced in compliance with strict guidelines protecting the environment, wildlife, workers and local communities."

Sound principles, one might think?

But social and environmental responsibility must be demonstrated at the very guts of a corporate enterprise - and be judged by how the company conducts all its operations.  Not just by a few flags, labelled "sustainable development", flown over some of its colonial outposts.

Astonishingly, however, the Rainforest Alliance seems to have got it badly wrong, simply in regard to this new Tetley initiative.

At the close of 2009, foodworkers around the world expressed red-hot anger at the treatment of employees at one of Tata's tea estates in West Bengal.

They claimed the company had begun "starving" the pluckers after some of them went on strike in support of a pregnant woman who'd been mistreated by her employer. Although the tea gardens re-opened last month, Tata has still to offer any substantial redress for its actions. See: 

Tetley advertises its products, sold to British citizens, as being "everyone's cup of tea".

Of course it doesn't dare mention its parent company's role in forcing others around the world to metaphorically drink hemlock.

[London Calling is published by Nostromo Research. Comments made in this column do not necessarily represent the views of any other person or persons, including the editors of this website. Reproduction is warmly welcomed, provided full acknowledgment is given to Nostromo Research and any sources quoted.]

Tetley Tea To Be 100 Percent Rainforest Certified By 2016

Marcy Nicholson

Planet Ark

18 February 2010

NEW YORK - The world's second biggest tea company Tetley will source all of its branded tea from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms by 2016, both groups said on Wednesday.

The first certified products will be sold in the United Kingdom foodservice sector by this April and in Canada by early 2011. In 2012, Rainforest Alliance Certified Tetley tea will branch out to the United States, Australia and mainland Europe, Tetley said in a release.

Tetley is one of the brands of the Tata Beverage Group.

Rainforest Alliance is a New York-based organization that certifies a variety of farms around the world, which meet the specific environmental, social and economic standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network. These standards include worker rights and safety, water and soil conservation, wildlife protection, and legal wages.

While the company declined to reveal how much tea it purchases annually, it said that currently 75 million cups of Tetley tea are consumed globally every day.

Tetley sells black, green, red, flavored and decaffeinated teas, and has a presence in 70 countries.

There are currently 215,000 acres of Rainforest Alliance-certified farms in Kenya, Tanzania, Argentina, India and Indonesia.

The majority of Tetley tea will continue to come from Kenya, Malawi and North India, said Sara Howe, director of Sustainability for the Tata Beverage Group in London.

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)


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