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Unilever - Sustainable Tea Certification : Lipton & The Rainforest Alliance

Added on 22-03-2013





Business challenge

Unilever recognize the challenge of risk management throughout its agricultural supply chain, as it is becoming very visible that governments, consumers and campaigning organizations are increasingly interested in the food source and how it was produced. These stakeholders look to companies to take responsibility for a range of issues within the supply chain due to the heightened media attention and public debate around topics such as working conditions, fair incomes for growers, deforestation, animal welfare and biodiversity.

Unilever also identify that climate change also impacts through flooding as well as more severe droughts that lead to loss of ecologically, agriculturally valuable soils and decreased agricultural yields. Therefore unsustainable farming practices will have serious repercussions on the environment and in grower communities presenting operational and reputational risk to the business.


Unilever responded to this challenge through committing to source all of Lipton and PG Tips tea bags from Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM farms by 2015. Unilever has identified that after water, tea is the most popular non-alcoholic beverage in the world. The company purchases around 12% of the world's black tea supply.

The partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, an international environmental organization, ensures that all the farms are certified. It was decided that the Rainforest Alliance certification was the most appropriate due to its comprehensive approach towards sustainable farm management, covering social, economic and environmental aspects. This is in line with the way the ‘Sustainable Agriculture Program’ is managed.

Training smallholder tea farmers in Kenya :

As the largest private buyer of Kenyan smallholder tea, Lipton set up a public-private partnership project in 2006 with the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) and other partners to train smallholder farmers about sustainable tea cultivation.

Working with others:

Unilever is involved in the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) Tea Improvement Projects, which aim to address bottlenecks in tea production that prevent tea smallholders from implementing sustainable practices. The project is resourced by IDH, Rainforest Alliance, KTDA, Oxfam and Unilever and will result in certification of around 150,000 hectares of tea farms in Kenya, Rwanda, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka over 2010-2013. This initiative supports the Millennium Development Goals for poverty reduction and sustainable environments, and also helping to improve an open trading financial system.


• Continuing to work in partnership with the Rainforest Alliance and remain on track to achieve the goal of full certification for tea bags by 2015.

• The company sees a more broad potential at sustainability of other crops through the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Program.

Challenges/Lessons learned:

• Globally, around 15% of tea now comes from certified farms, representing good progress towards our 2015 goal.

• By the end of 2009, about 80% of Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe were sourced from Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM farms.

• Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM tea has been launched in the US, Japan and Australia. The launch in Australia was followed by a 12% growth in sales.

• By the end of 2009, 69 tea factories and estates had been certified in Kenya alone, around 38,000 smallholder farms have achieved certification.

• Farms invested in a range of improvements, including protective suits for workers dealing with agrochemicals, waste water treatment equipment and micro hydroelectric schemes.

• The Rainforest Alliance seal was instrumental in winning a contract to supply tea for McDonald's in several European countries. The market share increased in key European markets.

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