Training is the key to improvement

The latest UTZ training for auditors in Asia will take place in India this week. It will focus on best practices for social audits and issues such as working and living conditions, among other topics.

At UTZ we work with third-party certification bodies as part of our assurance system. Almost 60 approved independent certification bodies worldwide offer choice and flexibility to those who want to become UTZ certified. They carry out the audits against the UTZ standards, assessing whether or not certification requirements have been fulfilled.

UTZ trains these certification bodies on our standards -the Code of Conduct for farmers and the Chain of Custody for the supply chain actors- and provides guidance on how different requirements should be interpreted.

India, the world’s second largest tea producer

India is the second largest producer of tea in the world. Indian tea comes from many regions, which are as diverse as India itself – and at very different stages of development.

But Northern regions account for the major share of tea production – around 80% – and India is perhaps best known for Assam tea and Darjeeling tea.

Darjeeling, the “champagne of teas” region

About 17% of UTZ certified tea sales were sourced from India in 2016. UTZ certified producers come from several regions, including in the famous Darjeeling (in the West Bengal region), where around 40 estates are currently UTZ certified – of which 30 are also certified organic. Only 87 tea estates – or “tea gardens”- have the right to label their produce as “Darjeeling Tea” by the Tea Board of India.

In Darjeeling, working conditions for tea workers are challenging, and the last two months have been especially tough as the region is currently facing political and social unrest. But working conditions are generally less problematic than in poorer Assam, where wages are low and tea workers and their families also often face poor housing, inadequate toilets and sanitation, and limited access to drinking water.

Assam, one of India’s poorest regions

The tea growing areas in Assam have ongoing issues with structural poverty and poor infrastructure. A third of the Assam population lives in poverty.

The agricultural sector provides employment to more than 50 percent of the Assam rural population and the tea industry contributes to a substantial share. About 17% of the workers of Assam are engaged in tea, which is considered as the most important crop in the region.

There are more than 850 tea estates in Assam, covering thousands of acres of land.

The need for continuous improvement

In order to provide decent working and living conditions for the many tea workers there, the bar needs to be raised at Assam tea estates as a whole.

There currently are 16 UTZ certified estates in Assam, most of which started their UTZ certification journey in 2016 (only 3 have been in the UTZ program for more than two years). These estates have to follow the UTZ code of conduct, showing continuous improvement.

Setting the bar higher year after year is a key element of our assurance system. From year one farmers have to fulfill core criteria concerning safety, farm management and record keeping, employees and environmental protection. In subsequent years, more detailed requirements are added to allow farmers to develop and improve over time.

To ensure compliance with the code of conduct, producers are regularly checked by independent auditors. UTZ trains the auditors, and monitors them closely – to find out more about how this works, read our article “How do you make sure certified farmers and companies follow the rules of UTZ?”

In this way, UTZ is committed to contributing to a more sustainable tea sector in India – a sector that will continue to face sustainability and development challenges, but where there are also many opportunities to raise the bar.