Unilever discloses tea suppliers amid consumer pressure
- Unilever published a list of tea plantations supplying to its brands including Lipton, PG Tips and Tazo, according to a press release from Freedom United, an advocacy group seeking to end human trafficking. "As a next step in our journey to become more transparent, we are happy to share this information with all of you who drink and love our tea," Unilever said.
- Unilever's disclosure comes amid mounting pressure from consumers, after "nearly 6,000 Freedom United supporters called on the company to go transparent about their supply chain," the group said.
- The group's "Who Picked by Tea" campaign calls for disclosure of tea supply chains. Since launching the campaign, Yorkshire Tea, Twinings, Tetley and Clipper have also published their supplier lists. "Typhoo lags behind its peers and continues to keep consumers in the dark," the press release said.
Brand management experts often portray a specialized product in a certain light, creating an illusion of health and purity that draw in consumers through sophisticated packaging, an interesting story and a sharp tagline. But in the tea supply chain, these iconic brands' stories are tainted by worker exploitation and human trafficking.
Consumers have increasing power, and companies are taking notice. Shoppers may not have the clout or leverage of those spending millions of dollars in the supply chain, but consumer supported organizations like Freedom United prove their influence by increasing transparency in the tea supply chain. Pressure on one supplier in an industry segment often brings pressure on all.
The importance of the ethical supply chain continues to mature, especially in industries that have had historical problems.
A colleague of mine is a supply chain manager in the chemical industry, and it is interesting to learn about the control and management of the chemical supply chain, supported by regulations such as REACH. In addition to the regulations, he has embraced the concept of ethical practices in his supply chain, a growing voice in an industry with a checkered past, but one making significant gains.
The clothing supply chain is also changing due to intense scrutiny of human rights violations. Recently, clothing manufacturer H&M partnered with the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO) to promote improved working conditions in the garment and textile supply chains.
Momentum is growing, both by consumers and supply chain managers, to bring about positive change in the supply chain by addressing social, environmental and economic challenges. We often lump these issues together in the term "sustainable supply chain."
That phrase minimizes the enormity and complexity of the issues we are dealing with, such as human rights violations on the tea plantation, safety in the chemical supply chain and child labor in garment industry. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.