Tea Transparency Tracker maps major tea brands’ suppliers for first time
The Tea Transparency Tracker from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) maps for the first time tea supply chains between major brands and supermarkets and the estates and factories they come from. Here is why it’s essential and how WikiRate helped the BHRRC to create this new public resource.
Well-known brands such as Bettys and Taylor of Harrogate, Marks & Spencer and Twinings, and supermarkets like Tescos and Morrisons have revealed the location and name of the facilities used to supply their tea. In total, 17 major tea labels’ estates and facilities have been mapped as part of a tea transparency tracker launched by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.
The tracker will help NGOs, trade unions, and consumers worldwide hold tea brands and supermarkets to account. With this information, people know who to address to raise concerns about working conditions or negative environmental impacts at an estate or factory. This is a significant step in closing the transparency gap. You can see the finished product on BHRRC’s website and explore the data further on WikiRate.org.
Here, we wanted to answer some questions about how and why the Tea Transparency Tracker was created. Also, we’ll share how we overcame several challenges to achieve the finished product to lift the lid on the story behind the data.
Why create a Tea Transparency Tracker?
Tea supply chains employ an estimated 13 million workers in 45 countries and have a global market value of USD 21.9 billion. Despite this huge reach and impact, we know relatively little about the estates and factories where our tea is picked and processed.
Currently, the majority of tea companies and retailers do not disclose where they buy their tea. This creates an accountability gap that prevents workers and worker’s rights advocates from engaging with companies about their impacts and holding them to account when things go wrong. Greater supply chain transparency in industries like apparel has opened up routes for worker’s rights advocates to address labor rights violations and brought about improvements in working conditions.
BHRRC wanted to change this situation by urging tea companies to disclose their supply chain relationships voluntarily. So earlier this year, their Labour Rights team asked 65 major tea companies to reveal the estates and factories which make up their supply chains. The BHRRC team partnered with WikiRate to map and add this newly disclosed information on our open data platform.
What new data did BHRRC and WikiRate discover in this project? And how?
We established a dataset of 3,150 supply chain relationships that trace the connections between tea buying companies and their suppliers globally.
To collect data for this project, WikiRate, along with a group of tea industry experts, helped the BHRRC to design a standardized and machine-readable corporate disclosure template in the form of an excel sheet.
The data in corporate disclosures is often tricky to process because of their structure and formatting. A text-rich format, such as a PDF, might be nice to look at, but it is a challenging format to find and extract data from. Using a standardized format saves time and resources.
The template was sent to companies with a request for voluntary disclosure of their supply chain facilities. Once a company had filled out and sent back the template, WikiRate could then map and import the supply chain relationships between the companies and the estates and factories they supply from.
How many brands and supermarkets responded to the request to disclose their suppliers?
Out of the 65 companies that the BHRRC contacted, 17 (26%) of them returned a disclosure of their tea supply chain estates and factories. For 59% of the companies who disclosed this was the first time they had disclosed their supplier list publicly.
What about challenges or obstacles? Did anything cause serious problems or changes in direction?
Although the disclosure format was standardized, there were still several cases where key information — such as the facility address — were either missing or incomplete.
Mapping supply chain relationships is tricky because companies may give a “business” address, for example, a parent company office in a city or PO box, rather than the physical location of the estate or facility. This happened in several disclosures by tea brands and supermarkets.
In the future, we want to improve the address data accuracy of the facilities by using external sources to verify the location of the suppliers and their workforces.
Was there a revealing finding?
The 17 companies who disclosed their supplier lists did so within a relatively short time. It took a maximum of two months, from the first disclosure request, with many companies disclosing within less than a week. This was despite it being the first disclosure for over half of the companies.
This suggests that tea companies have a high degree of visibility on their supply chains and readily available supply chain data. It also indicates that the 48 companies who chose not to disclose are not doing so due to a lack of information but rather, a lack of willingness to be transparent.
What’s next for Tea Transparency?
The Tea Transparency Tracker marks a significant step forward for supply chain transparency in the tea industry. However, there is still much to be done, with nearly two-thirds of the companies contacted declining to make their supply chain relationships public.
BHRRC compiles a number of recommendations for tea companies within their report. These include a call to action to publish and regularly update a complete list of their sourcing estates and factories on their website under an open data license and in a machine-readable format.
Supply chain transparency is a trend that is not going away. The tea industry will need to catch up if they want to get ahead of the curve.