season 2 | ep. 11

creating positive
change in the tea

with the Ethical Tea Partnership

jenny costelloe

steeping together podcast
- season 2 | Ep. 11

creating positive change in the tea industry

with the Ethical Tea Partnership

june 2022
Length: 1:00:56 see all
Listen on:

episode transcript

Marika de Vienne 0:18

Welcome everyone to another episode of Steeping Together, the podcast where we explore the vast world of tea over a cup of tea with tea enthusiasts. I'm your tea-obsessed host Marika, and as usual, completely delighted to be with you all here today. Tea is such a fun topic. I mean, it's one of the reasons we started this podcast. But there is no denying that the history of tea is one that is drenched in a complicated and unpleasant reality. From colonialism to war, tea's history has been plagued with issues such as inequality, poverty, and lack of access to basic human rights, some of which still persist today. But there is hope! The first step in making the world and the tea industry a better place is to fully acknowledge the issues at hand and to take an active role in ensuring that from grower to cup, systemic issues that inhibit the advancement of everyone's circumstances, are effectively addressed and tackled. Now, in order to get a better understanding of how our industry is working together to address these important issues, and to ensure the tea we drink benefits us as much as the people who produce it, we have invited Jenny Costelloe of the Ethical Tea Partnership, to dive deep into the work that they have been doing since 1997 too create a fairer, better, and more sustainable tea industry for workers, farmers, and the environment. Welcome, Jenny!

Jenny Costelloe 1:47

Hey, thank you. Nice to be here.

Marika de Vienne 1:48

So lovely to have you. I think you may be the person who's joining us from the furthest away geographically speaking.

Jenny Costelloe 1:57

Yes, but no carbon footprint, it's all virtual. So yes … probably. But where else, where else to talk about tea but in Britain, you know? So delighted to join you.

Marika de Vienne 2:08

Perfect. So would you care to introduce yourself the way you'd like to be introduced?

Jenny Costelloe 2:12

Okay, thank you. So I'm Jenny Costelloe. As you mentioned, I'm the Executive Director of the Ethical Tea Partnership. And we’ll talk a bit more about the Ethical Tea Partnership or ETP as the conversation goes on, but a bit of background, a bit of my background, and why I love the role. And why I love the organization. The main appeal of Ethical Tea Partnership is I believe in the power of business to, to have a positive impact through its business models. And we'll talk a lot more about what that means. But really, I think some businesses are missing an opportunity by the way they operate. And over the years, I've been working in responsible business, sustainable business for about 20 years. Over the years, I am increasingly convinced that there's more that companies can do. I worked in Asia for 11 years. And I realised that actually one of the sectors, one of the industrial sectors that's having most positive impact is agriculture and food. It's also one of the most complex and has the greatest risks in terms of social and environmental impact. So tea is, of course, an agricultural commodity. I know that the Ethical Tea Partnership works closely with business, and we work towards the Sustainable Development Goals. This is all the kind of tick tick tick, stuff that I love. And I really embrace challenging partnerships as well, where unusual bedfellows are the ones who can learn the most from each other. And it's just that challenge of getting those people into the room together that I really rise to and thrive on. So that's me, that's a bit about me. And we'll always be passionate about these things and find it hard to let it go.

Marika de Vienne 4:06

I wish I had a better way to say this. But that is so cool!

Jenny Costelloe 4:11

Oh it’s incredibly tiresome. It's self righteous sometimes. But, you know, when I say I can't let it go, it is just something that once you get interested in the role of business, and once you start to see what businesses often unintentionally impact and influence, it's really–I can't walk away from it. I just feel there's a role for us to work with businesses to improve what they're doing, and I love it. I really do.

Marika de Vienne 4:43

You know, I can't commend you enough because you know, as someone who's, I've been in the tea industry for many, many years now. I've been drinking tea ever since I was a child. One of the things I can never get away from is the history of tea. I'm fascinated by the history of tea in a really kind of morbid and sad way, because it's not a happy history.


Not at all, yeah.


And I think even myself, and this is not to put myself on a pedestal or anything, but even myself, who's in constant contact with this product, has been for many, many years is aware of the history, don't even get me started on the Opium Wars, please. Had this kind of notion when I started getting into the business, that those issues don't exist anymore, because we're somehow more enlightened in the 21st century, that we're somehow better. That we're not, you know, enslaving people and ripping them away from their culture and in order to benefit from this beverage. And honestly, the more you investigate, the more you realise nothing could be further from the truth, nothing.

Jenny Costelloe 5:46

Yeah. And I think, having said I've worked for about 20 years in this kind of line of work, not specifically in tea. I joined this organization, and in this role, and I'm constantly amazed just how deep-rooted and complex the issues are. And it is, it's something about the conscientious consumer, you know, we maybe don't ask enough questions, it's that inconvenient truth. We could very quickly end up not consuming anything, if we've wrestled with some of the moral issues around the food on our table and the drinks we consume. But I think the way to address that is to try and understand and to try and make informed choices, rather than beat yourself up and feel guilty about these things. So there are definitely organizations trying to get it right. And it's understanding who are those organizations, and how can you support them and acknowledge what they're doing? So there's always that kind of way to make better choices, I think. I'm not for a minute denying that the issues exist. It's just understand the issues and understand how you can make better choices relating to those issues.

Marika de Vienne 6:57

Absolutely, I completely agree with you. It's not about making anybody feel guilt for not having done anything in the past to make it better. It's about saying, This is the reality of the situation, and you have a choice. I personally cannot care about every issue that I feel is important, because I'm just one woman, you know what I mean? The burden of thinking about these things at 6am when I'm making my cup of tea, my mental health is not strong enough to sustain that, okay, it's just not.

Jenny Costelloe 7:31

Yeah, I mean, you joke about it. But you know, mental health issues are really widespread in the sector of development, and all the people trying to work and grapple with these issues, is widespread, you know. Enough is never enough. You know, if you just take something a small issue, like global poverty, for example.

Marika de Vienne 7:54

Sorry, a small issue like global poverty. A tiny little, you know…!

Jenny Costelloe 8:00

So when do you start working on that, if you decide that that's something you want to address? And the same with gender inequality and all of these issues appear in tea supply chains, unfortunately. So we do have to be careful that firstly, we don't over-promise what we’re trying to do, but also that we don't make consumers feel so wracked with guilt that they can't support the good companies, because they're not even confident that that's the right thing. And finally, that we don't burn ourselves out, just worrying about every single issue, you know, how much is enough? And how much more can I do?

Marika de Vienne 8:36

I think that's what I really like about the Ethical Tea Partnership, about ETP, is I you know, I was joking about mental health. But like, as you said, it's something that is a reality for so many people, and we have to acknowledge it. And thinking about all of these issues is excessively overwhelming and scary and daunting. What I liked about your website was how clearly defined and cogent your methods of tackling these complex issues are, because it’s overwhelming to think that, Oh, I'm enjoying my cup of tea, everything's fine, God, I really hope that no one's suffering from like, gender inequality and like, a fair wage gap that is disgusting, or, you know, can't support their children just so that I can have a pleasant morning. You know like it's a very, very scary and tidal wave-like series of issues. But when I went to your website, which I'm now unhealthily obsessed with, I really just appreciated like the systems that you've put in place to deal with these issues. So one of the things I really latched on to personally was you have three E's and three P's. The three E's being economy, equality, and environment, and the three P’s being programs, pilots, and policies. I'd like you to kind of elaborate a little bit on that, because I found it to be very reassuring that as you said, it's not just like, over-promising and we're gonna promise rainbows and unicorns and everybody's gonna be happy. It's like, no, no, we need to have systems in place in order to honestly tackle these issues.

Jenny Costelloe 10:21

Yeah, yeah, great. Thank you, Marika. I think, and I'll be very honest, the three E's and the three P's are because I have a very simple mind. And it's a memory aid, you know. If I’m mid-sentence and thinking what were the other things, three E’s and three P’s, I can always come back to it. And what's been really rewarding for me since we did the work on this strategy, where we articulated those three E's and three P's is that people are starting to use that language and repeat that and say it back to me. So having something alliteration definitely helps people to grasp the issues. And so if we start, I'm going to go through those three E’s, three P’s you asked me to, but then I might, if I may just tell you a little bit of the kind of history of ETP. And why we got to the three P's because I think there's a story there that might help listeners understand a bit more about our model.

Marika de Vienne 11:14

A–I love stories, B–the floor is yours! I love it!

Jenny Costelloe 11:20

All right, we could be here a long time. So let's go into the three E's and the three P's. So our three E's are, as you say, economy, equality, and environment. Let's start with economy. And it comes back to my passion for responsible business. We are not anti-profit, we are not against businesses doing well. But we think that more people should benefit from the business of tea. And what that means is the supply chain actors, so if you're looking at who's growing your tea, who's plucking your tea, who's producing your tea, because there's the factory process to take the leaf to the cup, and who's trading it to shipping it to selling it, who's packing it, who’s blending it, everybody's entitled to make some money from that. Arguably, the final price of tea, when divided between all of those stakeholders does not go very far. But what is absolutely clear is at the minute, the value is not distributed evenly. So the people who are at the bottom of that supply chain, the growers and the pluckers, are often earning very, very low wages and what we would describe as below living wages, so they're not earning enough to sustain a very basic acceptable standard of living. And whether that's the people who are employed to pluck tea on plantations, or the smallholder farmers who grow tea. Just a moment on smallholder farmers, these are people who have small plots of land and choose to grow in small quantities and then sell those, the tea to factories and companies. And actually now, globally, the majority of tea is grown by smallholders. A lot of people think it's big plantations, but it's actually smallholder farmers growing the majority of the tea. So that's the economy piece. It's like, how do we distribute the wealth? And I use the term wealth, maybe its value, is a more accurate term. And how do we distribute that value more evenly, so that everybody can benefit from it? There's a distortion in where the slices of the pie are shared. And so that's economy. We look at equality, now this inequality is a global issue. And it is exacerbated or more pronounced in tea in certain ways. Firstly, women are working everywhere in tea. It's not that women haven't got jobs in tea, they have, but they're often in awful jobs and they're at risk of gender-based violence. They're often the ones who are earning less than a living wage, and they're very vulnerable. The health and safety in the workplace is not often great. And so to that whole gender inequality and its worst manifestation, it's gender-based violence. We see that in every tea producing country in the world, okay. So it's not just a cultural issue. It's not just where you think, you know, gender inequality is a problem. It's everywhere.

And at the same time, if we talk, for example, about a country in East Africa, Malawi, we're doing a lot of work there and figuring out what we can do more of. If you think that the majority of teenage girls don't finish school, and this isn't related to tea, this is just the context, okay? Teenage girls don't finish school. Child marriage is widespread and increased significantly during the pandemic, and we're not really sure why, but even more horrific than that, child pregnancies spiked during the pandemic. And so I'm not making excuses for tea, but this is the context. And this is the kind of, these are the countries that we work in. And these are the countries where tea is being produced. So naturally, some of those issues, cultural contextual issues come into tea. And then sometimes in tea operations, those problems are exacerbated by power imbalances and so on. So that's the grim reality of gender inequality in tea. We also have concerns in certain countries about young people in tea, and this can come from children who are sometimes neglected because their parents go off to work, or in really horrific circumstances, poverty leads families to traffic or sell their children. And we have a huge program in India, North India to address child trafficking and protect and empower children. But also children working in tea supply chains. And so we include children in our equality work as well. So really the main focus areas of equality are on women, on children, and on health and safety in the workplace. So I'm getting now to my third E, and it's slightly more straightforward, possibly not. But it's more widely understood: environmental sustainability. And these are all the things that we now understand, it’s mainstream media now to talk about climate change. But what was really interesting and unusual about tea is for quite some time, and probably still somewhat today, people have thought because tea's a plant, it's not really got a carbon footprint, or you know, it's maybe, it's good to grow more tea, because you know, we need to plant more trees. But really, there isn't consensus yet on what the environmental footprint is of tea. And that's because the way it's grown, is you are impacting biodiversity to grow tea. Often, tea requires fertilisers, pesticides, and other agro chemicals. So there's an uncertainty around the science around that, you know, if you're pro-organic, you'll be very certain about the science. And some people are still debating the science around that. And then there's the logistics of tea. Tea does not grow in many of the countries where tea consumers, so we have to get tea from A to B. And one of the organizations we work quite closely with, UK Tea and Infusions Association, they do a lot of work at the consumer end, because actually if you look at tea from where it grows to when you drink it, the biggest energy footprint is when you boil the kettle. And that's the organization UK TIA has a smart boil campaign. And you know, this is again comes back to consumer awareness, you make a cup of tea, how complicated can it be. But all of a sudden, you're thinking, you know, I actually should be responsibly boiling much less water to make sure that I'm not using excessive amounts of energy and so on and so forth. So just to recap, the three E's: economy, this is about wages and an equal distribution of value. Equality is women and children, health and safety, and environment, we're looking at everything from the impact of climate change or the impact of tea or the contribution of tea to climate change. We're looking at regenerative agriculture, and final issue environment is often the deforestation issue in tea, because the factories to produce the tea are very energy intensive, and traditionally and historically would have been burnt in furnaces which then are used to kind of bake the tea effectively. And that's what takes the tea from the green leaf that’s plucked to the brown, dry product that we put into a cup or pot to boil.

Marika de Vienne 19:08

I have, I'll tell you what I'm feeling after that. Really interesting.


Awful, probably.


No, yeah, I feel, my heart hurts, like quite literally, my heart hurts when you were describing the amount of inequality, the amount of–it's not even lack of access. It's lack of just human decency. There's no human decency in the way that we're producing. Not just tea, a lot of products. But here we're talking about tea. It's really hard for me to reconcile a product that I love so much with so much pain, and I am feeling a physical ache in my chest right now after everything you described. But it's also like, married to this need to do something right now. I need to do something right now! And I think that's why a lot of people don't like necessarily talking about these issues because I feel completely powerless in this moment. I feel completely powerless.


But you're not.


I'm not, exactly what I wanted you to say, like you're not, Marika, you're not!

Jenny Costelloe 20:11

Yeah. I mean, that's… So the concept of modern slavery is, you know, I talk about these inconvenient truths. And what I mean is, you know, it does have an impact on us as human beings, as empaths, you know, we can't listen to these facts and figures about whatever product it is. And, you know, obviously I talk about tea, but many of the products we consume, that the issues are known or covered in the media, you know. I was at a conference a couple of weeks ago, where some of the audience were agonizing about whether they should go to the football World Cup. And if you use them, because the modern slavery around the upcoming World Cup is, it's rife. And so, you know, everything we do has a moral dilemma attached to it. But I think there's things that people can do, and it depends on how, what degree, the degree to which you want to become an activist or engaged in it. So again, consumer choice is a really important thing. But there are also some very powerful legislation has been introduced globally. You know, around modern slavery, around human rights, due diligence and supply chains. And I think one of the most effective things consumers can do is ask your preferred brands, what are they doing? Because I talk to these organizations. And, you know, they come to the conversation voluntarily. And that's a privilege that I have because of who we are. But the companies listen much, much more to the consumer, because you're the ones who are buying their product. So consumers have a head start in their activism, because you can talk to them, they want to know what you care about. And that, I don't think enough consumers exercise that power, ask the question, you'll have their attention. And if they think that consumers care about it, or they know that consumers care about it, they'll do more to meet the consumers needs and wants. I mean, there are so many tea companies out there, they're competing, and if this is considered to be something that they can have a competitive advantage on, then of course, it's going to be listened to.

Marika de Vienne 22:27

Oh, yeah, I mean, speaking as someone who works in a business, our entire business is entirely dependent on the customer experience. And that goes beyond just the taste and the flavour and the fun prints and the you know, all the stuff that goes into it, as a consumer, you have 100% right to ask a company what they're doing to make the world a better place. I think it's everybody's responsibility, and companies are at the forefront of having the kind of power to help and to make those changes. You know, one person may not be able to change something, but a whole company could actually contribute to making something really powerful.

Jenny Costelloe 23:08

You know, there's some self-interest in me telling consumers to write to the companies because it builds a case of ETP. I'm not just like crazy woman over at ETP coming back to them about the same things, because the consumers are saying it too. And, you know, it's about building a momentum around the agenda. And so I do think on any product, consumers have the right to ask the questions. And actually ETP is doing a lot of work at the minute with our members to talk about transparency, and how can companies open up a little bit more about what they're doing and the issues that they have, and where they're buying tea, in a way that's not threatening, in a way that doesn't make them feel very vulnerable? Because, you know, there are activists who can destroy your brand. And I think some activists have had a really positive impact and created change. But some are, frankly, disruptive and obstructive. And there's a balance there. So companies need to be more transparent. Consumers can demand that transparency. And I think at some point in future, we're going to look back and go, can you remember the days when companies didn't even talk about what their supply chains were doing? Something that I think consumers can do is really call for that kind of transparency and disclosure. But Marika, I promised you I'd come back to the three P's and the little story there.

Marika de Vienne 24:31

Yeah you have to, because now I'm like, how do you? You're on record, exactly! You're on record with it. And my next question was like, how do you even start, like okay, we've identified the issues. What do you–What does ETP do and how can we support you more? I'm already on board!

Jenny Costelloe 24:49

Okay, great. So let me tell the story, which is about 25 years ago, a couple of tea companies came together to discuss the fact that there was a growing awareness of issues in the supply chains where they were buying tea, and they wanted to be a bit more structured and collaborative around what to do about it. And so that was when Ethical Tea Partnerships earliest form, that's when ETP was born. And at that stage, the organization was auditing and trying to evaluate, identify and measure what was happening. And it was purely social at this stage, 25 years ago not a lot of discussions happening around climate and environment, unfortunately. So it was primarily on social issues. And so we developed an audit mechanism, an audit process, and we'd go to supply chains and look at what the issues were in those far away places where our tea was being bought. And we kind of converged with some of the large certification organizations like Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade. And when you start to compete with brands like that, and they’re well established and have a whole machine behind them, and we were I think at the time about six people. And, you know, we couldn't compete, and I think it was a very wise decision, was to say, Okay, well, those years of auditing have given us a good understanding of what the issues are. Let's shift, let's pivot our strategy and look at programs and projects. So these are, these were what would have been typically CSR projects, you know, charity, philanthropic projects, which were interventions to say, Okay, let's take an example. I've talked about child trafficking, who can we work with, to set up a program in the tea communities in Assam, who will address child trafficking? And you know, an organization that springs to mind would be UNICEF. And so we set up a series of programs and they went beyond CSR programs, they became huge collaborations with companies, with governments, with charities and NGOs and tea communities, and tea producing companies as well. And brilliant, absolutely fantastic work, and we still do some of those programs. But the challenge with those programs, the weakness in his programs is once the funding dries up, and once the partnership ends, the impact is not always sustained. And so when I was reviewing the strategy a few years ago, I thought, okay we're looking at really deep systemic problems here, we're looking at things that there are so many forces at play here perpetuating the problem, creating the challenge, and what else can we do? And if I can digress slightly into the theory of systems change, you need to push lots of levers up once in a kind of carefully orchestrated manner, to create really big systems change. And so those levers that we looked at, sure the programs are brilliant, they're on the ground, they're having real tangible impact. But we also need to look at the policy in those countries. What is it, what are the policies? What is the legislation that is contributing to the problems? What's the context? I talked about the Malawi context and inequality is a national issue in Malawi. And so that's a contributing factor to these problems. And then the third area, which I think is probably some of the coolest stuff we do, and it's emerging for us, are the pilots. And this is really looking at business pilots, business innovation. What are businesses doing that inadvertently contribute to the problem? One–well, let me let me give you two straightforward examples about that business innovation piece. The first is purchasing practices. How you buy your tea, as a company at the end of that supply chain, affects how that supply chain behaves. So if you have a policy that you don't pay your suppliers for 90 days, 120 days, whatever it is, and there are companies that have that policy, you're depriving the whole supply chain of cash, and guess what? The small person at the end of that supply chain is going to be the one who feels that most, okay? That insecurity that you create by irresponsible purchasing practices can be really damaging. So payment terms is one thing. An enlightened company might say to a reliable producer, I want to commit to buying your tea in this volume for the next two to three years at this price. The security that that gives the tea producer enables them to manage their workforce better, to plan staffing, to invest in operations and improvements. And part of that responsible purchasing can be a kind of, we'll buy it at this price in this volume for this time, if you can show to us that you're going to have a more energy efficient practice, factory sorry, have women in leadership positions, and demonstrate to us that you're aligned with our values. And we have a couple of our members who are really keen on that approach where they'll buy direct from a producer, and in return they want some commitment from that producer that they're upholding good practices. So that's one, yeah.

Marika de Vienne 30:43

Can I just say something like, one thing that's really important from a consumer, and I'll speak as a consumer right now point of view, is that I know for a fact that the tea will taste better, if the people making it feel safe. Because then they will care about making the best product, then they are able to, you know, roast it or oxidize it in a certain way, that'll create the best possible product, because they're not worried about how they're going to feed their kids dinner. They're not worried about their own housing security. I mean, just from a very selfish, egotistical standpoint, if I want the best possible cup of tea, offering someone security in their life will probably give me a much better cup.

Jenny Costelloe 31:28

Yeah, and you know, we were very careful how we talk about this, because we don't want workers to sound like units of productivity. But you know, an empowered or rewarded workforce is more productive. And you know, that sounds really cringe-worthy to say it in those terms. But a happy workforce is a more productive workforce.

Marika de Vienne 31:54

And productive doesn't necessarily mean quantity. But it also is, it can mean a pride in what you're doing. And one of the most beneficial things is to have pride in the product or the work that you're doing. And if somebody feels happy and proud of what they're doing, that's such a great gift.

Jenny Costelloe 32:14

Yeah, yeah, totally. And I mean, I obviously visit quite a few of these tea producing sites. As you approach a tea factory, you know whether you're going to see clean floors, and well run systems and happy people, versus the ones where this kind of disrepair and you have that sinking feeling. And not every tea drinker has the privilege of going to tea factories, I get it. But you know, that kind of happy workers manifests itself in so many ways. And the product that you get is a better quality and a better tasting product, for sure, for sure. And so that was one of the one of the business pilots I wanted to share with you. The other one is some work that we're researching in Rwanda, with a really cool partnership called the Better Than Cash Alliance. And this is looking at addressing some of the problems with paying people in cash, and cash payments is really common in agriculture. Because often, the wages are so low that the transaction cost of putting it through a banking system is prohibitive. But also, many informal agricultural workers don't have bank accounts, so they're not part of a financial system. And so this creates huge vulnerability. Now, one of the kind of most obvious pitfalls from this is the person giving the cash payment has access to bags of cash that have to be distributed to workers. So guess what, not everybody gets the full amount. The other problem is, and this is where gender inequalities creeps in is, in some cultures, the woman might pluck the tea, but the husband takes the salary. And, and it's really well researched that women who earn money lift their family out of poverty, whereas men are much less effective at doing that. And I'm, you know, yes I am a feminist, but that's, that's data. That's not me just making some sort of random comment. A woman lifts four people out of poverty when she is uplifted herself, and but men don't, frankly. And so this Better Than Cash Alliance partnership is looking at the vulnerability of cash payments, and what does it take to create digital payments for workers? They have to be part of the financial system, so we're working with banks and institutions in Rwanda. They have to work for companies who want to pay them digitally or through the banks. And so that's where we come in, we bring the tea companies who were prepared to commit to digital payments. And the government has to support this as well, they have to be willing to talk about transparency in those payments as well. But the end of the day, what we hope to achieve through this is workers, the right workers get the right amount of salary. Companies can see where their money has gone. And banks gain customers, and people become part of the financial system. And the government then has a financially literate workforce or a financially literate population, who contribute more to society. So you know, that's a business pilot, the key there is that companies have to commit to making those digital payments. And it's a simple example. But I think that's pretty, pretty cool if we can if we can get the data to support that. And so I’ve talked, Marika, about programs, pilots, and I did mention policy, I've done policy haven't I? I'm done. Those are my three E’s and my three P's. This is my problem.

Marika de Vienne 36:14

It feels like there's just so much more to unpack, because you're not just working in one or two communities, you're working in the major tea producing countries of the world. And not just on a national level, but on a community level in multiple places in these countries. I mean, you mentioned Malawi, I know you're in China, Rwanda, India, I mean, you're a little bit everywhere. So it's easy to say the three E’s and the three P's, and it makes it really digestible for everyone. But it's still an incredible machine and an incredibly complex thing. Because you can't just, you know, one of the problem I have with certain organizations is they'll land in a new community or a new country or a new culture, and they'll be like, Hey, this is how it's worked in our culture. So why don't you just replicate that and we'll leave and you'll be fine, you'll be totally fine. Because it's worked out for us. You have to go there, work with the people who are there, understand what their pitfalls, challenges, difficulties are and do something that will lift them up, as opposed to just making you feel better. You know, like, it's… huge investments!

Jenny Costelloe 37:23

And I think that–I'm going to blow the trumpet a bit of ETP, here. We have, we're in seven countries and tea producing origins, we have teams in those countries. And these are people, our colleagues in those countries have either worked in tea, or they work for tea buyers, or they work for the government. And we have brilliantly passionate people who are regularly out in the field, who see the issues and come back and say, You know what, there's an emerging issue. This is where we started to pick up on the teenage pregnant, pregnancies during the pandemic was some of our colleagues started to see teenage pregnancies and started to bring it back and say we're, you know, we're worried about this. We don't know what the cause is, what can we do? So our international teams fantastic. They're on the ground, they're talking to tea stakeholders all of the time. And without those colleagues, we wouldn't be able to take our three E's and three P's and apply them to the context. And every context is different. We're in China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India. So that's our Asia footprint. And then in Africa, it's Kenya, Malawi, and Rwanda. And they're all so different. They're all so different. But that's part of the challenge and the joy.

Marika de Vienne 38:43

It’s wonderful because these are your colleagues. It really highlights the importance of a partnership. It's a two way street. Sometimes it's a three lane highway. I mean, it sounds, it can be really –


Or a crossroads.


Or a crossroads! But the importance of a partnership. I mean, that's why we call it, you call it the Ethical Tea Partnership, as opposed to like the Ethical Tea, I don't know, like, monolithic organization. Exactly! It’s about working together and hearing the people who are there, boots on the ground, what the issues are, and I think that's, that's amazing. What I loved also about your website is how transparent you are about your procedures and your data. Like normal, I say normal people, like I'm talking about myself, just like normal people! Just go to your website, and there are so many studies that are just available to read. You know, it's not like hey, we're doing great mind your own business. It's like, some of the ones that I really enjoyed, you had obviously like climate change and tea, the briefing around it. It's a great report. Women in Assam.

Jenny Costelloe 39:51

Fascinating, right? Again, when we were going through this strategy review a couple of years ago, it's fair to say we consulted a lot of stakeholders, and it's fair to say that there was frustration, that ETP was sitting on a lot of wisdom and knowledge and insights from this fantastic international team we have. And there was that frustration, what resulted in encouragement for us to articulate or disseminate and communicate what we knew about tea. And it comes back to the point that we started at Marika, which is consumer awareness. So what's the point in ETP sitting, grappling with these issues if we're not talking about them? You know, you just don't know where it's gonna land, you don't know where it's going to, who's going to hear it and understand it and contribute. So we got organized and the team has been doing some really brilliant work. There's a fact sheet series, we're working on responsible procurement practices, coming up. That's great. And we've done quite a lot on Malawi, Malawi gender fact sheer, there’s the Assam fact sheet. And the climate report, I thought was fantastic. When we took that to cop the climate conference in Glasgow last year. And it, it's really, it gives us something to talk about. And it also shows that we're willing to listen to other perspectives. So yes, our opinion and our thoughts are in there. But we also draw very openly on third party data. So where there's something as contentious as wages, and everybody has a perspective, and everybody has the reasons why wages are what they are. And so we try to be balanced on that, but we are going to do some fact sheets on wages in the kind of coming months. And that is a really, I mean, I know the minute we press post on the wages fact sheet, we're gonna have a lot of conversations. But that's good. I mean we have to stimulate that discussion and challenge some of the assumptions.

Marika de Vienne 41:57

Absolutely. The first, you know, the best way of dealing with it is about putting it out there and saying, let's have a conversation, and let's try to make it better. Right? Yeah, I just loved how open it was–the health diet survey, I mean, healthy diets? That was great, because we also forget, you know, are people eating optimally? Are they eating the best for themselves? Like, or you know, do they have access to it?

Jenny Costelloe 42:23

Yeah, and I think that's maybe just a kind of little case study to talk about. In India in particular, some of the– It's called the Plantation Labour Act, and it's from the British Empire past. And what happened with that act was the tea producing companies, the plantation companies were given the burden of some social services such as housing, food, healthcare and education for the workers. Now, the really negative impact of that burden was that wages were compromised, because all of a sudden, the companies were trying to fulfil the role of governments in most countries, right? I'm not making excuses for the producer companies at all. But anybody can look at that and say, something's got to give, and what gives are the wages but also the quality of the healthcare, the nutrition, the housing, and the education that's provided. So nutrition is a huge problem in tea communities. And we've got a wonderful partnership with GAIN, which is the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition in three countries, where we're working with tea communities to raise awareness of nutrition. And we also have a, just a phenomenal program, which has just ended recently in Sri Lanka, where one of our members has funded something called the Women of Tea. And it's this beautiful little social enterprise model where we're teaching some of the community to grow healthy nutritional vegetables. We've created supported community kitchens, and the tea workers buy their lunch food from these healthy kitchens, got women from the community who are growing the vegetables, growing frankly fantastic tasting food, I bought my lunch there one day it was amazing. But what we've worked with a nutritionist who has taken what's traditional food and enhanced it so that they're using enriched flour or more green veg or the local beans for protein and addressing the local malnutrition issues such as anaemia, and it's just such a cool little model. So the women who are working in the kitchen are earning an income from running these kitchen kiosks. The workers are getting local foods that they like and know and they feel good about it, and it's affordable. And then the food is all locally grown as well. So, you know, that's the kind of thing that through partnerships, and through support from the companies, we can run those programs and that has actually resulted in that same company then funding a nutritionist who will work exclusively in tea plantations, in the tea communities in Sri Lanka to help address those nutrition issues. And so a simple comment like diets, and you get me talking about old laws and food rations and social enterprises.

Marika de Vienne 45:40

But it's amazing because it's something that we take for granted in the West, you know, you should have a healthy diet, you know, but just asking that question, as you did, you uncovered what can only be considered a antiquated, somewhat prehistoric law that simply isn't applicable to our modern life, that is detrimental to the people who work there, and in no way benefits their health or growth as humans. It just sounds like such incredibly fulfilling work. I mean, I just, I want to join ETP!

Jenny Costelloe 46:13

Well look at our website, there's a page called vacancies. There's not that many vacancies! But yes, it is. We love what we do. And we're, the team is very passionate about what we're doing, you know, that is often balanced, or offset if you like, by the scale of the challenge. We are only a certain number of people. It's enormous. It is really hard work, and yeah, our hearts are heavy some days and because it's just intractable some of it.

Marika de Vienne 46:43

No, I can only imagine but it's–I don't feel as heavy as I did when we first started where I just felt the weight of the world within me. I feel like, there is hope.

Jenny Costelloe 46:55

My friends and family hate talking to me because I manage to make them feel guilty about everything, it’s like and did you know, that that you're drinking or that that you're eating? And yeah, but I think awareness, first step to change.

Marika de Vienne 47:11

We need people like you, we need the Debbie Downers!

Unknown Speaker 47:17

I try. I don't know what the equivalent upper is. But I try to be an upper sometimes as well.

Marika de Vienne 47:22

Well, it definitely succeeded with me, I'm feeling much better. I'm feeling much more educated, and I'm feeling like I can be more proactive in my choices. And it's a really, really, really good feeling. I'm gonna have to put a pin in it because I have so many other questions. But you know, this is a one hour podcast and not a docu-series. I have been drinking Orange Pekoe this whole time. It’s my “get ‘er done” tea. When I just need to get ‘er done. Yeah, yeah, got it.


Yeah, yeah, got it.


Yep, I just, I need a good cup that'll sustain me with something that, a problem I need to tackle or an issue I need to fix. If I start my day with Orange Pekoe, I'm solving it, I'm fixing it. I'm working on it. So like that's the tea that I drank with this conversation. And in the beginning, I just kept thinking like, Oh, this is a really heavy tea for such a heavy…! But it worked out. It worked out really well, because it just reminds me that like, yeah, just get ‘er done. Just work on it slowly and patiently and listen and be receptive. And we can solve it.

Jenny Costelloe 48:37

You know, the word mindful is has become really widespread in the vernacular these days. But I think mindful choices and mindful consumption goes a long way to making those right choices.

Marika de Vienne 48:53

Could not have said it better, myself, honestly. Perfect. All right. We're gonna take a break, and we'll be right back.

AD BREAK 49:03

Today's episode of Steeping Together is brought to you by Organic Silk Dragon Jasmine. Scented through a meticulously magical five night process involving freshly gathered night-blooming jasmine flowers. This spring plucked premium green tea is a floral treasure worthy of any dragon or tea drinkers hoard. The best part? This tea, like all of our Camellia sinensis teas, contributes to the Ethical Tea Partnerships efforts to make a more fair and sustainable tea industry. So, Silk Dragon Jasmine–supporting positive change so you can feel good about stashing away that extra tin of tea, couple of boxes of sachets, bag of refill tea, that second refill bag and more! We're not here to judge.

Marika de Vienne 49:49

Welcome back. It's time to play “What Are You Drinking?” the quiz where we ask our guests three situational questions, some realistic some completely out there and they have to use all their experience and expertise to tell us what they would drink in any one of these situations. Jenny, are you ready to play “What Are You Drinking?”


Hit me with it, go on then.


Perfect! Question one, it's been a long day of meeting after meeting after meeting. And although they were thankfully all productive, you are more than ready to call it a day. What are you drinking?

Jenny Costelloe 50:26

I'm gonna go down the DAVIDsTEA promotion route here–unpaid! But I do love the oolong Golden Lily tea. Isn't it good, isn't it?

Marika de Vienne 50:39

Yeah, I don't I mean, obviously, I work for DAVIDsTEA and it's gonna sound like I totally paid you to say this and that I’m, honestly–just so good!

Jenny Costelloe 50:45

So I was having it just because it's the afternoon here, and you know, I try and just kind of go a bit lighter in the afternoon. And I'm thinking it, it's kind of got that rich and creamy, but it's still quite light. And there's something comforting about that. So that's what I would drink after a really busy day. And it's just, there’s something about the discipline and the moment of having a cup of tea that gives you time, it gives you pause. And yeah, that would be my tea at that moment.

Marika de Vienne 51:22

I mean, I'm completely biased, I could not agree with you more, because as listeners of this podcast know, green oolongs is my happy place. That's where I go. Yeah, that is my “I deserve this moment,” you know, I need this to happen. There's something about even just the way that the leaves unfurl, that is just very calming and beautiful.

Jenny Costelloe 51:45

And it's a pretty tea, whether it's dry, or it's made, it's very pretty. So yeah. And there's a reason that it has such a kind of exquisite reputation. So, so that would be, yeah, after a busy day I think that that's a treat to oneself, that isn't going to send you on sort of some sort of buzz. And you know, it kind of comforts you so that that felt like the right answer to that question.

Marika de Vienne 52:10

1000 points. I mean, there's no points, but 1000 points for that answer.

Jenny Costelloe 52:17

It’s going well, I don't know whether you'd like my next answers, but…

Marika de Vienne 52:23

You started off so well, I cannot possibly reprimand you.

Jenny Costelloe 52:27

I know, I’ve got a lot to live up to now.

Marika de Vienne 52:29

Exactly. All right. Question two: Why you decided to wear a pair of heels today is beyond you. But you thought it couldn't hurt. That is right up until the point one of the heels broke. And you found yourself hobbling uncomfortably down the street on your way to work. It's only like, you know, six more blocks, you're going to need a good cup of something as soon as you get to the office. What are you drinking?

Jenny Costelloe 52:57

Oh, well you know, since pandemic and since working from home, I've really stopped wearing heels, which has been one of the upsides of these dreadful few years. But I do remember the days of wearing heels. And I do remember that awful, awful feeling of walking into–you know, you walk from your bedroom mirror to the door and you think I can do this, I can do this. You get out the door you just say Oh, good grief. So I think given the timeframe, it sounds like this is the morning, I'm probably going to keep it decent. So it will be a cup of strong coffee. But with cream, because in the UK we tend not to drink cream in our coffee as much as over on the other side of the pond. And cream always feels very decadent, it feels like a real treat. So the strong coffee gives me strength, the cream just to kind of hopefully ooze its way down to my sore toes and help me through the heels. And, but on the way home I'll be honest Marika, I will probably have a glass of wine by the time I get home after a day in those heels. Because, yeah, heels make you feel a bit sassy, and I just I think the glass of wine is fitting. So that's what I'd be drinking.

Marika de Vienne 54:07

You know, I again couldn't agree with you more, but for very different reasons. The first question, I really found myself to be in simpatico with you like we were on the same vibe. I have worn a pair of heels I think once in my life, so it's a very alien situation to me. So the fact that your answer of coffee and wine, two things I do not consume, I'm like yeah, that makes sense. Because the entire situation sounds bonkers to me!

Jenny Costelloe 54:37

Okay, so let's throw coffee and wine and two other probabilities in, yep.

Marika de Vienne 54:42

Why not? I probably do the same. I'd be so out of my comfort zone I’d be like like give me cream! But I liked the specificity that you said about adding cream. I didn't know that not adding cream to coffee wasn't like a very British thing.

Jenny Costelloe 54:58

Oh, it’s real. And I grew up in Northern Ireland. And you know, when my parents had dinner parties, it was always very posh. If people were given a cup of coffee with cream at the end of the dinner party that was an indication of how special the guests were. And I just associate it with being a real treat. It's like my kind of Sunday treat to have maybe some cream in my coffee instead of bog standard oat milk, which is also lovely, but different.

Marika de Vienne 55:26

I love it. Just yeah, just I think you understood the, you understood the assignment perfectly and the moment perfectly.

Jenny Costelloe 55:33

I felt it. They're awful. And they’re good for no one.

Marika de Vienne 55:36

No, they're the worst. But I mean, no shade on the heel industry. You guys are doing great. It's just not for us.

Jenny Costelloe 55:44

We're inclusive over here. But yeah, not for us.

Marika de Vienne 55:46

Not for us, exactly. All right, excellent. Third question: You've been wandering the desert for days and you are so thirsty. Just as you're about to give up, you found it. Your deus ex machina. You reach for the genies lamp half buried in the sand and rub. As the genie pops out he looks to you, and before you can even speak says “Wow, you look rough kid. How about we get you something to drink? Anything you want. Don't worry about losing a wish. This one's on me.” What are you drinking?

Jenny Costelloe 56:23

Well, I reckon, when you said desert my mind sprung to North Africa. And I love mint tea, North African mint tea, you know that kind of Moroccan. And there's something so thirst-quenching about it. So I think I'm probably drinking a mint tea from Morocco, or North Africa. And that is just fresh and yeah, I'll forgive the genie for the “you look rough” comment, and I'll just focus on getting the mint tea out of it.

Marika de Vienne 57:00

I love it! :ike you're on the, you're on the verge of like death. And you're like genie, really? Really?

Jenny Costelloe 57:09

Nobody needs to hear it. Nobody needs to hear it!

Marika de Vienne 57:13

Not helpful, right. Great. How about you get to it. I love the regional specificity of your answer.

Jenny Costelloe 57:23

Yeah, you know, I do know that there are deserts elsewhere. But that was just the first thing that sprung to mind. Probably one of the books I love reading as a kid was The Little Prince and that was always his, you know, the aeroplane crashed in the desert. And it just always felt like yeah, Sahara, North Africa. So let’s go mint tea.

Marika de Vienne 57:43

It makes sense. I mean, I've only been to Morocco ever. And what I loved was even in that heat, and sometimes it was mint sometimes it was you know sage, sometimes it was a different herb. Even in that heat, the hot cup of tea just equalises your body temperature, you feel so refreshed. It's such an amazing, amazing experience to have. And yeah, if you got this genie at your beck and call, like, serve it up!

Jenny Costelloe 58:10

Yeah, yeah. And they put the sugar in, the sugar that someone else puts in doesn't count, I've heard that. So you're drinking hot sweet tea, what could be better? And the sugar doesn't count. So it's great. It's great.

Marika de Vienne 58:24

Literally, nothing better. Well done. I mean, you already got the 1000 points on the first question. And there are no points or winning at this game. But you won. Jenny, you found a way.

Jenny Costelloe 58:37

Thank you! I thoroughly enjoyed the game. And I'm glad that all my answers weren't lying, which, which is also a possibility. But no, I do love the kind of range of teas, coffee, and occasionally a glass of wine as well.

Marika de Vienne 58:51

I think if you like tea, you have a proclivity for enjoying other beverages. Not in my case. But you enjoy that, that sensation. And it makes sense.

Jenny Costelloe 58:59

Yeah and there is no such thing as just one tea. It's a range of teas. Tea is a range of products. And it's just fun to explore and think about the different ones and the different moments that you can drink them. So that's my second pitch for tea.

Marika de Vienne 59:16

I love it. No, it's a range and it's a diversity. And it comes from so many different places. And you know, if we're going to consume products from those places, we have a responsibility towards the people who are in those environments, making this product, to know more about them and to know more, not just to say help, you don't want to them, you want to lift everyone up, you want everyone to benefit. It's about lifting everyone up. And I just cannot thank you enough for the conversation today. I wish it could go on longer, I genuinely do!

Jenny Costelloe 59:48

Let's do a documentary next time. Give ourselves two hours and we could just talk forever.

Marika de Vienne 59:54

I mean! We should, we absolutely should. For anybody listening right now if you couldn't join in this particular conversation, I really, genuinely encourage you to visit and see all of the amazing work that they've done and how you can contribute in your own way, in your choices, in just opening your mind to the possibilities of what can be done on this planet right now because there's a wealth of information and it's all there for you. So, Jenny, thank you so, so much.

Jenny Costelloe 1:00:24

Marika, I really enjoyed the conversation, it's great fun. Thank you for having me.

Marika de Vienne 1:00:29

Fantastic. And thank you again, listeners, for listening to today's episode. If you would like to reach us with comments questions or suggestions for the “What Are You Drinking?” game, you can do so at or through our website, Have a great week, and happy steeping everyone.

jenny costelloe

jenny costelloe

about the guest

Jenny leads the Ethical Tea Partnership’s (ETP) global team to drive long-term, systemic change across three areas in tea: economics, equality and environment. She’s passionate about mobilising ETP’s global team to develop programs, run pilots and influence policies, and create transformative change across tea supply chains to achieve ETP’s vision of a thriving, socially just and environmentally sustainable tea sector. In 2016, Jenny was appointed Ambassador for the World Economic Forum’s “New Vision for Agriculture” after her role as Director of Country Partnerships at Grow Asia (a World Economic Forum focused on sustainable agriculture in ASEAN). To call Jenny’s accomplishments impressive is an understatement.

DAVIDsTEA is looking forward to joining key players in the industry, like Jenny, at the leading tea sustainability conference in June 2022 with the Ethical Tea Partnership and IDH - The Sustainable Trade Initiative. This event will explore the sector’s most significant and challenging issues and will investigate learnings to improve the sustainability of tea now and in the future.

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about the host

Marika De Vienne studied and worked with tea growers and garden owners in China before becoming a spice and tea blending apprentice. Travelling to places like Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka turned her into a ravenous seeker and lover of all things tea.

Like many at DAVIDsTEA, Marika has a tea drinking problem. Trust us, we don’t think too much tea is a problem but she’s basically a human science experiment on tea consumption…

So, in an effort to channel this obsession into something a little more constructive, Marika now hosts Steeping Together, where she hopes to spark meaningful conversations over a fresh cup of tea with people from around the world.

Marika De Vienne
Project Lead