Unilever now buying 20% of global tea from Rainforest Alliance certified farms

Wednesday, 27 April 2011 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Unilever said recently that at the end of 2010 it was buying the annual equivalent of 70,000 tonnes of tea from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms – about 20% of the multinational giant’s global purchases.

“In 2010, we achieved full certification for our PG tips and Lipton Yellow Label tea bags in Western Europe. In addition, packs bearing the RA seal are sold in North America, Japan, Australasia and South East Asia. We are on track to achieve our objective of sourcing all tea used in Lipton tea bags globally from Rainforest Alliance certified farms by 2015,” Unilever said.

The certification started in 2006, and currently covers more than 38,000 farms in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

The programme covers 130 factories/estates, 125 000 hectares of certified land (farms and adjacent, protected areas), 312,000 tonnes tea (70,000 of which was bought by Unilever) and 170,000 workers and farmers.

Unilever has been sharing its knowledge and supporting the certification process with smallholder farms through a number of different projects executed through various partnerships.

Working with Smallholders the Unilever-KTDA project began with first certification in Aug 2009 with Momul Factory (Kenya Tea Development Agency). Three other factories were certified since then. A total of 38,000 smallholders are covered with whole farm approach to certification. They are engaged in 8,800 hectares producing 15,000 tonnes tea.

Unilever is also engaged in a project in partnership with Rainforest Alliance and the IDH (Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative).

In Kenya 132,000 farmers have been trained in 12 KTDA factories whilst in Rwanda: 6,500 farmers trained in two factories. In Sri Lanka 40,000 farmers are being trained in four groups whilst in Indonesia one group was provided with an introductory training by RA, representing 700 farmers.

Unilever said the initiative has multiple positive impacts.

Socially, personal protective equipment for chemical handling, training and safety measures improved in factories globally. Workers no longer take chemical application clothing home, reducing exposure to families

FT  Insights

Impacts of the Unilever Rainforest Alliance Certified farms programme


  •     Personal protective equipment for chemical handling, training and safety measures improved in factories globally. Workers no longer take chemical application clothing home, reducing exposure to families.
  •     Healthier living environments in South India: drinking water treatment and quality testing, new waste management systems and sanitation investments in housing areas
  •     Improved contract procedures: The practice of withholding worker identification cards, although infrequent, has ceased.
  •     Addressing sector-wide issues (e.g. gender discrimination) in collaboration with other certifications in India and Kenya.


  •     Kenya: positive impacts on streams in the Tana river watershed following certification, increased farmer resilience to drought.
  •     Tree planting, conservation areas (riparian strips and forest blocks) and reduction of pesticide use: increased rare and endangered wildlife on estates. 174 bird species in Unilever Kenya estates, more than the Mau forest.
  •     India and Rwanda: waste-water systems implemented in factories previously discharging untreated sewage into the community.


  •     There is now a market established for tea from Rainforest Alliance certified farms. Unilever’s estimate is that as a result of this, in 2011 it will be paying € 3-4 million more for its tea than it would have without certification.
  •     Through the smallholder project with the KTDA in Kenya Unilever was able to assess the specific impacts of sustainable farming methods for smallholder farms. Good agricultural practices, safe and reduced use of agrochemicals and Farmer Field School (FFS) training led to a 5-15% increase in yield with the pilot group.
  •     The Kenya Tea Development Agency set up a new national microfinance institution to provide personal protective equipment and other inputs to farmers.