By Tracy Sorensen
SYDNEY — Twelve years ago, the World Development Tea Co-operative imported just enough tea from Sri Lanka to fill someone's garage. Today, the non-profit organisation's Tradewinds teas can be found in Coles supermarkets nationally and Woolworths in Western Australia.
Soon, Woolworths in New South Wales will also carry them.
"Now everyone can buy Tradewinds tea and everyone can make a positive contribution in world development issues", co-op marketing manager Abraham Thomas told Green Left.
The co-operative's basic commitment is to alert people to the inequalities in the world trading system and to model a better way of trading with what it calls the "traded against" countries of the Third World.
"The fundamental issue is to increase the component of value-added production to Sri Lankan tea export", said co-op education committee members Margaret Sidoti and Jill Finnane. "Tradewinds teas are blended and processed in Sri Lanka. This significantly increases Sri Lanka's income from the tea trade and generates employment opportunities there."
In contrast, they explained, most tea companies export their teas in an unprocessed form, which denies Sri Lanka the benefits and income generated.
"Bulk tea is shipped to various developed countries where it is processed, usually by subsidiaries of the same transnationals who bought it. This process adds significantly to the original auction price of the tea, ensuring that most of the profits generated in the tea industry are concentrated at the processing stage.
"According to a United Nations study, eight companies now control about 90% of the tea marketed in the West. The two largest are Unilever and Allied Breweries."
This situation has continued despite the fact that Sri Lankans have the skills and resources to process their own commodities.
Packaging leaf tea increases the value to Sri Lanka by 60-80%. This increases to 80-120% for tea bags.
The reed baskets in which many Tradewinds products are sold are an important area of value-added wealth creation. Their production provides employment to 1600 Sri Lankans, many of whom are women. The use of these naturally occurring reeds is more ecologically sound than cardboard packets which use up trees.
Reed basket-making involves traditional skills and provides employment hose involved need not relocate to urban centres.
"If even 60% of their resources were put into value added form", explained Thomas, "then they would not have to be reliant on aid, they wouldn't have to be looking to various other new commodities, they wouldn't have to be destroying their forests."
In Sydney, the education committee of the World Development Tea Co-op conducts talks and free tea tastings for interested schools, churches and community groups. Call 281 6822 for details. n