USL makes its mark in the world of tea

The vision of Unilever Sri Lanka for the new decade and beyond is to double the business, while halving the environmental impact in conjunction with global initiatives.

Unilever Sri Lanka’s Tea Division has made a definitive statement through their initiatives of introducing sustainable practices to the production of tea in Sri Lanka. Their premier brand Lipton is a pioneer tea brand to embark on independent certification through the ‘Rainforest Alliance’ (RA). This constitutes an integral component of the sustainability initiative. Unilever is committed to purchasing tea that is environmentally friendly, bearing the ‘Rainforest Alliance’ logo certification.

As the fifth largest exporter, and the second largest buyer at the Colombo tea auction, Unilever plays a significant role in Sri Lanka’s tea industry. As such, the company continuously strives to maintain high quality, while implementing a comprehensive programme to help protect and preserve the environment.

Kanchana Perera Kern, Tea Sourcing Manager, asserted that creating awareness in the consumer’s mind marks a significant paradigm shift in terms of attitudes towards consumer products. “We have progressed from considering tea to be simply a beverage, into actually treating it as a food product, taking into account all the stages of the production line, the farming practices, environment, and the conditions of the factories”, she stated.

While she acknowledges that transforming an industry is a formidable challenge, she believes that Unilever is well prepared to face up to it. This will help the company move forward into an exciting new chapter that will further establish and reinforce sustainable practices in the tea industry in Sri Lanka.

As part of a larger framework of sustainability, Unilever has introduced sustainable practices to the small holder factories in order to ensure that they are included within certified sustainable farms. This is a significant departure from the previous practice of only certifying formally structured and managed Regional Plantation Companies. Over 74% of the country’s tea is sourced from small holders. Unilever has become an agent of change within these factories, carrying out engagement programmes and introducing innovative ways of working to bring about sustainable production, the ethical treatment of workers, and increased health and safety standards.

Three focus areas in this agenda are:

1. Farmer engagement through Education and Communication

Up to this point, the sustainability team has completed training sessions for estate managers, carried out estate audits, and developed and distributed Sustainability Awareness material amongst 12,000 farmers.

2. Supplier Development

Unilever has also started work on building a model farm where all tea plants are grown according to sustainable farming practices. They have funded a tea nursery, in which the profits gained from selling the tea plants will be channelled back to continue running the nursery. These projects are being carried out in collaboration with the small holder factories, government authorities, and the Tea Research Institute

3. Influencing key stakeholders to create a shift towards a greener Industry

Through the Central Environmental Authority, Unilever Lipton has discussed with government officials the growing problems of garbage disposal and the recycling of polythene and plastics at tea plantations. In an effort to create an awareness of growing sustainable tea in the local industry, they have also communicated with, and educated Tea regulatory bodies such as the Tea Board and the Colombo Tea Traders Association.

Unilever recognizes and acknowledges the magnitude of the task undertaken. Working with thousands of small scale farmers, as well as the competitive nature of the small holder sector, make the task of getting private factories certified in accordance with global criteria daunting. Moreover, private factory owners have no direct control over their suppliers and this complicates the process of obtaining certification.

Recently, Unilever Sri Lanka won the “Beverages Award” at the Global Unilever Compass Awards recognizing the outstanding work carried out by the company. The team won this prestigious accolade for their dedication to instilling sustainable farming practices within the community of small holder tea factories in Sri Lanka.

The team at Unilever Sri Lanka believe that sustainability is no longer an option, but an urgent need of the hour. Their convictions, coupled with their continued pledge to deliver products of the highest standard, offer exciting prospects for the future.

Unilever Sri Lanka Ltd.

258 M. Vincent Perera Mw

Colombo 14

Sri Lanka

+94 (0) 11 4700 800

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