Lipton/Unilever - Pesticide Residue in Tea Supply Chain (2007-2020)

Lipton/Unilever - Pesticide Residue in Tea Supply Chain (2007-2020)

Unilever, the World's Largest Tea Company, Commits to Rainforest Alliance Certification

May 25, 2007

Rainforest Alliance certification involves a holistic approach --  treating environment, ethics and economics equally. To meet the  standards, farmers must commit to continuous improvements in worker  welfare, farm management and environmental protection. Farmers learn how  to improve their productivity and reduce costs by reducing pesticide  use, eliminating waste and introducing better farming techniques.  Workers earn decent wages and have access to good housing, education and  healthcare. And the environment on which these farmers depend is  protected.
The first certified tea will be made available to restaurants and the  catering trade in Europe from August 2007. It will be quickly followed  by Lipton, the world's best-selling tea brand, and PG Tips, the UK's No.1 tea. The company aims to have all Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe certified by 2010 and all  Lipton tea sold globally to come from sustainable sources by 2015.

Unilever sustainable tea Part I: Leap frogging to mainstream

December 2010

Making Sustainable Tea Available in the Indian Domestic Market
Workers, mostly migrants, are often provided with housing on the tea estate, along with facilities for shops, services, recreation and culture. However, during the years of crisis, companies minimized labor and infrastructure costs. Small tea farms usually employs temporary and casual workers, whose work and living conditions are considerably worse than their plantation counterparts. Energy efficiency is generally low and the use of firewood is a driver of deforestation. Tea estates usually use pesticides intensively; very few turn to integrated pest management.

Certified Unilever Tea - Small Cup, Big Difference?

October 1, 2011

Wages with too few benefits or partly being paid in kind and not in cash, gender discrimination, ethnic discrimination, casual workers remaining permanently casual, workers applying pesticides without  protective gear, sexual harassment, bad housing and hampered freedom of association and collective bargaining… These are some of the problems that affect tea workers on estates that have received certification from the sustainability standard system Rainforest Alliance (RA).


April 18 2012

Unilever  established  a  sustainable  agriculture  program  in  the 1990s.  At  that  time,  it  developed  guidelines  for  sound agricultural  practices  for  key  crops.  Indicators  covering  the three aspects of the “people, profit and planet” view of sustainability – such as water, energy, pesticide  use,  biodiversity, social  capital,  work  conditions,  workers’  livelihoods  and animal  welfare  –  were  incorporated  into  contracts  with growers.  The  guidelines  were  developed  in  consultation  with key  stakeholders  and  extended  to  suppliers  through  various tools  such  as  regular  buying  visits,  self-assessment questionnaires  and  close  monitoring  of  high-risk  suppliers.
Pesticides are used in Asia on a larger scale in tea plantations, while their use in East Africa is minimal.


April 18 2012

In producing countries where conditions for rollout were more complex or where the supply base was more fragmented, a strategy was put in place to gradually bring suppliers into certification by 2015. Large tea estates in Tanzania, Malawi, Argentina and Indonesia were aligned from the start for a first wave of gradual certification, followed in 2009 by Zimbabwe, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Brazil and Vietnam. The scale of the challenge was significantly higher in Sri  Lanka, where the government was not in favor of certification, and China, where there were major issues regarding pesticides and labor.

Pesticide testing on Lipton tea

Apr 22, 2012

In February 2012, Greenpeace collected random samples of teabags made by the world’s biggest tea brand – Lipton. Investigators randomly selected Lipton-branded green tea, jasmine tea, Iron Buddha tea and black tea from two supermarkets in Beijing.
These four samples were sent to an accredited independent third-party laboratory to test for pesticides. Test results showed that in total 17 different kinds of pesticides were found on all four samples: samples of green tea, jasmine tea and Iron Buddha tea each contained at least nine different kinds of pesticides.
Also found on the samples were traces of seven pesticides on Lipton-branded tea sold in China that have not been approved for use by the EU, while several pesticides on all samples exceeded EU’s maximum residue limit (MRL).  
Furthermore, traces of pesticides that have been banned by China for use on tea plants and have been classified as highly toxic by the World Health Organization (WHO) were found on the green tea, jasmine tea and Iron Buddha tea samples.

Greenpeace says finds tainted Lipton tea bags in China

April 24, 2012

“Some of the detected pesticides are also banned for use in tea production by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture.”
Last November, China’s quality watchdog said one of Unilever’s Lipton tea varieties was found to contain unsafe levels of toxins. Unilever said that all those related tea products had been recalled and  destroyed.

Marketplace: Full tea test results

March 7, 2014

After tests conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 2009 and 2011 revealed levels of pesticide residue that exceed Health Canada’s allowable limits, Marketplace commissioned testing through an accredited lab to see if teas with these amounts of pesticide residue are still on the shelf. Here are the results.

Not much but data is offered, so I refer you to Tammy Catanina.

One of the chemicals found was Endosulfan. This chemical is one of  the most toxic pesticides on the market today. It is responsible for  many fatal pesticide poisoning incidents around the world. Endosulfan is  also a xenoestrogen—a synthetic substance that imitates or enhances the  effect of estrogens—and it can act as an endocrine disruptor, causing reproductive and developmental damage in both animals and humans.
The second chemical they found was Monocrotophos. It is acutely toxic  to birds and humans. Being also a persistent organic pollutant, it has  been banned in the U.S. and many other countries.

Wikipedia has this to say about Endosulfan.

Endosulfan is a ubiquitous environmental contaminant. The chemical is semivolatile and persistent to degradation processes in the environment. Endosulfan is subject to long-range atmospheric transport, i.e. it can travel long distances from where it is used. Thus, it occurs in  many environmental compartments. For example, a 2008 report by the National Park Service found that endosulfan commonly contaminates air, water, plants, and fish of national parks in the US. Most of these parks are far from areas where endosulfan is used.[56] Endosulfan has been found in remote locations such as the Arctic Ocean, as well as in the Antarctic atmosphere.[57] The pesticide has also been detected in dust from the Sahara Desert collected in the Caribbean after being blown across the Atlantic Ocean.[58] The compound has been shown to be one of the most abundant organochlorine pesticides in the global atmosphere.[57]
In 2009, the committee of scientific experts of the Stockholm Convention  concluded, "endosulfan is likely, as a result of long range environmental transport, to lead to significant adverse human health and  environmental effects such that global action is warranted."[60] In May 2011, the Stockholm Convention committee approved the recommendation for elimination of production and use of endosulfan and  its isomers worldwide. This is, however, subject to certain exemptions.  Overall, this will lead to its elimination from the global markets.[61]

Unilever Global Guidelines on Use of Pesticides in Sustainable Tea Sourcing

March 2014

We have committed that by 2020 all our food raw materials will be produced using sustainable crop practices, minimising the use of pesticides through integrated pest management techniques, and with due care for the environment and the health, safety and livelihood of farmers.
The Guidelines’ recommendations on the use of pesticides in the tea industry are aligned with the recommendations of international authoritative bodies, specifically:
-> The World Health Organization Recommended Classification of Pesticides by Hazard;
-> The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs);
-> The Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC) for certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade.
Commitments and Ambition We will work with our suppliers and with the tea industry in general to eliminate the following pesticides from use in Unilever’s entire tea value chain by the end of 2014:
-> WHO Class 1a or Class 1b pesticides;
-> Pesticides listed as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) in the Annexes to the Stockholm Convention; and
-> Pesticides subject to the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure for certain hazardous chemicals in international trade, as listed in Annex III to the Convention
Further, our ambition is the elimination of WHO Class II pesticides from tea production for Unilever by 2020.
In addition, we will work with our suppliers and national governments or regulatory agencies to eliminate or actively reduce as far as reasonably practicable the use of WHO Class III pesticides.
By 2020 at the latest, Unilever will only source tea which is traceable to sustainable sources.
Annex 2.
List of Crop Protection Products Not Acceptable for Use in Tea Production
Annex 3.
List of Crop Protection Products Subject to Requirements for Reduction of Use

Five months later, Greenpeace publishes another study, this one based on the Indian Tea Market, also implicating Lipton (among others).

Greenpeace India - Trouble Brewing

August 2014


So, how is Lipton doing since 2014?

Tea Commodity Chain - Extraction of Raw Materials

December 4, 2015

India’s concentration on tea has created a “monoculture” (cultivation of a single crop in a given area) and created a perfect environment for pests, tea workers are now using pesticides on tea plants to reduce pest  infestation.
Children are suffering from malnutrition and respiratory and water borne diseases due to pesticide use.
Pesticide use by tea workers – airborne – causing respiratory issue  as workers either do not use masks when spraying or their masks do not  work and have not been replaced – respiratory and water-borne diseases  account for 60-70% of disease affecting tea plantations workers (Forum  for Future 19 Factors).
Pesticide use – because of the poor condition of the soil from overuse, bugs are more prevalent and therefore companies are using  pesticides to combat the problem, most of the workers who are spraying  the pesticide do not wear protective face protection gear and as a  result are breathing in the pesticide, develop respiratory problems and  illnesses related to pesticide, some of the workers have protective  face/mouth gear, but the filters are clogged or need to be replaced.
Contamination in the air  due to pesticide use 2012 – 4 elephants  died in India’s Kaziranga National Park after eating pesticide coated  grass from a plantation.

The article includes this video by the BBC which mentions pesticide use and Unilever.

The bitter story behind the UK’s national drink Sept. 2015

Business Strategy of Unilever (Lipton)

Jan 22, 2016

No more mention of the pesticide residue issue.

Climate Change – Project Rainforest Alliance of Lipton in 2016

Nov. 12, 2017

For example, the pesticide usage was divided to 3 categories – green light (safe), yellow light (moderate toxic) and red light (dangerous to soil and human body). The certified tea farms could only adapt the pesticides in the first 2 categories, most of the farmers having to  their previous behaviors.
Taiwanese government changed pesticide restriction on imported tea leaves frequently in response to the uncertainty of the safety of the raw materials. When Lipton team raised request on pesticide requirement to Indonesia supply chain, the reaction of the factory was often lagged. On one hand, Indonesia procurement team had to push back to farmers to  improve pesticide usage, which was troublesome and time-consuming; on the other hand, Taiwan’s demand of tea leaves accounts for relatively  small portion of total supply volume, the Indonesia team simply  reluctant to help or change anything.
Investigations repeatedly raised many concerns regarding Rainforest Alliance:
-> Weak on-farm monitoring mechanisms: Reports of child labor, unprotected spraying of pesticides, widespread cases of gender discrimination, ethnic discrimination, sexual harassment, bad housing,  hampered freedom of association and collective bargaining

Moms Across America - Lunch Food Test Results

Jan. 16 2018

These are legal levels according to the EPA, as explained by this site, which has copyright protections. The article addresses the Moms Across America study, but it does not point to the use of 208 ng/g - which strikes me as a means to inflate the perception of the number - compared to the MRL standard for EU 0.000208mg/kg or for EPA 0.208ppm. The FDA MRL for dry tea is 1ppm.

Glyphosate in the spotlight again as activists target Lipton, Skippy and other CPG brands over pesticide residues
With glyphosate in the spotlight again as anti-GMO activist group Moms Across America released test results suggesting trace levels of the herbicide (commonly used with GE crops) in brands from Lipton to Skippy’s, we spoke to Amin Talati Upadhye attorney Ryan Kaiser to find out how companies should …

Sustainable tea - leading the industry

no date ~2019

"You can see the change on the ground – people are hungry for  knowledge," says Daleram. "The first question smallholders ask is: 'can  you help me on judicious use of pesticides?' Then they want to know  about compliance, green leaf-handling, how to improve quality, etc."
Since 2013, the volumes of trustea verified teas in India’s domestic  market have risen steadily, reaching about 47% of the country’s tea  production in 2018. For Unilever, that means more knowledge about who’s  growing our tea, and how. It also gives us greater assurance that the  tea we’re selling meets mandatory criteria on wages, plant protection,  safety and pesticide use – as per the Tea Board of India’s Plant  Protection Code (PPC).”
Daleram and colleagues explain more about trustea in this film.
The climate and agricultural practices on our plantations in Kenya and Tanzania allow tea to be grown without pesticides, but in some  parts of the world conditions currently require pesticides to preserve  yields.
We encourage the global tea industry to reduce the use of pesticides to a minimum. Our Unilever Guidelines on Use of Pesticides in Sustainable Tea Sourcing are applied through our Sustainable Agriculture Code.
In 2014, we commissioned CABI – the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International – to conduct  an independent scientific study to evaluate non-pesticide methods for  protecting tea crops in India.
In partnership with the Tocklai Tea Research Institute, CABI conducted field trials over 2015–2017 on tea  estates in Assam. In the Phulbari tea garden, for example, the results  showed that an ecologically managed plot can deliver a comparable yield  to one conventionally managed with pesticides. This was the first time this had been demonstrated through a scientific study.
CABI has  now developed a toolkit of best practice to help tea growers combat common pests such as red spider mite, loopers, thrips, black rot and the tea mosquito bug.

It seems to me that Unilever faces a hard problem, and they are taking appropriate steps.

We should continue to monitor their progress.

Due to danger to farm workers and their environments, and the non-local threat of persistant pesticides,  the entire global market needs to be gaurded, not only the largest companies.