Former Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman On The Importance Of Fair Trade - Exclusive

When Seth Goldman founded Honest Tea in 1998, part of the purpose of the brand was not only to provide a less-sweet, lower-calorie, organic tea option to consumers, but also to pay special attention to the product's entire supply chain. Part of that special attention was to ensure that in 2003 — five years after the brand launched — the tea was fair trade-certified. Goldman told Mashed in an exclusive interview that Honest Tea was the very first bottled tea brand to obtain fair trade-certified status.

You'll spot fair trade certification logos on a variety of products at the grocery store. Awareness of the fair trade movement and fair trade certification is growing in the United States, according to Fairtrade America. The organization noted in a 2021 study that there had been a 46% increase in fair trade awareness in the United States since 2019. However, while shoppers may recognize the fair trade logo or they might be familiar with the term, it's not always 100% clear what "fair trade" means on an individual level or what tangible impacts the movement has.

Empowering the workers

According to Seth Goldman, when Honest Tea launched its first fair trade-certified bottled tea, fair trade certification was "about empowering the workers in the gardens, the ones picking the tea leaves. It ... not [only] makes sure their working conditions are approved, meaning inspected, but also that a portion of the sales goes back for them to invest in their community as they deem appropriate."

He added, "That empowers the people in the gardens, because it gives them a source of extra funds and, in particular, empowers women, because most of the tea-pickers are women, so they, all of a sudden, have new resources that they would not have on their own. If they decide, 'We want to spend this money on school or on eye care,' their priorities may not always be aligned with the owners of the tea gardens, so it gives them a real, separate economic stake."

Unanticipated benefits

Now, Seth Goldman has made promoting fair trade foods a part of the mission at his latest endeavor, Eat the Change, which will launch a new organic, fair trade-certified bottled tea later in 2022, following Coca-Cola's discontinuation of Honest Tea. As Eat the Change helps consumers learn more about how their food choices are connected to broader world issues, they'll learn the importance of fair trade.

But the benefits of fair trade go beyond helping provide resources for disadvantaged agricultural workers. Goldman said fair trade comes with extra, unanticipated benefits, such as those related to addressing overpopulation.

He said, "A lot of the resources that we have given over the years to these communities is directed towards education, and what that often means is it's educating young women and girls and keeping them in school longer, and all of the research shows that when they stay in school longer, they have fewer children later in life. To the extent overpopulation is a concern, it really helps to address that."

Keep up to date on all things Eat the Change and watch for more information about Seth Goldman's upcoming tea line on the Eat the Change website.