Founder Joe Wertheim’s philosophy of social responsibility permeates the company’s history. In particular, Tea Importer’s commitment to the Rwandan people has not wavered throughout its 40 years of Rwandan operations. From 1975 to the present, including through the Rwandan Civil War, the 1994 genocide and the reconciliation period, SORWATHE and Tea Importers have improved the lives of countless Rwandans.
SORWATHE brought in potable water and voluntarily repaired and maintained the roads to the company’s Rwandan factory because the local government could not afford to do so. SORWATHE built local schools, established a medical clinic with assistance from USAID, and, in partnership with Rotary International, started an adult literacy program for the local population that has taught more than 15,000 Rwandan adults how to read and write in their native language.
When there was a shortage of firewood for cooking following the genocide in 1994, SORWATHE, again in partnership with Rotary International, produced and distributed solar-powered cookers and fuel-efficient rocket stoves locally and later throughout Rwanda. So as not to compete for firewood with the local population, SORWATHE purchased and continues to sustainably maintain 517 hectares of Eucalyptus forest. These trees prevent deforestation and erosion on the hillsides while allowing SORWATHE to be self sufficient in fuel. SORWATHE’s management of the forest also creates additional employment in the area.
SORWATHE was the first factory in Rwanda to introduce environmentally-friendly policies such as waste recycling. SORWATHE has also been at the forefront of banning child labor and supporting workers’ rights. It was the first private company in Rwanda to sign a collective bargaining agreement with its workers. The factory employs sustainable agricultural practices, has an organic section, is a participant in the Ethical Tea Partnership, and the estate is Rainforest Alliance Certified™. It is also Fair Trade certified, which means premiums and a percentage of the profits are reinvested in the local community. The Fair Trade associations have spent this money on local schools, and improving the availability of drinking water, medical insurance, and housing.