Tea Importers is a family-owned business headquartered in Westport, CT that was started by Joseph Wertheim in 1958. The company buys teas from most of the tea producing countries in the world, which it sells to major tea packers and blenders as well as specialty tea companies in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Andrew Wertheim is now the company’s President.
Tea Importers is also the majority shareholder of SORWATHE LTD., an award winning tea factory in Rwanda founded in 1975. The tea processed by the factory is grown on the SORWATHE-owned plantation of 284 hectares, as well as on another 930 hectares owned by ASSOPTHE, a Rwandan cooperative that represents over 3,500 small farmers. SORWATHE employs 3,000 Rwandans in the factory and fields. It produces approximately 6.5 million pounds (3 million Kilograms) of high quality black, green, oolong, organic and specialty teas each year for sale around the world.
SORWATHE tea factory is:
Fair Trade certified, NOP and EU Organic certified,
Rainforest Alliance certified/UTZ™, FSSC 22000 certified, Ethical Tea Partnership participant, and Rwanda Standards Board certified.
Tea Importers is a member of:
Tea Association of the United States
Tea Council of the United States
Specialty Tea Institute
Fair Trade USA
Tea and Herbal Association of Canada
SORWATHE has won many awards for its high quality teas, sustainability, and corporate social responsibility.
North American Tea Conference Gold Medal Competitions:
2017: First Place Rukeri Organic Green OP and Second Place Rukeri Black OP, Rwanda
2016: First Place Rukeri Black OP, Rwanda
2015: Overall Winner Rukeri Organic Green OP and First Place Rukeri Black OP, Rwanda
2014: First Place Rukeri Black OP, Rwanda
2013: First Place Rukeri, Rwanda,
North American Tea Conference Sustainability Awards:
2016: Bronze Medal for One Pre-School Per Year and One Cup of Porridge per Child, Rwanda
SORWATHE brought in potable water and voluntarily repaired and maintained the roads to the company’s factory because the local government could not afford to do so. SORWATHE built 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 1994 Genocide, 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 two organic division, is a participant in the Ethical Tea Partnership, and the estate is Rainforest Alliance Certified(TM). 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 education, and improving the availability of drinking water, medical insurance, and housing.
SORWATHE remains committed to improving the lives of the people in the surrounding communities through support for education (school buildings and scholarships), nutrition program for pre-schoolers, computer lab for secondary school students, and sports. SORWATHE has also partnered with UNICEF to bring early childhood development and day care programs to families in the surrounding communities.
US State Department Award
On November 28, 2012, then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton presented Tea Importers, Inc. and SORWATHE with the 2012 Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE). The honor is bestowed annually on two U.S. companies, with one award given to a small to medium- sized business, and the other to a large multinational enterprise. Tea Importers and SORWATHE won in the small to medium-sized category.
Before presenting the award to Tea Importers and SORWATHE, Secretary Clinton emphasized the importance of American businesses being good ambassadors for the values the United States wishes to promote overseas. Clinton stated that the impressions people have of the United States are shaped largely by American businesses.
“It’s how millions and millions of people find out about our values, what we really stand for, what kind of people we are,” she said. “It’s critically important for the interests of our foreign policy for our American companies to operate responsibly and well.”
Clinton said she was honored to present the award to “two exceptional companies that are giving back to the communities where they do business.” Clinton commended the work of SORWATHE, calling the business an environmental leader, a pioneer on workers’ rights, and a positive force in the local community.
UNICEF and SORWATHE
UNICEF and SORWATHE have signed an agreement aimed at facilitating scale up of access to early childhood development (ECD) and preprimary education for infants and young children in the communities around the factory.
Fairtrade Premium Brings Healthcare to Sorwathe Workers and Families
In an effort to ensure access to healthcare for all its citizens, the government of Rwanda in 2008 introduced a compulsory health insurance system which legally requires nationals to subscribe to one of the several health insurance systems in the country known as Mutuelles de Santé. Citizens pay an annual premium of RWF 3,000 (approx. € 2.64) per person which enables access to basic healthcare such as maternity care and treatment for common ailments such as diarrhea, malaria, pneumonia, malnutrition and others. While donor funding covers a fraction of the fee, nationals still contribute a significant amount to cover the balance.
For some years now, SORWATHE Ltd, a Fairtrade Certified tea producer in Rwanda has eased the financial burden for its workers by covering their annual health insurance costs, including that of their spouses. However, to access medical care themselves, Rwandan law requires parents to have an active insurance subscription for their children as well. This means that while workers and their spouses were covered, they still had to go into their pockets and acquire medical insurance for their children too. According to Stephanie, Fairtrade Officer at SORWATHE Ltd, this had a huge effect on workers’ productivity whereby some workers would stop coming to work when their children got sick.
In January this year, SORWATHE’s workers’ Fairtrade association (Association Des Travailleurs Dela-ATSO) made a decision to invest in workers’ healthcare. As a result, all 1,463 workers, both permanent and temporary now have an active insurance subscription that will cover themselves, their spouses and children until 2021.Fairtrade Premium contribution is RWF 3,000 per person, “the number of children a worker has does not matter, even if they are 10, they are all covered,” explains Stephanie.
“Workers are very happy. Before, it was difficult to get insurance for their children. Now, we are okay. Productivity has increased because workers and their families can access medical care,” she continues.
Kagorora Venuste, a permanent worker expresses his gratitude for the medical insurance assistance project, “when we did not have medical insurance for the whole family, it was hard for workers. Sometimes it would lead to loss of family members. This assistance is very exciting to all workers and their families because they can now save on the money spent paying for medical insurance. Now, it will be saved and used for family development.
Mutuyimana Evelyne who works in HR says, “When there was no medical insurance for the whole family, workers spent too much money getting medical treatment hence causing poverty in the family. We are thankful for the family medical insurance. We are very happy.”
About the Producer | SORWATHE Ltd
Year of Fairtrade Certification: 2003
Growing Practices: 80% organic
Process type: CTC, Orthodox and Green Tea processing