Fair Trade labeling in the tea industry doesn’t necessarily carry the same weight that it does in the coffee industry. Fair Trade basically indicates that working conditions for employees are kept fair—wages, environment, living conditions. Fair Trade labeling only reflects the conditions under which production takes place and not the quality of the product.
If you’re labor on a huge industrial tea plantation, Fair Trade is certainly a benefit. These are plantations that normally grow tea for mass quantity, machine harvested and machine processed. Employees may come and go as conditions change. Tea quality is often poor, and rather than improve their product or worker training, the company spends resources in pursuit of a certification in order to have an appeal on the commercial market.
However, as for fine loose leaf tea production, these plantations are often small, family run establishments. The majority of specialty tea producers are not certified Fair Trade. They are hard to find because tea plantations that produce teas of excellent quality have tea workers paid above poverty level, very well trained, provided health care, schooling and living accommodations. It behooves the owner to keep conditions as good as, if not better than, the competition so that it builds trust, minimizes turnover in labor, and keeps consistent quality in production.
Fair Trade certification certainly has its purpose and place in world production and trade. As for the tea industry, if you want to support fair wages and working conditions, choose quality and taste over a label.