Qi Teas


Last updated: March 2016



Spotlight on: Qi Teas


The Tea Industry has been plagued by reports of workers' rights abuses. We talk to a best buy company making tea a little differently. 


Image: Qi Tea


Tell us about Qi Teas, why was it set up?

Our small Kent-based company was set up by Joe d’Armenia after retiring from the advertising and marketing industry where he’d worked for 25 years with companies such as Unilever.  He was looking for something different to do and his career went in a very different direction when he decided to go into the tea business after reading a book about the health benefits of green tea whilst waiting for a flight. 

Unaware that the traditional way of sourcing tea was through traders in London or Hamburg, he travelled to China in search of Organic Green Tea. It was his unfamiliarity with the tea industry that led Joe to the Anhui Province in the south east of China and it was during this first trip that he met Yu Jing Hong, a tea-grower and local government minister.  

She agreed to sell her organic tea directly to him rather than through the more established medium of a German wholesale importer; what clinched the deal was Joe’s agreement to put money back into the community. This agreement was honoured by our funding of a number of projects in the region - the building of a new school wing, street lighting and road maintenance just a few of the many investments. Joe and Yu Jing Hong have remained friends ever since.


image: Qi

Qi School built with FT money. 


Herbal Health, the company behind the brand Qi, were instrumental in coordinating China’s first free and democratic elections at village level with the full co-operation of the local government, our pioneering company also focused on the legal establishment of farmers’ cooperatives.

We started by sponsoring the farmers’ application as a Fairtrade Association and helped them to find customers worldwide, we helped each other and from there things gradually evolved and the brand Qi (pronounced ‘chee’) was created.

Fair Trade defines the nature of our relationship with the farmers, Joe knows most of the growers and factory workers personally, many for nearly 20 years. All Qi organic tea is Fair Trade because it is all supplied by the farmers Fairtrade Association.

Why do you think you receive a best buy label?

Because of the ethos of our company; it’s not just about our products being Fairtrade labelled, it’s about our unique business model and the relationships we have built with our producers over many years and our investment in their community.  It was this continued investment in the region and our ethical business model that secured us as the winner of the Social Responsibility category at the Cathay Pacific China Business Awards in 2012.

In association with the Fairtrade farmers we invested in a purpose-built tea factory and unlike other plants in the area, we introduced programs relating to health care, health insurance, pension provision, and paid maternity leave which have made a big difference to the lives of our workers. Not surprisingly, there is a very loyal workforce at the plant and a long list of people who want to work there. 


Image: Qi Tea Picker

How do you differ from other companies that produce fair-trade tea?

As above, it’s not just about our products having a Fairtrade label, our business is old fashioned in that it is based on long-term relationships with people as partners, rather than just trading with them to get the best deal possible.

We have carried this through to our customer base - we have supplied the independent retail sector since our business was founded, and have remained loyal to them rather than expanding into the multiples and their sometimes less than ethical way of trading.


Unilever uses Rainforest Alliance certified tea. Now that corporations are using ethical labels, does it make it harder to compete?

Not really, it does not change our ethical standpoint, and consumers who are driven by a likeminded attitude will tend to do more research before making a purchase. Any certification scheme which has direct benefits for farmers is better than no scheme at all.


Have you ever had to make a decision that challenged your ethical standpoint?

Luckily no, all our suppliers are audited before we start using them, and if they fail to meet our criteria then we won’t use them.


The Tea Industry is still plagued by reports of worker rights abuses. Where would you like to see the industry in 5 years?

It would be great to see more small farmer organisations perhaps under a nationwide umbrella organisation in each producing country. The idea of farmers and local/national co-operatives being able to produce their own brands which can achieve ethical certification, thus ensuring value can be added in producer countries would be a big step forward.

It would require a change of thinking among some organisations who still see the producer countries merely as exporters of bulk commodities.

For hired labour and plantation workers the only way to prevent abuses continuing is to persuade the global giants of the industry to take the issue seriously and put people before profit.

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