Oakland, CA (June 17, 2014) – 5,127 eye exams were conducted and 2,400 pairs of free eyeglasses were distributed in Assam, India as a result of a unique collaboration between Fair Trade USA, the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in North America, mission-driven beverage company Honest Tea and VisionSpring, an organization that is committed to eyeglasses for all.
In February, VisionSpring sent a small team in a mobile unit to the Tonganagaon Tea Estate, where Honest Tea sources organic Fair Trade Certified black tea. Over the course of fifteen days, the specialists screened the 1,300 people who work in the gardens, as well as their family members and many from the broader community surrounding the estate. Those who needed glasses were able to select a pair that suited their prescription and tastes on the spot. Common eye infections were treated with medicine, while cataract cases were referred to the closest hospital for treatment.
"Tea farmers in Assam provide high quality tea and yet their livelihoods are challenged by extremely low wages,” explained Paul Rice, CEO, Fair Trade USA. “In order to ensure a more sustainable tea trade in Assam, the tea industry needs to find ways to collaborate to improve the lives of these hard-working farmers. Honest Tea’s leadership in this specific effort is a great example of how we can use strong partnerships to serve farming communities."
"The Honest Tea/Tonganagoan project is a great example of how vision improves peoples' livelihoods,” stated VisionSpring CEO Kevin Hassey. “There are over 700 million people in the world that need eyeglasses to experience a similar vision improvement".
The partners leveraged innovative mobile technology to measure the impact of the screenings in real time. Labor Link by Good World Solutions polls hard-to-reach workers on sensitive topics through a platform that’s anonymous and does not require literacy. With a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Labor Link delivered mobile phone surveys to the eye care recipients, enabling partners to hear directly from beneficiaries about the impact to them:
- 50% of respondents had never had an eye exam
- 75% of respondents reported improved productivity at work and home
- 75% of respondents who received glasses had never owned a pair before
- 95% of respondents who received glasses said they found them “very” or “somewhat” useful.
This initiative was inspired in part by Honest Tea co-founder & TeaEO Seth Goldman's visits remote tea estates in India where he saw firsthand the challenges of providing quality health care services. Recognizing the clear benefits of Fair Trade premiums, but wanting to do more, he brought VisionSpring and Fair Trade USA together to provide eye exams and glasses to the Tonganagaon Tea Estate community.
“As a company with a commitment to honest and direct relationships with our ingredients, we strive to build the same kind of relationships with the people that grow them,” said Goldman. “Our Fair Trade premiums were benefiting our supplier communities through loan programs and other projects but we wanted to see if we could direct our resources toward one focused program in one community. Helping people gain their sight, whether children or seniors, can help them lead more economically and personally satisfying lives Although our funds this year paid for eye exams and spectacles, it is really a long-term investment to make our suppliers more economically self-sufficient.”
Honest Tea introduced the first ready-to-drink, Fair Trade Certified™ organic bottled tea in 2003, and through 2013, it has purchased over 1.6 million lbs of Fair Trade Certified™ teas and herbs and paid over $550,000 in premiums that have been invested back into improving the communities where it sources.
This program illustrates how partnerships between business and NGOs can strengthen agricultural supply chains in ways that benefit businesses and farmers.
About Fair Trade USA
Fair Trade USA, a nonprofit organization, is the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in North America. Fair Trade USA audits and certifies transactions throughout the supply chain to ensure that farmers and workers earn a better income, work in safe conditions, protect the environment, and earn additional premiums to empower and improve their communities for generations to come. Fair Trade USA also provides farming communities with access to tools, trainings and resources; engages consumers; and helps companies respond to increasing consumer demand for Fair Trade products. Visit FairTradeCertified.org for more information.
About Honest® TEA
Honest Tea seeks to create and promote great-tasting, healthier, organic beverages and extend economic opportunities to communities in need. Founded in 1998 in Bethesda, MD, Honest Tea is the nation's top-selling organic bottled tea company specializing in beverages that are Just a Tad Sweet®. Honest Tea’s product lines include: ready-to-drink bottled teas, Honest® Ade and Honest® Kids organic thirst quenchers, Honest® Freshly Brewed iced tea, and Honest® Fizz naturally sweetened zero calorie sodas. All tea, juice drinks and kids varieties are USDA Organic and all tea varieties are Fair Trade Certified™. In addition to being recognized by the United States Healthful Food Council for helping change the food landscape by providing options that are healthier for both the body and the planet, Honest Tea is a multi-year winner of awards from the Alliance for Workplace Excellence and a Montgomery County, MD Certified Green Business. Honest Tea has won Men’s Health “Best Bottled Tea” for six years and has been included in Women’s Health magazine’s “125 Best Packaged Foods for Women” three years in a row. Honest Tea is an independent operating unit of The Coca-Cola Company. For more information: www.honesttea.com.
VisionSpring's mission is to ensure affordable access to eyewear, everywhere. For many in the developing world, the lack of access to affordable eyeglasses leads to the unnecessary loss of educational and employment opportunities. Founded in 2001 by Dr. Jordan Kassalow, VisionSpring addresses a critical need by providing access to high-quality, affordable, and culturally appropriate optical goods and services for those earning between $1-$4 a day. VisionSpring has grown into a global social enterprise that has reached more than 1.6 million individuals with reading and distance vision glasses. It has been recognized by the Skoll Foundation, the Aspen Institute, the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, and the World Bank. Dr. Kassalow is one of the Schwab Foundation's 2012 Global Social Entrepreneurs of the Year, the inaugural winner of the John P. McNulty Prize, and was named as one of the Impact 30 by Forbes Magazine. Visit VisionSpring.org to learn more.
About Good World Solutions
Good World Solutions, the nonprofit social enterprise behind Labor Link, develops innovative technology solutions to serve millions of vulnerable workers and farmers in global supply chains. The award-winning Labor Link platform has reached over 95,000 workers in 12 countries, giving voice to farmers and workers, delivering real-time data to socially responsible companies, and increasing transparency in supply chains for popular consumer products. Labor Link has been recognized by the Classy Awards, Ashoka Changemakers, the GSMA Global Mobile Awards, Clinton Global Initiative and the Global Social Benefit Incubator at Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society.