What does “being committed” mean for Palais des Thés?
FXD: It means we’re responsible for everything we do, in terms of buying tea, hiring employees and human relations at Palais des Thés, in terms of what we do with the company’s profits within the context of sustainable growth that benefits everyone. Tea, and its birthplace in Asia, teaches us the value of time throughout a relationship. In Asia, time isn’t the same as in the West.
To create sustainable relations in Asia we need to embrace this approach to time. This didn’t necessarily come naturally to me, but over the years it has become clear that time in Asia is time for business and for tea. Tea is consumed sitting down, it takes time to prepare, and therefore requires a specific relationship with time. We wouldn’t change producers because their neighbour sells cheaper tea. Longstanding producers make up the bulk of our suppliers. It really takes a serious incident for us to end a relationship with a planter. We adopted the Asian way because we’ve travelled, we’ve met people and enjoyed our time there. The key is to go and visit the plantation and ask how it’s organised, how the planter lives, what makes them happy. You need to take an interest in them, listen to them, understand how they work, because there are many different business models in the world of tea. We engage in relations that are akin to friendship, we pay attention to others, we try not to constrain them by imposing too low a purchase price, we sleep as a guest in their home, we take an interest in the lives of the people who work in the tea fields, in whether or not there’s a school, in whether the plantation is likely to be handed down to the next generation, in the benefit or not of moving towards greater mechanisation, in the possibility of providing care if someone has an accident at work, and so on.
Our commitment to the planters is first and foremost to pay a fair price, to ensure they’re in a comfortable position, and to promote the quality of their work by all means available to us. By telling our customers about a Nepalese garden, we showcase it and give it real support. And we ask ourselves: if I pay the producer twice the price for his tea, will it have a knock-on effect on the quality of life in the village? We can only find out by going there regularly. It’s common sense, nothing more than that. We want to benefit the producer and not profit at the expense of others or the planet.