Written: June 2007
A fair go
The Tungteiya Women’s Shea Butter Association in Northern Ghana is a group of 436 women from 11 villages who make shea butter by hand. This butter is featured in bath and bodycare products sold on store shelves around the world. In exchange for the butter and in addition to being paid a fair price, the women receive money for water pipes and wells, better housing, medical care, food and the opportunity for their children to attend secondary school. This is just one community that benefits from The Body Shop’s Community Trade initiative.
As the fair trade movement gathers momentum, consumers are becoming increasingly mindful of fair trade and its goals when purchasing products.
“Shoppers are becoming increasingly aware of the power they hold as a consumer in making a difference to people’s lives in developing countries,” says Janita Suter, PR & Marketing Manager of Lush. “A growing number of Australians are purchasing products such as fair trade coffee and chocolate, however not many people are aware that they can also make informed choices when buying skincare, haircare and lip balms for example.”
Fair trade is about more than paying producers a fair price for their work. It is about challenging unfair trading practices and giving disadvantaged communities power by helping workers gain the skills and knowledge they need to develop their business and operate in a global economy.
“A huge amount of money is used for trade each year,” says Neil Bowker, Executive Officer of the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand (FTAANZ), “and if producers in third world countries, particularly disadvantaged producers, were given a greater share of the benefits from trade, then that would be enough to lift all of them out of poverty.”
For a product to be certified as fair trade it must either feature the Fair Trade Label, administered in Australia by Fair Trade Labelling Australia New Zealand, or be sold in a store that is a member of the International Fair Trade Association (IFTA) such as Oxfam. While fair trade labelling was introduced to the UK and Europe in 1987 and North America a short time later, it only came to Australia in 2003. Since then, fair trade has experienced rapid growth in Australia, with retail sales figures growing from $146,000 in 2003 to an estimated $9 million in 2006.
Beauty brands doing their bit
Lush is one of the many beauty brands that supports fair trade. In addition to using fair trade ingredients, such as its use of cocoa butter and olive oil in its Fair Trade Foot Lotion($24.95), Lush stores and the head office in Sydney have been accepted as Fair Trade Workplaces by the FTAANZ. Lush also recently ran a campaign in conjunction with Fair Trade Fortnight (April 28 – May 13, 2007) that aimed to raise awareness about fair trade by featuring messages in store window displays and on staff t-shirts.
Suter says the company’s support for fair trade stems from the founder’s social conscience.
“The idea of purchasing fair trade raw materials to make our products extends from collective personal concerns about supporting social and environmentally sustainable practices amongst the company’s founders and this is an attitude that extends throughout Lush globally.”
Trilogy is another beauty brand that supports fair trade initiatives. The brand’s Everything Balm ($34.95) features marula oil which is harvested from a fair trade source in Africa. In addition, Trilogy has partnered with PhytoTrade Africa, a not-for-profit association that helps native African species, such as marula oil, generate long term income opportunities for disadvantaged rural producers.
“We strongly believe in ‘trade not aid’,” says Sarah Gibbs, one of Trilogy’s co-founders. “We believe that natural skincare companies have the opportunity to inspire and in some cases, lead the way in ethical consumerism and the concept of sustainable business.”
The Body Shop established its Community Trade program nearly 20 years ago and currently has agreements with 31 different community trade suppliers across 24 countries.
“The Community Trade thing is a trading relationship which benefits us as a business,” says Eloise Bishop, Values Manager at The Body Shop. “We get fantastic products that we make out of ingredients that we’re sourcing and we’re putting back into those communities so we’re going to have a long term sustainable relationship with them as we buy product from them in the future.”
African Pacific, the distributor of Nui Coconut Oil ($8), has been working extensively in the South Pacific since 1998 to help empower island communities to achieve sustainable socio-economic development. It is a founding member of the FTAANZ and has established its own charter ‘Fair Trade for a Fair Go’. In addition, African Pacific ran a Making Mothers Day Fair Campaign in conjunction with Oxfam to raise funds to invest in projects to benefit women, particularly young mothers, in the South Pacific.
The founder of African Pacific, Andreas Lombardozzi, believes business should not only be about personal goals or profit.
“I strongly believe that each generation has the responsibility to take care of our world and pass it on to the next generation in at least the same condition we found it, if not better. Although fair trade is just one aspect of improving the livelihoods of people who supply us our daily requirements to live and enjoy our lives, it is a critical one. If in our time of globalisation the people who supply us our next meal cannot feed, cloth and enjoy themselves on what we pay, what does that say for our future and the one of the coming generation?”
Setting the standards
Despite these fair trade initiatives, there are currently no beauty products that are certified by Fair Trade Labelling Australia New Zealand, which means there is no independent guarantee that those products that claim to be fair trade abide by the standards of fair trade.
For Lush, this lack of official labelling lays with the fact that Lush products contain ingredients that, according to Suter, are currently not available from certified fair trade producers. Trilogy, on the other hand, is currently looking towards gaining certification for both its Everything Balm and Rosehip Oil.
“It would be great to see fair trade go along the same lines as the organic movement and have international standards for all,” says Gibbs.
For other brands, the issue is not about whether their products qualify for certification, but whether having the label on their product is something they consider important.
“When we started in 1998, there was no fair trade and hardly any organic [production] in the South Pacific. We have to ask ourselves how these labels fit into our role and what we wish to achieve in the long term in communicating what and who we are,” says Lombardozzi. “We have our Charter Logo, Choose Cruelty Free Logo, Organic Certification Logo… are we going to place another logo on the label? In the future we have this crazy wish to have ‘no logo’, but hope that the Nui brand, in the eyes and hearts of our customer, represents all that is ethical, sustainable and fair.”
As an alternative to labelling individual products fair trade, African Pacific is looking to become a member of the IFAT next year. Certifying the organisation as a whole as fair trade avoids the need for individual labels on each product.
As for The Body Shop, it believes that its customers are well aware of the brands Community Trade work and therefore feels it doesn’t need the fair trade label to convey its message.
The official statement is: “Community Trade is our own program and we’re extremely proud of it. It’s unique in our industry and beyond…Because we run our own program we don’t need to use that fair trade mark, but we very much support what the fair trade mark stands for.”
The Body Shop’s Community Trade stamp identifies which of the ingredients in a product have been bought from a Community Trade organisation.
Regardless of whether a product is certified or not, any beauty industry initiatives that promote awareness of fair trade can only be a good thing.
As Lombardozzi puts it: “I think, in general, we all wish to do the right thing. It is, after all, human nature. If customers can find quality organic fair trade products, they will, of course, respond.”