Fair Trade Beauty


There’s no denying that a trip to the beauty aisle was much simpler in the days before we looked at the sustainability and social impact of our personal care products. Can you remember a time when picking out hand lotion meant searching for the best price, the prettiest package or the loveliest scent but nothing more? It wasn’t long ago. Today we’re on our way to becoming a population of label-readers, and it’s a welcome change for the environment, for our health and, most recently, for the fair treatment of producers. Read on to find out about the fair trade movement and how you can support it, one beautiful buy at a time.

Fair Trade Beauty

When the concept of fair wage sparked the beginnings of the fair trade movement over 50 years ago, the idea that it would one day translate to personal care products was incredibly distant. Nevertheless, in 2009 personal care products became the latest products to join the ranks of fair trade certified items, joining staples like coffee, cotton and chocolate. Under fair trade principles, farmers receive a minimum price for their goods that corresponds to a living wage. Many farmers are otherwise forced to accept a price lower than the production cost for their goods because of market competition in pricing, but fair trade guarantees a minimum price floor. If the market price for the item becomes higher, producers receive the higher price. Fair trade principles also call for fair labor conditions, direct trade (free of middlemen), democratic organizations, investment in community development and environmental sustainability.

The fair trade beauty movement started in the UK in June 2009, with just 57 products. US beauty companies are slowly catching on to the fair trade concept, and as beauty buyers you have the potential to strengthen the movement. What makes a beauty product ‘fair trade?’ A beauty product marked with a fair trade label (US certification is done by TransFair USA) symbolizes that all ingredients possible were sourced from fair trade farms, that the producers of the ingredients were paid a living wage, that the products were made in an environmentally sustainable manner, and that they were not made using child labor or other forms of exploitation.

Can including one or two fair trade ingredients in a beauty product really make an impact? The answer here relates to the sheer volume of consumption of beauty commodities, such as those mentioned below, that are consumed each year. A 2007 survey found that over 50% of the beauty products sold around the world could contain fair trade ingredients. With billions of products and millions of tons of ingredients used each year, choosing a fair trade in one product line has the potential to effect a marked change not to mention make a strong statement about ethical and social values.

The most common fair trade beauty ingredients, which benefit farming communities in Africa, Asia and South America, include:
Shea butter
Cocoa butter
Brazil nut oil

That beauty products first gained fair trade certification in 2009 is not to say that some companies haven’t had fair trade principles on their agendas, in one way of another, for far longer. In fact, many companies continue to seek out ethical producers of their own accord but may not opt to be fair trade certified. For example The Body Shop has long subscribed to ‘community trade’ initiatives, while many Aveda products are recognized for their ‘cradle to cradle’ production. Neither company has fair trade certification. Other longtime producers that mirror fair trade principles, like Weleda, have decided to seek the fair trade label.

When choosing fair trade beauty products, natural and organic beauty users should take care to read the ingredients, as you would with any product. Fair trade is not synonymous with organic, and the fair trade certification provides no guarantee that other ingredients in a product meet your standards. According to TransFair USA, “Fair trade farmers are more likely to use sustainable, traditional growing methods rather than apply (expensive) agrochemicals, and producer groups frequently use fair trade revenues to train members in environmentally sustainable farming practices and to finance the cost of organic certification.” Of course it’s always best to look carefully.

Locating fair trade beauty products in your local drugstore or Sephora may be a challenge in 2010, but many manufacturers are banking that interest in fair trade products will drive demand and availability. Right now, check out these companies (and products) leading the fair trade beauty movement in the US:

Dr. Bronner’s: A 60 year-old company that has long followed fair trade principles, Dr. Bronner’s now carries fair trade certification for its Organic Fair Trade Shikakai Hand and Body Soaps, which come in Lemongrass Lime, Peppermint, Tea Tree, Lavender and Baby. Hand soap $9, 12 oz; body soap $15, 24 oz.

Badger: Badger’s new Lip Tints and Shimmers (double ended, so you get two products in one), are fair trade certified and made with 94% organic ingredients. $6.50, .17 oz.

Mark: This August, Mark will launch a fair trade body care collection featuring a cleanser, lotion, cream and multi-purpose balm that include fair trade vanilla from India, cocoa butter from Peru and chamomile from Egypt.

Aura Cacia: Try Aura Cacia’s fair trade certified Aromatherapy Body Polish in Lavender, Ginger/Mint, Patchouli/Sweet Orange or Unscented. $11, 8 oz.

Anti-Body: Anti-Body offers an impressive selection of fair trade certified beauty products, like Pearl Essence Shampoo and Conditioner, made with fair trade marula oil, green tea and shea butter. Shampoo $9, 12 oz; conditioner $12, 12 oz.

Lush: Try Lush’s Fair Trade Foot Lotion, made with fair trade cocoa butter and soothing arnica oil. $21.95, 7.9 oz.

By Jolene Hart

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