Hidden ingredients: The Body Shop's new fair trade frontier

Business Fights Poverty

Post Written by Graham Clewer, International Director of Fair and Ethical Trade at The Body Shop.

As you unwrap your favourite chocolate cookies you may be aware of the issues you’re about to tuck into. Of course, you’ll know that there’s cocoa in there, and you might know a little about that. You might also know that there’s probably more than one or two drops of palm oil in there too, and some sugar. But what else …but what about shea? Ever heard of that? And as you spray on your favourite perfume or aftershave you might be concerned about the provenance of the exotic spices that are going to get you noticed on your night out (really? are you?). You might even be concerned about the sustainability of the heavy glass bottle. Anything else? How about the alcohol content?

Shea. Alcohol. Two hidden ingredients that we at The Body Shop are taking seriously. If you know The Body Shop, chances are you’ll know about shea butter. It’s one of nature’s best moisturisers and it was one of the original ingredients to be bought through our pro-poor targeted purchasing programme, Community Fair Trade. It’s well-known in cosmetics, but shea is also used in food. It’s called “vegetable solids”, “vegetable fat”, but never “shea”. If you don’t know you’re eating it, why would you care where it comes from and how?

Same goes for alcohol, the most recent ingredient to come into the Community Fair Trade portfolio. That’s not to say that we’ve only just woken up to the potential issues in its supply…it’s just that finding an appropriate solution has taken a very long time.

It’s unlikely that shea or alcohol will ever find a nice cuddly mascot to promote them, but the issues in their supply are real. While it’s easy to promote shea in our industry due its great properties, it’s used in such low percentages in food products that it’s unlikely ever to get attention. But the vast majority of shea goes into food. With alcohol, which isn’t really that great for the skin (but is needed to carry the fragrance), it’s little wonder that few in our industry to talk about its presence in fragrances – let alone give it a window poster and global marketing campaign.

So with our oldest and newest Community Fair Trade ingredients – and those inbetween – we continue to try to find a way to give these hidden ingredients, and the even more hidden people in their supply chains, a voice. I have recently returned from Ghana, where I was visiting shea-producing villages in the Northern Region to coincide with the launch of our newest film about shea, and the inaugural meeting of the Global Shea Alliance in Accra. I have also just been to Ecuador with some of the Executive Board of The Body Shop to see first-hand the difference that trading fairly can make to sugar cane farmers and their environment high up in the Andes.

In my next post I’ll report back on what we found….!

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