More and more, big brands are looking toward sustainability and ethical practice when it comes to producing their products. Which is fantastic news – with the world going to hell in a hand basket most of the time, it’s nice to see the movers and shakers taking the time to look after folks that aren’t in the 1%.
The Body Shop have long had ethics and sustainability build into their corporate framework. Since the outset, in fact – the entire reason Dame Anita Roddick formed the brand in the 70’s and immediately integrated her activism into the brand.
These days, the brand is massive. But they’re still committed to caring for both the environment and humanity. We chatted to Lee Mann, International Sustainable Sourcing Manager at The Body Shop, to track the community trade sourced moringa flower in their new Body Yoghurt from start to finish.
FINDING A COMMUNITY TRADE PARTNER
The use of moringa tree ingredients at The Body Shop is a sad story made good. As Lee explained to us, back in the 90’s after the tragic Rwandan genocide which devastated the country, the government hailed moringa as a “wonder crop”, with the attitude that it would be economically viable for farmers. The issue? No consideration was given to market access, so Rwanda had loads of farmers producing moringa crops and no one to buy the product.
For us, the infrastructure, the trees were there. So we heard about this group that had come together to be a front for the farmers of Rwanda and they seemed to have a strong story. So they became our community trade partner in Rwanda, but they represent a number of farmers in the country. Our moringa is coming from around 832 farmers, and the trading partner represents them. They help to organise the farmers, help them scale up their business, assist with how they protect their soil, how they can water harvests efficiently. Then when we work directly with the trade partner, but we also visit the farmers and their families to understand what their lives are like, what the farming is like for them, what some of the difficulties they face from either producing moringa or wider societal problems like access to water. We work with them as a collective group to understand. Once we agree on fair pricing, we then look at what programs the profits or premium funds should be invested in.
ENSURING THE COMMUNITY TRADE PARTNER FITS
One issue Lee mentioned about sourcing a community trade partner is ensuring there’s longevity.
Theres no way we would go into a relationship without ensuring it’s right for not just us as a business, but also for the farmers and their families involved. If we don’t see a long-term project together, then it wouldn’t be a community trade partner. Community trade to me has a projection of minimum 3 years, because you can’t really have a positive impact in anything less than that time.
With moringa, The Body Shop foresaw at least 3 years of trade. But they also wanted to ensure that the farmers weren’t dependent on their brand for income.
What we’ve tried to avoid with all our community trade is over-dependency. We don’t want farmers or artisanal groups or co-operatives to be wholly dependent on The Body Shop business. It’s too much risk for them, and us really – I mean if there’s a harvesting issue, then we don’t have a product we can buy. Or if we decide we don’t want to sell moringa products anymore, then a farming community who is only relying on The Body Shop business is in jeopardy.
To avoid this, they ensure they’re ordering from many farmers, and giving them some form of forecast.
We try and provide an ongoing annual demand pattern. Of course it’s a bit up or a bit down, but we find it’s really useful for our partners because they can understand that The Body Shop next year might look for this much of their crop and then they don’t need to put the entire land down to that crop, they can grow fruits and vegetables for their own use or for selling in the marketplace. So we send them a forecast like “we think our order pattern is going to look like this” and then the community trade partner co-ordinates it between the farming groups.
MAKING SURE THE COMMUNITY TRADE PROVIDERS ARE LEGIT
Obviously one of the biggest issues with sourcing product from community trade partners is the fact that every country has a different set of principles when it comes to work. What if a partner engages in unethical practices, like child labour?
The Body Shop starts with their framework program, called the Sustainable Sourcing Charter.
We base how we look to engage with communities on sustainability matters using that charter. But it also outlines what the expectations are on our side. Because when you’re talking a fair trade relationship, it’s about a partnership and there are things we have to do and thing communities have to do. It’s a two way dialogue, so the charter itself is a whole set of guiding principles around human rights, no child labour – all the things that you would expect from an ethical trade program. It also has a whole environmental section, because we have to ensure the products we are buying are actively promoting biodiversity and local ecosystems, and not destroying them or using endangered species. Then there’s a whole product section where we talk about volumes, capacities, quality, does a group have a system in place to actually be an organised group of people that can trade with us. And then the last section is a set of commitments from The Body Shop to them.
They also visit the artisans and farmers constantly, checking in on their business practices. When it comes to partners that don’t comply by the Sustainable Sourcing Charter, it’s less a case of binning the partnership and more about working together toward a common goal.
I sit with the artisans, we all sit down together and have long conversations about how everyone is, what’s going on with their business, what’s going on with our business. We do a lot of sharing. And we start to explore some of the document principles. In some industries, I’ll have a look at their documents of employment – how do they comply with local labour law, what does health and safety look like. I’m very strict about health and safety, so I will do an assessment against the principles. Most of the groups will not comply with everything, and I don’t believe in “comply or die” – this is about a continuous journey of improvement, so where we find areas that maybe we’re weak or the community is weak, we develop and action plan together. We say “how can we improve this, how can we work together to get to the point of it being acceptable for everyone” and work out a plan.
Some principles are non-negotiable.
Child labour – I expect to find no child labour in my supply chains at all. It’s not acceptable. There has been one or two examples in the past, and there’s been valid reasons. Most of the time, children are employed because people need money. They can’t afford to send their kids to school, they can’t afford to lose the daily wage those children bring in. But in those cases, because we were paying a fair price for product it meant they didn’t need their kids working anymore, they didn’tt have to have their kids out of school. So you then see a community transformed from kids working to kids going to school because the family is earning the right money that they need to in agreement with us. So that’s quite a powerful thing.
GETTING THE PRODUCT INTO MANUFACTURING
Once a community trade partner has been established, the ingredient sourced then needs to make it into on-shelf products. This is a process, as Lee explained.
It took many, many months to get moringa into our products. We’re a big company, and we have the ability to do some great things with trade. But if we get it wrong, we could really be quite devastating. And on the back of what had happened to the farmers before, post-genocide, we had to be really careful that it was the right thing to do. So it took a few months of conversation around “is this the right thing, can we do it” doing all those checks and balances that we need to think about. Then there was getting the moringa through our research and innovations teams, and then samples of the final products so they could actually make sure it worked in those – there was no guarantee that was going to happen either. We have to be very careful when we develop cosmetics and toiletries that it’s developed sensibly. So there’s lots of months around testing and formulating different ingredients, lots of months around conversations.
While Lee explains that the moringa program is fairly new and the full extent of community benefit is yet to be seen, he did mention The Body Shop is already assisting the moringa farmers with access to clean water, a concern that was brought to the larger community trade partner.
However, he was quick to provide examples from longer-running community trade programmes.
We work with a women’s group who collect the babassu nut in South America, It’s an ingredient we’ve used for many years, it’s actually the hardest nut on earth. These women do wild collection, but even though it was their land the land owners wouldn’t allow them access, they could be really badly treated, and there was a lot of lobbying by groups in South America to get them access and fair treatment. We supported this lobbying for the women’s access rights to become officially recognised, and now the women are free to do their work within the forestry areas, so that’s a huge thing. But there’s other benefits we’ve introduced, like building hygiene stations, increasing their economic situation. They’ve been able to put money aside for their children. The longer terms benefits have taken time but they’ve been positive.
Overall, Lee believes community trade is the way to assist developing countries.
I see targeted trading programs generate change. In fact, they drive change. I’ve seen aid breed dependency – of course there are times when aid is necessary, but trade drives change. And it provides opportunities for people, and that’s what’s often lacking – the opportunity for work, to access education or healthcare. I’m always inspired by how people take opportunity and run with it.