New direction for natural cosmetics

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 October, 2009, 12:00am

Organic and natural cosmetics are riding on a wave of popularity and, in the next logical step, fair trade may take the beauty industry in a new direction.

Fair trade was once the domain of a select group of food and drinks brands but, with rising awareness of environmental and social issues, consumer goods companies are coming under pressure from customers and non-governmental organisations to be greener, cleaner and fairer.

A growing number of beauty brands are laying claim to organic products untouched by chemicals and, in the latest move towards a more socially responsible world, some are assimilating fair trade into their business, collaborating with small communities across the globe, from the depths of the Ecuadorian jungle to the coasts of Africa.

According to a report published by the Organic Monitor last year, cosmetics companies are increasingly focusing on ethical sourcing and sustainability with brands adopting a natural and organic approach leading the way. The report suggests that growing consumer interest in fair trade goods is stimulating demand for fair trade products, and that some companies are launching certified fair trade products while others are adopting fair trade practices.

The Fairtrade Foundation is the British initiative of the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International, the organisation responsible for establishing the Fairtrade Mark and setting standards for products such as food and drinks and now cosmetics. The certification is a consumer guarantee that suppliers receive a fair wage for their produce. The Fairtrade Foundation announced in June that more than 50 beauty products by brands such as Lush, Neal's Yard Remedies and Boots, had been certified with the Fairtrade Mark.

The certification applies to individual beauty products rather than companies. Each ingredient which goes into a product, such as sugar, olive oil or cocoa butter, has its own fair-trade standard as defined by fair-trade labelling organisations and the group producing the raw ingredient must be certified by the organisation.

Products carrying the mark must contain at least one Fairtrade certified ingredient, or a minimum of 2 per cent of Fairtrade ingredients in 'wash off' products and a minimum of 5 per cent in 'leave on' products. Companies must also commit to fair trade by establishing proactive trading relationships with their suppliers.

Fairtrade Foundation press and public relations manager Martine Julseth says the partnerships can take on different forms, such as providing financial support to improve the producer's business or community projects, technical support such as market access, or the use of expertise, to help producers develop products for their local market. 'Through the trading partnership plan, companies and producers will benefit from the links and relationship built up with one another, helping to empower and develop each other's business,' Julseth says.

The Fair Trade Foot Lotion by British brand Lush was one of the products to receive the Fairtrade Mark this summer. The lotion contains organic cocoa butter sourced from a co-operative of small-scale farmers called Conacado (the National Confederation of Dominican Cocoa Producers) in the Dominican Republic.

The trading partnership between the two parties includes an agreement that Lush will study the feasibility of a cocoa butter deodorisation plant in the Dominican Republic with both parties to agree on the next steps after the report is ready.

Lush public relations manager Karen Huxley says the company has always traded fairly with its suppliers because it believes it is the only way to do business. She says that while the certification formalises Lush's support for fair trade, it does not want to limit itself to dealing only with the Fairtrade Foundation. Working with community projects, independent farmers and women's co-operatives globally is part of its overall plan.

'We respect the diverse cultures and lifestyles of the people who grow, process and produce these ingredients for us,' she says, adding that Lush always tries to learn their skills, hear their stories and listen to the issues they face in producing ingredients for Lush.

The company's ethical buying team visits its suppliers, 'to ensure fair conditions for workers and that the money is going to the right people', Huxley says. The buying team must also ensure the company's partnerships have a positive effect on the communities and the environment which supplies its ingredients.

As an example, in Indonesia, Lush has researched the negative effects that palm oil plantations have on the environment. It is spearheading a campaign to stop the use of palm oil and has removed palm oil from its soap base and from glycerine, replacing it with coconut oil sourced from the Hinako islands in Indonesia.

Fair trade practice in the beauty industry is not limited to certification standards. The Body Shop is a pioneer in ethical skin care and set up its Community Trade programme more than 20 years ago, which allows the company to respond to its demand for ingredients and accessories in a fair way.

Nicky Tracey, brand and values director of The Body Shop (International) for Asia-Pacific, says that the aim of the programme is to work with marginalised communities or individuals - those who live on the edges of society for reasons of race, gender, politics, geography or climate - to create fair pay for work in fair conditions.

'Through the programme we use our demand as a lever for social change, buying a range of ingredients, gifts and accessories from marginalised communities around the world,' Tracey says.

The programme gives The Body Shop access to a global network of professionals and their trades, cultures, traditions and crafts, Tracey says. 'These experts know how to craft the best from nature. In exchange for the high-quality ingredients and handicrafts they produce, [these professionals] are rewarded with a long-term relationship based on the very fundamentals of fair trade.'

She says many of the company's suppliers choose to work towards accreditation from bodies including those in fair trade. 'They work with local non-government organisations who are experts in local conditions, cultures and traditions. We wholly support this as a way for our suppliers to access more markets and diversify their customer base,' she says, adding that the trade in ingredients, gifts and accessories through the years with its Community Trade suppliers 'has truly made a difference to their communities'.

The brand's customers also benefit from the Community Trade stamp which assures top-quality products and guarantees that the suppliers receive a stable, living wage which allows them to build a stronger future for themselves, their families and their communities, Tracey says.

The Body Shop chooses not to have its products officially certified as fair trade but fully supports those initiatives, according to Tracey. 'The Body Shop pioneered its own approach in the cosmetics industry whereas the Fairtrade Mark found its initial success in commodity foodstuffs. There are differences and similarities in approach but we all have the same end in sight - that of trade justice.'

Since the L'Oreal Group bought The Body Shop three years ago, the Community Trade programme has grown to include new ingredients and new suppliers, according to Tracey. They include organic virgin coconut oil from a community in Samoa and, since last year, organic sugar cane sourced from a community of farmers in Ecuador which is fermented to provide the alcohol for the brand's newest fragrance, Love Etc.

The Body Shop is also working with its parent company to source Community Trade ingredients for use in L'Oreal products, Tracey says.

Clarins is also an early pioneer of corporate responsibility and its fair trade practices, which include improving the living conditions in communities which supply its ingredients, have been in place since 1985.

In Madagascar, for example, the harvest of ambiaty and centella asiatica, and the extraction of katafray bark - an ingredient exclusive to Clarins - supports more than 2,500 families. Five per cent of income received by Clarins' suppliers for those ingredients is put back into community projects such as building schools and supplying drinking water to villagers. Clarins says the company takes all areas of responsible development into account, from the benefit of the plants to the local community where they are grown.

Behind the scenes

Fair trade organisations

The World Trade Fair Organisation (WTFO) acts as a guardian of fair trade values and its member companies range from educational institutions to financial companies that work with marginalised and disadvantaged groups to 'help them overcome the serious barriers they face in finding markets'. The WTFO logo is used to brand organisations - rather than products - which are 100 per cent committed to fair trade standards, including working conditions, wages and the environment. Members carrying the logo are monitored by the WTFO to ensure they follow its principles of fair trade.


Ecocert is a control and certification body whose main objective is to promote organic products by certifying companies and raw materials in agricultural, food and non-food sectors. Fair trade certification guarantees minimum prices and producer support, and organic agricultural practices.

Trade fair brands

The Body Shop


Bubble & Balm

Neal's Yard Remedies

Essential Care


Pangea Organics