How Dr. Bronner’s Fair Trade Practices Empower Communities in Ghana

Last Update: September 28, 2022

What if there was a way for you, as a consumer, to support local businesses, help reduce poverty, and enable independent artisans to share their work around the world? When you shop from dedicated fair trade brands, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Authentic fair trade practices have been implemented by brands that make everything from clothing to body care products, ensuring that your purchase supports small-holder farmers and artisans in the developing world, and that these producers are being paid fairly for their goods.

To help spread the word globally, Fair World Project and its allied brands celebrate World Fair Trade Day on the second Saturday in May each year. This celebration aims to shed light on the tangible contributions fair trade supply chains can make, like creating economic opportunities for the world’s most vulnerable people, helping eliminate poverty, and reducing climate change.

Dr. Bronner's Fair Trade Program in Ghana

A fair trade business model

Dr. Bronner’s is a great example of a company that has incorporated fair trade practices directly into its business model, helping to build a more ethical and sustainable supply chain by partnering with small-holder farmers and local workers on product development, training, and restoration projects. The company has established its own fair trade projects as well as relationships with farmers and communities around the world to source fair trade and organic ingredients like coconut oil (Sri Lanka), olive oil (Palestine and Israel), and mint oil (India). An estimated 10,000 people have benefited directly from these projects.

Today, five principles guide Dr. Bronner’s fair trade practices.

1: Fair prices
Dr. Bronner’s pays its farmers fair prices to cover production costs and guarantee a profit, which protects vulnerable producers from fluctuations in the global market.

2: Progressive labor practices
Safe working conditions, living wages, and social benefits are the norm in all of the company’s production plants, and policies protecting workers from forced or child labor are strictly enforced.

3: Training
The farmers Dr. Bronner’s employs get access to on-the-job training in improving their organic practices, composting methods, and pest management techniques. With that, they get the chance to learn—and increase yields and profits, too.

4: Fair Trade Fund
Dr. Bronner’s pays a 10 percent premium to fund community development projects, such as improving sanitation and providing school supplies.

5: Sustainability
The brand aptly sums up its approach to sustainability like this: “Treat the earth like home.” To that end, Dr. Bronner’s is committed to practices—regenerative agriculture, post-consumer recycled packaging, solar energy, and water and materials recycling—that protect our natural resources.

Dr. Bronner's Fair Trade Project in Ghana

Sustainable palm oil in Ghana

For a better idea of what Dr. Bronner’s fair trade practices look like in action, consider how the company developed its own palm oil production facility for the palm oil that is used in its line of bar soaps. Made from the fruit of a tree known as the oil palm, palm oil is a crucial component because it prevents the soap from dissolving too quickly.

When the company began researching how to source the ingredient, it discovered that palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia were contributing to large-scale environmental damage. The desire to find a producer that wouldn’t harm wildlife and habitats led Dr. Bronner’s to found its sister company Serendipalm in rural East Ghana. In the town of Asuom, Dr. Bronner’s built a small-scale palm oil mill that uses traditional methods, but with modern facilities and safer equipment. The next step in the process was recruiting local farmers to convert to organic practices.

When Safianu Moro, managing director of Serendipalm, started, the factory had two steamers, two clarifiers, and two small expellers. Today, the resources have more than doubled and Serendipalm has also rebuilt the fruit cleaning section to comfortably accommodate more workers.

Serendipalm now provides livelihoods for more than 200 workers from previously unskilled women to agricultural engineers and scientists.

Since mill production began in 2008, Serendipalm has become the world’s largest fair trade and organic palm oil project in the world working exclusively with smallholder farms. It’s also the largest local employer in the area, providing livelihoods for more than 200 workers from previously unskilled women to agricultural engineers and scientists.

Serendipalm pays each of its 635 farmers fair wages, plus an organic premium for their palm fruits. Farmers also receive training to help improve soil fertility and are offered interest-free loans for additional oil palm seedlings.

Locally, Dr. Bronner’s has facilitated community development projects—like installing public toilets, establishing a maternity ward in the local health clinic, and providing mosquito nets—which have greatly improved Asuom’s local infrastructure and the quality of life for its residents.

Moro says workers call Serendipalm “the listening company” because of the respectful atmosphere cultivated among employees. “Our vision is to extend community development to several sub-communities outside the town centers, like water and sanitation projects,” he said.

This is just one example of how choosing fair trade products can help improve the lives of people and creatures around the world. The next time you go shopping, think about the ways you can buy fair trade and make a difference. Every purchase counts!

Photo credit: Dr. Bronner’s

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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