How Lush is supporting cocoa butter farmers in the Congo

It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Lush gets luxurious fair-trade cocoa butter, while farmers earn income in a low-risk way, not threatened by violence.

By Katherine Martinko (@feistyredhair)

For Lush Cosmetics, sourcing ingredients ethically is a top priority. Not only does the company want top-notch ingredients to make high-quality products, but it also wants those ingredients to be good for both the people who use them and the people who make them. This means that Lush’s buyers travel all around the world, meeting and talking directly with the farmers, producers, and local organizations to set up fair contracts.

The search for cocoa butter is a good example of the company’s diligence. Cocoa butteris a main ingredient for Lush, used in 77 of its products. It is a key moisturizing agent, as it melts into the skin and conditions beautifully, and blends well with other natural butters. In an effort to source cocoa butter from a place that would maximally benefit from Lush’s buying power, the company has set up a new partnership with cocoa farmers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). (The company buys from additional fair-trade-certified suppliers in Uganda, Guatemala, and Colombia, though DRC is set to be its most significant supplier.)

Lush is working with the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), a non-governmental organization founded by Ben Affleck that’s striving to create economic and educative opportunities for people living in eastern Congo. The region has been wracked by warfare and poverty for the past three decades, and violent militia groups continue to harass civilians, even though the war is supposed to be over. As a result, it can be difficult for individuals to know where and how to start rebuilding their communities, as the threat of seizure by militants is always present.

Interestingly, cocoa butter is one commodity that’s considered conflict-proof. This is because it has no value until it is fermented and dried, a process that takes time and knowledge that the armed militia groups do not have. Baraka Kasali is a Congolese man who spent years studying and living in the United States before returning to DRC to work with the ECI. He saw cocoa butter as a promising low-risk option for farmers to build a sustainable and viable future and has been doing precisely that in recent years through the ECI’s Farmer Trust program.

While cocoa is commonly grown in Africa, and the DRC’s soil is perfectly suited to the crop, it was not a well-developed industry when Kasali began working on this project. The ECI website says farmers have “limited awareness of relevant good agricultural practices, and limited connection with the rest of the value chain.” Kasali now helps farmers to improve the quality of their cocoa butter and gain better access to international buyers. The cocoa butter is also appealing for its fair-trade certification from Fair For Life, a certifying body that examines the entire chain of custody, from producer to manufacturer to trader.

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