Going Beyond Fair Trade

My work with Shea Radiance gives me the opportunity to solve beauty problems while economically enhancing the lives of the women in our supply chain. In West Africa, Shea butter is called Women’s Gold, because the proceeds from the sale of Shea butter help women feed, clothe and educate their children. We source Shea butter, our key ingredient, directly from women run cooperatives. As a business, we succeed when we provide the best beauty solutions to our customers, and their loyalty allows us to continue doing business with shea producing communities.


When people learn about our supply chain they ask why our products are not certified Fair Trade. The truth is that the Fair Trade process is not a great fit for every business. While the concept of Fair Trade is noble, the execution and the benefits to those it’s aimed to support are less obvious. These barriers became evident as I sat through multiple sessions and spoke with attendees at the 2016 Global Shea Conference in Accra.

In order for a company or brand to qualify for Fair Trade certification, it must purchase a certain minimum and pay a premium above the market price from a Fair Trade certified coop or producer group. Unfortunately some buyers stick with the barest minimum and in so doing do not generate the types of volumes that truly bring value to the producer groups. It is more beneficial for a producer to sell 1,000 pounds of shea at a $1 profit ($1,000) per pound than to sell 100 pounds at a premium of $1.50 per pound and earn less (figures are hypothetical).

Our Supply Chain Partners at the Naasakle Factory in Damongo, Northern Ghana

The process of obtaining certification is a burden for many producer groups. The cost of certification can run from $10,000 to $15,000. Many times, the coops do not know how to access the financing to help pay for the certification. Another problem coops face is that they still struggle to find stable buyers with or without certification. The biggest challenge we heard during the 2016 Conference was the lack of access to market which impacts their ability to earn more.

Beyond Fair Trade

Increasing access to market for Women Shea Producers is the primary reason we attend events like, Natural Products Expo West. If we provide products the market wants and we are able to get our Shea Butter into distribution across America, we are providing access to market and much needed volumes for Shea Butter producers.

We have chosen a business model that is based on having authentic engagement to bring about ongoing sustainable change. We want to be directly involved in projects that positively impact the lives of those in our supply chain, by focusing on activities that help women feed, clothe and educate their children. How amazing is it to have the opportunity to walk in the shoes of shea producers and find solutions to improve their work conditions? In reality, these activities are not typically categorized as fair trade.

Over 16,000,000 women make their livelihood from Shea production. Every shea fruit that falls from the tree is hand picked by an African woman. She does this at the risk of snakebites and back pains, such injuries can be devastating to the family income. One of the ways we support women is to make sure that they are physically safe as they go about their business. Read more about our 2016 Health & Safety Project

At Shea Radiance we want to be known for rolling up our sleeves and working with the women who are the heartbeat of our business. We want to be involved in ongoing engagement to see incremental improvements in their lives and families. We feel our practices are a true expression of helping make the world a better place, and this goes beyond “fair trade.”


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