Fairtrade in the cosmetics industry: a relatively slow uptake

By Leah Armstrong

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fair trade

Fairtrade has been part of the consumer vocabulary for a long time, particularly relating to food products, but the standard has only recently become popular in the cosmetics industry.

But, what has caused this delay and how are cosmetics companies adapting to the standard?

According to Amarjit Sahota, Research Director of Organic Monitor, cosmetics companies have been relatively slow to meet the standards of Fairtrade - the leading certification for ethically traded goods created by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO) (other certification systems exist) - because it was initially set up to improve trading partnerships with crop producers conventionally used for the food industry.

Mr Sahota stated that the initial focus for fair trade was on crops produced in the Southern Hemisphere, such as bananas and coffee, to be sold in the Northern Hemisphere. It has taken time for the FLO, to recognise the commitment a number of brands were already making to the social and ethical principles behind Fairtrade.

He explained that there was a period of catch-up for Fairtrade to recognise the endeavours of cosmetics companies who were working hard to trade fairly. For example, he stated that the Divisionary Soap Company in the UK has been producing soap to a fair trade standard since 2005, but only received the logo on their product with the establishment of Fair Trade Foundation UK last year.

Organic Trend brings new ingredients

The significant breakthrough for the proliferation of Fairtrade products in the cosmetics industry came with the boom in natural and organic ingredients.

With this, many food ingredients, such as coconut oil, began to be used in the formulation of cosmetics. Therefore, the demand for a certification body that recognised the use of these naturally and often ethically sourced ingredients became more acute.

The recognition of ingredients such as cocoa butter allowed the UK brand Lush to receive certification for their Fairtrade Foot Lotion. Other commonly sourced Fairtrade ingredients for cosmetics include shea butter, coconut oil and olive oil.

More unusually, cosmetics company Afriteaque has received certification from Fair Trade South Africa for its use of the active ingredient Rooibos, which is said to have anti-aging qualities. This ingredient is most commonly consumed in the UK in caffeine-free tea.

A spokesperson for the company told Cosmetics Design, ‘We are proud to be the first range of Rooibos skincare products anywhere in the world that contains FLO certified Rooibos and believe that 20 years after the end of the Apartheid, brands like ours, can make all the difference to local farmers in South Africa’.

A growing list of certified ingredients

Although Mr Sahota admitted that it had at times been frustrating for the cosmetics industry to wait for Fairtrade to recognise its use of ethically sourced ingredients, he remained positive for future development in this area.

He stated that there was potential for the FLO to incorporate lavender oil and jasmine oil under the certification system, making it possible for many more brands to achieve the Fairtrade logo.

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