It’s all about the ingredients

August 26, 2010

Well, ingredients and a smidge of skill. But, the ingredients are one of the main reasons that I’m making soap . . .

I’ve been re-evaluating all the ingredients that I use in my soap. After trying time and again to make the ethically produced unrefined palm kernel oil work (from Togo in west Africa), I just couldn’t get it right. You can read about that here and here. There are “organic Fair Trade” palm oil companies working in Brazil- but frankly, I’m skeptical of palm oil made in that region. And, the main company that I found there is also involved in biofuel, which makes me suspicious.

So, I’m making soap without palm oil. So far, so good. I’ve gotten some really nice bars. We’ll see how they do in testing. At this point, I’m using only olive oil, coconut oil and shea butter as my fats.

I’m very comfortable with Canaan Fair Trade olive oil. It’s organic, and they’re doing good things in their community.

I also think that Agbanga Karite is doing great things in terms of addressing poverty in Togo. They are not certified organic, but they state that they use “organic practices”. I’ve got an e-mail out to them figure out exactly what that means.

And then there’s coconut oil.

One of the problems in Fair Trade (I’ll be writing about this topic soon) is that when your product is labeled “Fair Trade”, you can charge a premium for it. Because of that, I have to be super careful as I’m evaluating suppliers. Are they truly honoring the spirit of Fair Trade? Or, are they just using the term in order to charge a higher price? I’m usually quite skeptical when I see a new producer. Are they truly paying their workers fairly? Are they doing anything about education and healthcare in their communities? Are they addressing the needs of women (and thus their families)?

Back to coconut oil. I’m having trouble finding a supplier. I’ve found a company that sells organic, Fair Trade coconut oil, but there’s just something in my gut that doesn’t feel right. Here’s the crux of my gut check- is addressing poverty (or other issues such as human trafficking) via Fair Trade entwined in a company’s DNA? The company that I’m looking at has been in existence since 2007, but they just started their Fair Trade initiative in 2009. It almost feels like a marketing campaign. I’m traversing the knife edge of being discerning without being judgmental. Wanting to give companies a chance to “come to Jesus”, as it were. But, in my gut, I’m a bit suspicious of companies that join the Fair Trade movement as an after thought.

So, I’m looking for help. Do you have a great organic Fair Trade coconut oil to recommend?

As a post script, I wrote to Canaan Fair Trade to ask them about their micro loans, and I just heard back from them. I’m suspicious of micro loans because of Kiva’s habit of partnering with banks that charge exorbitant interest rates. Thus, my skepticism in backing companies that use micro loans. Any way, I was so pleased to hear that Canaan Fair Trade charges no interest. They also support the women who take out their loans with training- and then they market their product at the end. To me, this seems like a meaningful way to address poverty.


4 Responses to “It’s all about the ingredients”

  1. Greetings,
    I just read about you in an article (SF Chronicle?) my parents sent to me here in Colorado, where I raise chickens and lots of food in my backyard.
    I appreciate you taking the time to research the origins of the oils you use in your soaps. That’s an extra step for a busy mom, kudos to you!

  2. Katie Says:

    Hi there,

    I came across your blog while searching for the environmental impacts of both palm oil and coconut oil. While there is a ton of information on Palm oil, I have not found much on the issues related to coconut oil. I began making soap earlier this year, and was told never to use palm oil. But what about coconut oil?

    Thank you for your recommendations on particular oil suppliers. I am looking further into where my ingredients come from and how they are produced as well.

    Are you willing to explain more about these “microloans”?

  3. Robin Johnson Simpson Says:

    My friend Wanjiru has a post about this on her blog- this post explains it pretty well. Kiva charges an average interest rate of just over 38%. They also allow those taking a loan to borrow an average of 53% of their per capita income. This sets up a situation where it’s likely that those taking out loans will wind up worse than they started. Contrast that to Canaan Fair Trade, who issues 0% micro loans to women in Palestine trying to enter the olive oil trade. Canaan Fair Trade also markets the women’s products for them. To me, this model is a meaningful step in alleviating poverty, whereas Kiva’s model best serves the loaning institution, not those taking out a loan. Here’s Wanjiru’s post:

  4. […] Fair Trade, organic ingredients proved to be very difficult.  You can read more about that here, here and here.  So, how does this relate?  It’s this:  something has to […]

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