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Fair Trade Palm Oil From Ghana: The Difference Fair Trade Makes

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Alamy
Alamy

Palm oil is an ingredient in half of all products sold in grocery stores throughout the United States. To supply the massive demand for this ostensibly cheap oil, rainforests from Brazil to Borneo are destroyed by industrial clear-cutting and strategic burning, to create arable land for homogenized palm tree plantations. Often, these plantations in developing tropical nations are run by multi-national corporations that exploit farmers and laborers, trample native land rights, and do nothing to improve workers' communities or standard of living. In Borneo, this practice of industrial palm oil production is destroying the last remaining natural orangutan habitats. Around the world, the slash-and-burn approach to natural resources is destroying precious ecosystems to the point of mass extinction. Ultimately, this system is bound to collapse.

Although we also use palm oil as an ingredient in Dr. Bronner's Magic Bar Soaps, this could not be and is not our story. Skeptics wrongly maintained that sustainable and fair trade palm oil couldn't be done. Our work in Ghana proves these assumptions wrong. All major commodity crops can be farmed sustainably or not. For example, rainforest is burned to make way for soy plantations in Brazil for cattle feed.

Via Dr. Bronner's sister company Serendipalm, we work directly with farmers and producers in Asuom, Ghana, where no rainforests are destroyed for palm plantations. We work with our Ghanaian partners to improve soil quality and yields through organic farming practices; respect and promote endemic species' habitats; ensure safe working conditions; and pay fair wages. No exploitive middle men skim the profits from farmers' coffers. Dr. Bronner's also pays 10 percent into a Fair Trade fund, which is used for community development projects in the area. So far, these Fair Trade funds have helped to provide four deep water wells, living quarters for nurses at a local hospital, and school supplies for local children.

We have created an animated video, titled "Dr. Bronner's Fair Trade Palm Oil: Animated," to explain how our fair trade and organic palm oil operation works and what sets ours apart from a typical supply chain.

Our friends and partners in Ghana have identified Malaria prevention as the top priority of their next community project. To help the community in Asuom reach their goal, Dr. Bronner's is launching a crowdfunding campaign this week to raise $25,000 to provide 5,000 bed nets to families in need. Dr. Bronner's plans to match every dollar raised, to generate a minimum total of at least $50,000 toward this project.

Malaria is spread by a single mosquito bite, and causes extensive pain and suffering that prevents people from earning a living. In the district surrounding Asuom, an estimated 40 percent of the population is infected with malaria each year and a quarter of cases affect children under the age of 5. Bed nets offer a simple and cost-effective solution. They create a protective barrier against often-deadly mosquito bites and allow families to sleep safely. Bed nets are known to reduce malaria transmissions by 80 to 90 percent in areas with high net coverage.

Every $10 donated to this cause will allow us to provide a bed net to a family at risk. In return for donations we have created a special bar of soap with a commemorative label. This is our way of saying thank you. Ultimately, we want to raise more awareness on fair trade, and catalyze a movement of conscious consumers who are dedicated to making all trade fair.

By asking ourselves critical questions about where ingredients like palm oil come from and under what conditions they are produced, we transcend the pattern of passive exploitative consumption that is destroying communities and ecosytems around the world. We become conscious active consumers with the power to shape a more sustainable and fair world economy. Choosing to purchase fair trade and organic products is a crucial way you can promote and support models of production that are consistent with your personal ethics.

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps practices an ethos of respect and unity which informs all business decisions, such as our commitment to source all our major ingredients from fair trade sources. The more than 30,000 words on our liquid soap label are the culmination of my grandfather, Emanuel Bronner's "All-One!" philosophy, and can be summed up in two sentences:

1. "Constructive Capitalism is where you share the profit with the workers and the earth from which you made it!"

2. "We are all brothers and sisters and we should take care of each other and spaceship earth!"

If you agree with these principles and want to help us in our current work, please consider making a donation to provide life-saving bed nets in Asuom, Ghana, and share our story with your friends and loved ones.

To watch the video and to see more information on the campaign, please check out: www.indiegogo.com/drbronners.

All-One!