Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, a family-owned company based in Vista, California, is the best-selling brand of natural soaps in the United States. Their signature Fair Trade & Organic (FTO) liquid and bar soaps, lotions and other personal care products are predominantly made with agricultural raw materials. These include fatty oils (coconut, olive, palm, hemp and jojoba oils) and essential oils (peppermint, lavender, citrus, eucalyptus and tea tree oils). In 2014, the company used over 4,000 metric tons (MT), some 9 million pounds, of these agricultural raw materials.
Since its founding in 1948, Dr. Bronner’s has made social responsibility and activism its mission. Its third-generation management, David and Mike Bronner, thus decided in 2003 to become active in managing the supply of the company’s raw materials — and the resulting social and environmental impacts. Because most of the company’s raw materials come from tropical countries, they were concerned about the harmful exposure of farmworkers to agro-chemicals. First, Dr. Bronner’s began purchasing certified organic raw materials from brokers but soon realized that the environmental, social and working conditions on the ground were not transparent and organic certification did not equal fairness.
In 2005, Dr. Bronner’s committed to sourcing all of its major raw materials from certified Fair Trade & Organic (FTO) projects – including coconut, palm and olive oils, as well as some minor ingredients. The goal was to give the company and its customers transparency along the supply chain and to positively impact their host communities in developing countries.
In 2005, however, none of their key raw materials were offered commercially as FTO. Dr. Bronner’s thus started building their own supplies and/or working closely with partner projects that share their vision. This required a massive commitment of resources — and much “learning on the job.” Starting in 2006, Dr. Bronner’s built three commercial FTO supply projects in Sri Lanka, Ghana and Kenya, all managed by local sister companies. In each case, finding the right location and, most importantly, motivated and reliable partners, carried a strong element of serendipity. This is reflected in the names of each local company and the umbrella organization, Serendiworld, LLC, a California-based company owned by the Bronner family and the majority shareholder in all Serendiworld projects.
Because claims of FTO operations must be verifiable by customers, all Serendiworld projects are routinely inspected and certified organic, according to U.S. and EU standards, and Fair Trade, under the Fair for Life program, by the respected Swiss certifier IMO.
Dr. Bronner’s has not relied only on its Serendiworld companies to supply FTO raw materials. They have also supported and worked closely with other committed FTO projects, such as Canaan Fair Trade and CADO. That, along with sales by Serendiworld projects to other select firms, has helped build a growing global network of FTO companies.
|Company||Product||Location||Output 2014 Forecast
– Metric Tons (MT)
|Serendipol (Pvt.) Ltd.||Coconut Oil||Kuliyapitiya, Sri Lanka||2,000+ MT||900 farmers
5,600 ha (~14,000 acres) organic land
|Serendipalm Co. Ltd.||Palm Oil||Asuom, Ghana||500+ MT||670 farmers
1,600 ha (~4,000 acres) organic land
|SerendiKenya Ltd.||Coconut Oil||Ukunda, Kwale District, Kenya||300+ MT||800 farmers
1,000 ha (~2,500 acres) organic land
Since 2007, the Serendiworld projects have achieved several significant impacts:
- We have demonstrated that it is possible to produce tropical raw materials in a fair and sustainable manner — and our example is finding followers.
- Converting smallholder farmers to organic practices and providing organic inputs (compost) have improved soil fertility and nutrient content, resulting in increased productivity and output — all of which means higher yields and incomes for farmers. Rather than being mutually exclusive, FTO practices have worked synergistically, each reinforcing the other.
- Our processing operations are examples of good management and offer staff opportunities to earn a living in a safe and decent environment that allows for participation, personal development and cooperation with respect.
- Each project maintains a Fair Trade fund by charging Dr. Bronner’s and other third-party customers a “Fair Trade premium” (approximately 10% of all labor and raw materials costs). Combined, all projects now raise some $350,000 annually for development projects in our host communities. A Fair Trade committee comprised of all stakeholders — farmers, workers, agricultural field officers and company management — jointly decides on how to best invest those funds.Focus areas have included health care (critical equipment for hospitals, living quarters for nurses), education (school materials and facilities), infrastructure (clean water supplies, electricity connections, environmental remediation and public toilets), and worker welfare (home improvement grants, books and supplies). Our Fair Trade projects have proven to be effective tools for empowering communities, as they allow people to plan and execute projects for which there are otherwise no funds available.
- Our commercial operations and Fair Trade projects have created jobs — we are the largest local employer in two of our host communities. They have also resulted in the development of sub-contractor and supplier networks (electricians, carpenters, etc.), spurring further job creation and small business development.
- Finally, our experience has shown that building and operating FTO projects, with a commitment to fairness and community development, is tantamount to good management.