What is fair trade?
When Lush was founded in 1995, it was mainly unknown who grew or produced the items you could buy on the high street or in the supermarket. People were rightly concerned about child labour, poor working conditions and poverty. In response to this, groups around the world were establishing direct trade of certain products, like coffee, so that producers could receive a fair price and consumers could feel confident they were making a good choice. These groups grew into a global movement, which conceived the idea of ‘fair trade’. Fair trade means to trade with concern for the wellbeing of marginalised small producers, to maintain long-term relationships, make sure small farmers in developing countries can compete and thrive in the global economy.
The ‘fair trade’ idea has become formalised by different companies who certify working conditions and the fair price of goods. This can be done through the use of minimum, benchmark prices and premiums paid for raw materials. Fair trade helps create a more stable market for certified producers. In return, farmers agree to use environmentally sound farming practices, implement fair working standards and invest in their communities. This trading relationship relies not only on the payment of a fair price, but also on transparency and accountability.
There are several different certification bodies that producers can sign up to, to get fair trade accreditation for their products. The most well-known of these companies is Fairtrade International (FLO), which produces the (green and blue) ‘Fairtrade Mark’ and owns the trademark ‘Fairtrade’, but there are others such as the ‘Fair Trade Federation’ and IMO which produces the ‘Fair For Life’ certification.
Lush and fair trade
Over the last 25 years, we have consistently been re-sourcing and developing relationships with producers that are direct as feasible, in order to trust that our suppliers’ working conditions are dignified and that our prices are fair. We are really proud that we have been able to do this for many ingredients. Direct trade has proved an excellent way to ensure this.
There is no reason why our suppliers should receive unfair wages and work in poor conditions.
Companies that provide auditing and certification are a great way to find producers and show consumers that they can trust producers have been treated fairly. Lush uses many ingredients; many of which, certification companies have not focused on. This is either because our ingredients are grown locally (in a country that is not covered by the fair trade certifiers) or are not mass-produced and therefore not covered by their schemes. Currently our safe-synthetics are not covered by any fair trade scheme. So with all our materials, it is our responsibility to work very closely with our suppliers so we know exactly what we buy and how it was made. It is not always easy to do this, and takes a lot of work. It is an ongoing process. It is important for us to develop strong, trusting relationships with our suppliers. Using a label to show that someone else has checked our supply chain for a certain product can be a useful tool, but we like to see for ourselves. Some producers choose not to be certified; they might not be structured in the way required by the certification company, or they might just choose to not spend their money on certification fees. External certification needs to be the right choice for the producer; and as part of our trusting relationships we will not force suppliers to become certified.
To be able to display the logo of one of the fair trade certifiers, Lush need to become a licence holder with the individual certification body. Different certifying bodies set different thresholds for the percentage of materials in a product, for the final item to receive a fair trade label. In some cases companies specify that only fair trade materials certified under their own scheme can be used in products that carry their certification mark. Because of the variety of ingredients in each product, most final products cannot be labelled as fair trade, but our QI ingredient lists can show which materials are certified. Because Lush does not own Fairtrade International’s (FLO) trademark ‘Fairtrade’, we can only use this term for ingredients in final products which carry their mark. In our other product we call the fair trade materials certified by any group ‘Fair Trade’. Fair trade labelling began with foods, like tea and cocoa. Labelling for cosmetics is fairly recent and not all countries recognise a fair trade label for cosmetics, so these have to be labelled differently.
Where we go from here
Our aim is to nurture existing, and develop new better relationships for all our ingredients, so we can ensure no child labour, fair wages, environmental sustainability and good working conditions, as well as enforcing our no animal testing policy. Sometimes this will be with the help of certification companies, other times it will be alongside our suppliers. Through our direct trade, mutual respect, regular visits, (and now the SLush fund) we have found ways to make our partnerships stronger, making sure prices and conditions are right and fair. We are ambitious and recognise that we can improve. There is lots of work still to be done. For us this commitment demonstrates the principles of fair trade, and for us, is the only way to do business. We do believe in making effective, fresh, handmade products from the finest ingredients, therefore, we continue to buy fresh, fair and ethically.