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Hidden Truths about Fair Trade & Shea Butter

Hidden Truths about Fair Trade & Shea Butter

Fair trade by definition:  to sell according to agreement; to sell something in compliance with a fair-trade agreement.

What is fair trade?

  • Fair trade is an organized movement that raises awareness for economic, social, & political challenges global artisans from developing countries face. These challenges prohibit artisans from expanding globally and socially due to poor working conditions & lack of pay.

Purpose of fair trade:

  1. Create opportunities by helping farmers and craftspeople who lack economic opportunity to find a market & customers for their goods. Thus generating income and gaining financial independence.
  2. Develop relationship and or trust to eliminate exploration and guarantee steady rates producers need to allot for community developments.
  3. Build capacity by effective communication & provide any assistance to strengthen community and or producer connections.
  4. Promote by raising awareness of greater justice in the global economic system.  
  5. Pay fairly & promptly by distributing equality at all time to ensure equal pay for both men & women.
  6. Safe & Empowering workplaces by eliminating discrimination & providing workplace free from any type of abuse.
  7. Right of children by disclosing involvement of minor in production
  8. Environmental stewardship
  9. Cultural Identity

Different advantages of fair trade:  
    • Market / economic based – Artisan receives fair wages based on their geographic. Average cost of living depending on demographic is low as $35 a month.
    • Social / political based – Community enhancements, medical & educational outreach


      Different types of fair trade certificate:

      • End to end process – Women cooperative gather and process to produce a finish product
      • Partial processes – Women cooperative gathers and sell quality Shea kernels to be produce via facilities outside their rural villages.  

      Fair trade organizations:

      Hidden Truths about Fair trade & Shea Butter

      Shea butter trees only grow wild in Africa. It takes up to 20 years for a tree to bear fruit and product nuts. A Shea tree matures at 45 years of age and will continue to produce nuts up to 200 years. Women using traditional techniques indigenous to African communities process the butter from this tree. It is estimated to take 20-30hrs of labor to produce one kilogram of butter. In today’s market, Shea butter is traded at $1 or less and only a fraction of that is given to the producers. Majority of the Shea butter produced in African is used for cooking, cosmetics, and the oil industry. The remainder of Shea butter is exported to various African countries and Europe. Due to scientific research and increasing demands, about 600,000 tons or more of Shea butter is produced each year and about 300,000 tons exported.

      African natives who migrated to the US brought Shea butter with them and began selling to the consumers at local flea markets and international trade shows. This is how many US consumers became aware of this great butter. Due to expensive airfare rates and international shipping cost. Africans stretch their Shea butter by adding red palm oil to old rancid Shea to re-fortify it with vitamin A & E, which gives it that bold yellow color. This is river butter but also known as “Golden Shea butter.”

       Africans began to generate modern income as many consumers became aware of Shea butter here in the US. Many African’s began to travel back to Africa, purchased large quantities of Shea, and shipped it to the US. Often times, this butter was from their rural communities and is not fairly traded nor regulated by any organization to ensure proper and safe production were used. Shea butter was then stored in a warehouse up to 5 years or more before it is all sold. To prolong the shelf life of aged butter, additives are then used. This is why they are able to sell consumers Shea butter at such a discounted rate. Example: $5 to $10 dollars for more than 2lbs of butter at your local flea markets or trade shows. This has caused a great deal of confusion in the Shea butter market and many consumers have loss interest in this butter.

       Due to vicious exploration, fair trade organizations are many global artisans & framers safe haven to ensure fair compensation & working conditions. However, it is important for buyers to understand what role a fair trade organization plays for the artisan’s or farmer. Producing Shea butter for African communities mean sustainable income & resources. Therefore, the more they are involved in the production process means higher percentage pay of the final product. There are two distinctive types of fair trade certificates for Shea production.

      Shea production 20-30hrs end-to-end process:

      1. Shea nuts up to 100lbs are gathered & carried sometimes miles to the production compound.
      2. Once gather they are separated and steamed cleaned
      3. Shea kernels are placed in the sun to dry & inspected several times
      4. Kernel are crushed, grilled slightly and grind  into a powder  
      5. Power mixed with clean water and whipped by hand from one to three hours until color changes.
      6. Shea fat rise and is collected, heated slightly and remove then filtered.
      7. Once cooled, carefully stirred to form Shea butter and poured into containers.
      8. Shea butter is ready for the market to be exported thus generating fair and steady income that brings a wealth of resources to their communities.


      Shea production partial process:

      1. Shea nuts up to 100lbs are gathered & carried sometimes miles to the organization.
      2. Large quantity and good quality Shea nuts are inspected to be fairly traded for compensation
      3. Shea nuts are exported to a facilities predominately-in Europe and now China for extracting and in most cases hexane and other chemicals may be used.
      4. China has purchased and invested in African rural land and is now producing Shea butter using their manufacturing facilities.

       As you can see, it is more favorable for women cooperative to process Shea from end to end, as it brings financial independent and social resources. The partial process excludes rural women from making higher wages that limit or eliminates their economic & social resources.


       Sustainable Training & Testing

      Fair trade organizations or small rural villages, work diligently to obtain organic certification and or sustainable production training & testing. These qualifications make their butter more marketable. However due to expensive rate. There are many varieties of Shea butter on the market today. However, you must know that not all Shea butter is created equal. The American Shea Butter Institute educates & train producers and set quality standards for Shea butter entering the US for the entire industry. Shea butter is tested and given a grade that identifies its quality. Shea butter quality can range from grade A-F along with the fluctuating prices to match. Grade A Shea can be more expensive, as it contains healing properties that is scientifically known to heal your skin. It is also free of toxins & bacteria. The other grades lack healing fractions or contain high levels of toxins including bacteria. Surprisingly, there is more grade F butter imported and sold in the US market than any other grade.



      Please support fair trade. If purchasing in bulk or wholesale below are questions to ask your supplier.

      1. What kind of fair trade certificate they hold?
      2. Which fair trade organization their certified with?
      3. You can either ask for a copy or go to that fair trade website and search for that organizations name.
        1. Please note: Many of these organization just participate and sign up with fair trade org but do not hold a certificate. There’s no guaranteed that producers are being fairly compensated.
      4. Ask for MSDS technical data sheet. This provides extracting & safety details of the Shea butter. MSDS will provide details regarding facility, extraction date, testing, and any chemical used when producing the butter. If any of above info is missing, ask supplier before purchasing.
      5. Is Shea butter process traditionally or in a facility? If facility, what country?
      6. If the supplier cannot provide the above details, I would suggest purchasing from one who can.


       fair trade Shea Butter




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