A whopping 24.9 million people globally are victims of forced labor. They are people trapped in jobs into which they were coerced or deceived and cannot leave, also known as slave labor. According to the International Labour Organization, more than half of the people in these positions are women and girls, and about 64 percent of the total number is exploited in agriculture, construction, domestic work, or manufacturing. Unfortunately, the skincare and spa industries are not immune from using goods and ingredients that are farmed, gathered, or mined with forced labor. However, brands within our industry are responding to this humanitarian crisis by adopting fair trade policies, which involve buying ingredients at fair and ethical prices. That, in turn, helps to stabilize disenfranchised communities by providing workers with the opportunity to employ themselves or work in healthy environments.
This comes at a time when consumers are recognizing how their spending habits affect others around the globe. They are choosing synthetic diamonds over blood diamonds, investing in clothes over fast fashion, and spending their money with brands that respect workers’ rights. “Fair trade practices have been and always will be vital for humanity and economic growth,” says Danielle Conte, founder of Conscious Coconut. “Consumers are becoming more mindful and aware of their footprint. They want to know where their products are coming from and how they are made.”
The most contentious ingredients when it comes to fair trade and the skincare industry include cacao butter, cacao powder, coffee, and shea butter. However, other ingredients like mica, used to brighten pigments, are less spoken about, says Coco Carnese, creator of Cocos Organics. She says that mica is predominately sourced through forced labor and usually involves child labor. In an attempt to stop such practices, Cocos Organics supports fair trade around the world. “With our shea butter, we have been fortunate to source directly through Fair Tale Ghana, a company that empowers woman in Ghana to earn money to support their communities through handcrafting shea butter in the traditional way,” says Carnese. “We source coffe+e beans through Caffe Ibis which, through its fair trade wages, has been able to empower more than 800 female coffee farmers in Peru.” Mala and Mantra creates fair trade jewelry that is sold at more than 200 luxury spas, resorts, hotels, wellness centers, and boutiques worldwide. “We partner with a fair trade cooperative of women artisans in the Philippines to handcraft each and every piece of jewelry in our collections,” says founder and creator Judith Compton. “Through this partnership, we’re able to provide them with fair wages, a safe work environment, and a sustainable way to support themselves, their families, and their communities.”
It’s becoming much easier for consumers to find fair trade brands through Fair Trade USA, which lists fair trade certified companies in a range of industries from soft drinks to sporting goods. Conscious Coconut supports a policy that is part of Fair Trade USA. It not only pays farmers for their goods but also provides resources to their communities. “On top of the sale price, farmers earn an additional premium of up to $90 per metric ton of coconuts sold,” says Conte. “These funds are invested into much-needed community projects like healthcare, education, agricultural training, and business development.”
According to the Fairtrade Foundation, there are more than 1.6 million workers and farmers participating in fair trade across 75 countries. However, much of the success of fair trade lies with consumers. “I think as consumers have become aware of slave trade labor, they have demanded fair trade products by choosing to spend their money on fair trade,” says Carnese. “We as consumers have all the power to change this world for the better, by casting our vote with our dollars.”