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Fair Trade      

Fair Trade Shea Butter
The base of all Beautiful Curls products is Alaffia's handcrafted, certified fair trade shea butter. Like Alaffia, one goal for Beautiful Curls is to inform individuals on what fair trade is and how fair trade choices can impact communities across the globe.

Alaffia Certified Fair Trade Shea Butter

To Alaffia, fair trade means paying a fair price or wage in the local context, providing equal employment opportunities, engaging in environmental sustainable practices, providing healthy and safe working conditions, being open to public accountability, and reducing the number of middlemen between producers and consumers. We believe fair trade should be environmentally, economically and culturally sustainable and give local communities the opportunities to self empower.

What is Fair Trade? Fair Trade is a movement of individuals and organizations working to ensure that producers in poor countries receive a greater percentage of the price paid by consumers. While there are several definitions of fair trade, they all include:
  • Fair Trade Price - base price for raw ingredients or goods is adjusted higher than the open market price.
  • Price Premium - a percentage above the base fair trade price is paid into a separate account for development projects in producer communities.
  • Working Conditions - Fair Trade operators must adhere to basic human and labor rights - including the right to organize, no child labor, access to health care, and so on.
  • Environmental Stewardship - Fair Trade organizations must minimize environmental impact.

What does Fair Trade Certified mean? Fair Trade certification in an independent, neutral third party certification which verifies that an organization upholds to fair trade, social and environmental standards in their operations.

Alaffia shea butter is certified Fair for Life:Social and FairTrade by IMO - the Institute for Marketecology, one of the first and most renowned international inspection & certification agencies for organic and social (fair trade) accountability. IMO's Fair for Life certification combines strict social and fair trade standards with adaptability to local conditions. You can read more about IMO at their website, and more about the Fair for Life certification at

Why is Fair Trade of shea butter important? Unrefined shea butter is a valuable natural resource for West Africa and could be an important tool in empowering local communities. However, most shea butter on the market in the United States and Europe is not fairly traded. Without fair trade, the women who gather shea nuts and hand craft this remarkable oil receive only a tiny fraction of the final price.

It is estimated to take 20 to 30 hours of labor to produce one kilogram of handcrafted shea butter, which is traded at $1 or less in today's market. A woman making shea butter in West Africa will receive only a fraction of this price. Therefore, a person working for 30 hours, almost a week's worth of work, will not receive even a dollar for her efforts. Even if she received the whole dollar, this does not even begin to reach living wage standards.

The cost to handcraft shea butter at the Alaffia Cooperative is over two times the price of shea butter at West African ports. Why is our cost higher?
  • Nut prices - We pay 15-25% above market price for shea nuts.
  • Fair wages - Our cooperative members receive a salary that is more than 4 times the average family income in Togo.
  • Benefits - Cooperative members also receive full medical care, employment security, and one paid month of vacation each year.

Is Fair Trade certification enough? Like all programs, there are limitations to Fair Trade certification. The rules and criteria for certification are set up in the West, without an in-depth understanding of the cultural complexity of the individual communities where certification is taking place. This means that while the criteria are set up with the best intentions, they may not be as effective as they could be.

One of the largest setbacks to Fair Trade certification is the cost, which:
  • In Alaffia's case, the cost diverts money from community projects.
  • Excludes producers from gaining their own certification. In most cases, certification is "owned" or held by foreign companies (the buyers), making the farmer/producer groups in a sense indebted to the foreign organization.
  • Often means higher prices for consumers.
Fair Trade can contribute to famine situations - farmers plant cash crops with promise of higher prices at expense of subsistence farming (food crops). Then, when the market for the particular fair trade commodity goes down, or the crop fails, farmers may not able to feed their families.

Why is Alaffia Certified Fair Trade? Despite the limitations of Fair Trade certification, it does have multiple benefits for Alaffia. The three primary reasons we feel certification is important for us are:
  • One: To encourage the Fair Trade movement in skincare.
  • Two: To help West African producers, producer groups, other entrepreneurs mobilize and demand fair prices and treatment.
  • Three: To introduce West Africans to Fair Trade movement and important players (the certifiers) in the movement.

Going beyond Fair Trade Certification Since our beginning - before we could even consider certification, we have been completely committed to our communities. Alaffia was founded to empower individuals and communities through the fair trade of an indigenous, sustainable resource. This continues to be our main goal, regardless of fair trade certification. As a result, our project funding goes beyond the minimum commitment for community projects required for fair trade certification - and reaches far into Togolese communities. Read more about these projects on our empowerment page.

Furthermore, we reach true fair trade by eliminating the middleman, and therefore do not increase the price to our customers. You can see how this is possible in the simple diagrams below:

Organizational Structure of Alaffia:
Nut gatherer > Alaffia Cooperative > Alaffia USA > Consumer

Organizational Structure of a Typical Fair Trade Entity:
Small farmer > Commodity Buyer > Importer/Exporter > Ingredient Wholesaler > Manufacturer > Distributor > Consumer

Through our direct involvement in the entire process - from gathering the wild shea nuts and crafting the butter, to distribution locally and abroad - our members receive fair and steady incomes. In addition, 10% of sales always go directly back to our community empowerment projects. We believe combining fair wages and prices with community projects can lead our communities out of poverty and make our world a healthier place.
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