This Shea Butter is produced using traditional methods from sustainably wild-harvested Shea kernels by a women's co-op in Togo, west Africa. The co-op follows traditional guidelines and is certified Fair for Life: Social and Fair Trade by IMO (the Institute for Marketecology), one of the first and most renowned international inspection and certification agencies for organic and social (fair trade) accountability.
After several requests, and trying countless samples of Shea Butter, this product is the best Shea we found, both in the quality of the product as well as the social responsibility behind it.
Possibly the most known (and loved) of all butters in the cosmetic industry, unrefined Shea Butter is a valuable natural resource for west Africa and also an invaluable tool in empowering local communities. Unfortunately, most Shea Butter on the market is not fairly traded, so consequently the women who gather the nuts and laboriously make the butter receive only a fraction of the final price. A woman making Shea butter in west Africa spends 20 to 30 hours of labor to produce just one kilogram of handcrafted Shea Butter, which is commonly traded for $1 or less. Thus, after almost a week's worth of work she will receive not even a dollar for her efforts. This is not even close to living wage standards.
The Fair Trade Certification encourages self empowerment and gender equality for women in west Africa, while preserving cultural and bio-diversities and providing fair wages and prices to small producers and farmers, thus reducing poverty and poor living conditions.
Following the Fair for Life: Social and Fair Trade by IMO guidelines, the Togo Cooperative pays up to 25% for gathered Shea nuts, and the cooperative members receive salaries 4 times higher that of the average family income in Togo. They also receive full medical care, employment security, and one paid month of vacation each year, elevating the costs to produce a kilogram of Shea butter up to 3 times the price of a non-fairly traded Shea Butter at west African ports.
While the Fair Trade certification is helping to minimize the social-economic loss of farmers/producers groups, the rules and criteria for certification are set by foreign institutions which often lack the in-depth understanding of the cultural complexity of the individual communities where certification is taking place. Despite the fact that the criteria are set with the best of intentions, they still need improvements.
One of the largest setbacks to Fair Trade certification is the cost of the Certification itself, which in most cases diverts resources that should be applied to community projects. Also, the high certification cost may make it impossible for producers to obtain the certification. In most cases, certification is "owned" or held by foreign companies that buy Shea Butter, making the farmer/producer almost beholden to the foreign organizations. Encouraging use of Fairly Traded practices for Shea Butter is the most effective way to empower Shea Butter producers in order to mobilize and demand fair prices and treatment.
Shea has been used for centuries in Africa as an anti-inflammatory healing salve, as lotion for hair and skin care, and as cooking oil. Shea Butter helps to protect skin against climate and UV damage, prevent wrinkle formation, soothe irritated and chapped skin, and moisturize the epidermis. It also induces cell regeneration and capillary circulation, thus helping to prevent and minimize stretch marks, inflammations, and scarring.
Refined Shea Butter has usually been extracted from the Shea Kernels with hexane or other petroleum solvents. The extracted oil is boiled to rid it of the toxic solvents, and then refined, bleached, and deodorized, which involves heating it to over 400 deg F. Prized by the multi-million dollar cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, the refined or ultra-refined Shea Butter widely available to the general public has been stripped of its natural scent and color, had synthetic antioxidants and chemical preservatives added in order to extend shelf life, resulting in an odorless, colorless butter which for most may be aesthetically appealing, but lacks the authentic therapeutic properties of traditional Shea Butter.
So, think twice before buying your Shea Butter. A wholesome product should be formulated with the benefit to the customer as the first priority, not profit.