This entry continues our Big Swap series with shea butter. The Big Swap is a simple idea: for the next two weeks, swap out something you buy regularly for the Fair Trade alternative. Coffee, chocolate, cutting boards, bananas, and more. Learn more.
The Broken System
Shea butter has a rich history; the traditions of making it passed through generations of African women. It is well known as “women’s gold” because it is often the only source of income for economically marginalized women. Unfortunately, most shea butter on the market in the United States and Europe is not fairly traded meaning that the women who actually gather and hand craft the oil receive a fraction of the price.
The work involved in creating the shea butter is labor-intensive. The shea nuts are picked (in some environments, the women are at risk of scorpion or snake bites) and then the pulp has to be removed. The buts are cleaned, boiled, shelled and the seeds extracted. After the seeds are dried in the sun, the seeds are crushed, roasted and pounded. Once water is added, a paste is created which is kneaded repeatedly and beaten into a foam floats to the surface. This foam is washed until the impurities are removed. After a final boiling, the top layer is skimmed off to create the butter that is what we know as shea butter. It takes 20 to 30 hours to produce one kilogram of handcrafted shea butter. This is traded at $1 or less in the market and the laborer only receives a fraction of that dollar for 30 hours of work!
Fair Trade Shea Butter from producers like Alaffia has the power to change lives of the cooperative members. Very specifically, Alaffia was formed to help West African communities become sustaimable through the fair trade of indigenous resources, like shea. Women in West Africa have been excluded from the formal education sector which means they cannot read or write, making them less valuable as employees. However, a main component of the Alaffia Cooperative is empowerment so the women are acknowledged for their unique skills, traditions and knowledge and compensated accordingly. Alaffia pays 15-25% above market prices for shea nuts and the cooperative members receive a salary that is more than 4 times the average family income in Togo. Additionally, members receive full medical care, employment security and paid vacation.
Through direct involvement in the entire process — from gathering the wild shea nuts and crafting the butter, to distribution locally and abroad — Alaffia cooperative members receive fair and steady incomes. In addition, 10% of sales always go directly back to our community empowerment projects. The protective and emollient properties of Shea Butter are a huge benefit in skincare. Check out Alaffia’s skincare and bodycare products here.
We want to hear what you’re Swapping, why you’re Swapping, where you’re Swapping, we want to know! So share your swapping story in the comments section of this post.