Coffee Rhetoric: Shea Butter Exploitation

July 06, 2011

Shea Butter Exploitation

I write about the myriad of topics as I see fit on Coffee Rhetoric. Many of those posts may feature local people, places, and things I'm stoked about introducing readers to, issues having to do with race and gender, my lackluster dating life, and vanity. Basically hot-topic issues that are important to the Committee of Me, Myself, and I. That being said, I've written a few posts about my obsession with relatively old-school DIY beauty regimens and moisturizing with oils and butters... especially raw Shea Butter. 
Today, I read an interesting article on The Atlanta Post's site, detailing how Shea Butter production is a multi-million dollar industry that virtually never trickles down to the women who harvest the Shea nut, subsequently making it into the butter many of us swear by and that many cosmetic and hair care companies use in their products. 
Despite so called Fair Trade methods of exporting Shea Butter, the women of sub-Saharan Africa still live in poverty... virtually never seeing a dime for their labor. Fortunately ethical  cooperatives and businesses such as Shea Yeleen and Shea Butter Cottage (based in Sonning, Reading UK) help African countries such as Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Mali to empower women and teach them the actual value of their hard work.  
I'm an avid user of unrefined Shea Butter, that I usually get from a distributor or vendor. The fact that many so-called Fair Trade NGO's aren't doing the ethical work to help women in Africa earn a fair wage for their work is disheartening and definitely will prompt me to be more mindful of how I acquire the product. I think folks should also do a little research (beyond "old wives tales" as stated in the article) before using Shea - (if they've never used the product save for the filtered, unscented version sold for a grip at L'occitane En Provence) - especially unrefined Shea Butter, to ensure they aren't getting swindled and being sold a rancid product. I think it's also beneficial to know the difference (although they work similarly) between actual, unrefined Shea Butter and Kpangnan (also called African) butter--> which is the yellow butter most commonly sold and marketed in the U.S. as being from the Karite tree. And is best explained in this video, in case anyone is as intrigued and obsessed with the production of African and Shea butters as I am...  In any event, I'm a firm believer in women in sub-Saharan Africa being fairly compensated for their hard work and not being exploited by greedy exporters. 

Read the Atlanta Post article HERE