Sargasso Blog

Taking the Side of Small Producers

Taking the Side of Small Producers

Business Ethics

Our small business began with the idea of supporting small farmers and sustainable production in the Americas and the developing world. Because of this commitment, we're making a slight change to the base of our Sargasso Botanica soap and wanted to share the news and the explanation with you. 

When I started making soap in 2010, the furore over palm oil was mainly over saving orangutan habitat and the Southeast Asian rainforest. I chose then to use sustainably sourced, RSPO-certified palm oil in my soap base because it's a great ingredient for creating long-lasting bars, it's cost-effective, and because I had the assurance of the RSPO that the farmers in Colombia (yes, South America) who supply my oil were complying with environmental and business regulations and working to preserve the rainforest in their part of the world.

However, after's latest brief, "Palm Oil Commitments Broken: Global Brands Linked to Massive Deforestation," it's clear that the RSPO can't keep multinationals like Mars, Nestle, Unilever and PepsiCo in check. To be completely fair to the RSPO, I'm not sure who could. Mass consumerism is a powerful lobby. Not everyone cares where their food or stuff comes from as long as it's cheap, so buyer behaviour enables a very dangerous power grab in resource-rich countries that provide ingredients and labour for our favourite food, clothes, and so on.

This is nothing new. The demand for sugar a few centuries ago led to the creation of the Caribbean region as we know it today. Caribbean sugar cane production has a similar history as the palm oil controversy. It engendered the African slave trade, European wealth from unchecked capitalism, and, as a consequence, the multi-generational poverty and disenfranchisement of our own resources that has become the endemic economic condition throughout the Caribbean region. The same can and will happen in Southeast Asia without the responsible control of the palm oil market.

So Here's the Deal

Back to the soap story. When the beautiful new Sargasso Botanica soap bar goes into production next month, I won't start tagging my product line with the #palm-free bandwagon. While these kinds of moves will allow us to feel better about our personal choices, they won't change the ways of this world.

Fact: Accounting for more than 30% of the vegetable oil traded globally, palm oil use and production will not ever be eradicated. If eradicated, it will be replaced with another crop that will certainly be grown in a developing country, exploiting a different set of poor people and for the benefit of multinationals and its investors and customers who can continue to buy goods cheaply.

That's right. There are small farmers producing palm oil now on their own who are complying with the rules and taking care of the forest. In our haste to save orang-utans and rainforest, it would be good to not deprive them of their hard-won livelihood. While I can switch to murumuru butter and pay for the development and increased product cost, and consumers can choose a palm-free product, the farmers caught in this situation have little else to fall back on to earn a living.

"Note: Not all palm cultivation is bad. There are some examples out there of good growing practices that incorporate palm. Over the years, it’s the industrialisation of the crop which has caused the most problems." - Taken from Lush's statement on palm oil

Supporting small producers and knowing where your ingredients come from is the way to go, and this is the way Sargasso will move forward with in as an ecologically gentle way as possible. We will still have to import every single oil and butter from outside the UK, so we will not have a farm-to-workshop operation in the near future. We make up for this (hopefully) by using as little plastic as possible in our packaging, reusing the shipping materials we receive from suppliers, and continuing to pursue low-plastic use. 

I'm working on a new soap base that will use a combination of more mango seed butter (great news for your skin) and my hero ingredient murumuru butter to replace the stearic acid from palm oil that natural bar soaps need to harden and last. But murumuru is wildcrafted, meaning it's  done by hand from palms growing wild, and from the Amazon rainforest. Best of all, I can buy direct from a reputable Brazilian supplier who knows the cooperative that gathers and presses this amazingly rich ingredient from the seeds.

Learn more about why supporting small farmers and producers is the only way of saving our planet, we people, and the animals here: 

A Very Very Important P.S.

I'd just leave this as a final note here: the people in the countries producing  ingredients that trade as global commodities need our support, not our scorn. They have little choice over the work they can get, much less the things they can buy. Their governments are pressured into making horrible compromises over their natural resources because of global pressure.

Hopefully voices in the #palmfree movement can pay a bit more attention to the plight of people in the developing world. If the people can't thrive, then their animals and economies don't stand a chance!

Even Lush admits that palm oil is extremely difficult to eradicate from its supply chain. It's often a key ingredient in a formulation. If your cosmetic product contains palmitic acid or cetyl alcohol, then there's a chance it's sourced from palm or palm kernel (some of these are derived fro, coconut). We can formulate products with non-palm emulsifiers (the chemical that allows oils and water to mix and essential to any cream, lotion or water-based product), but these will cost more than twice what the palm products. So if you're going #palm-free, then you need to be prepared to pay more for your lotion, conditioner, or shampoo.

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