Short documentary explores Dr. Bronner's quest for fair trade, organic coconut oil

shelled coconuts in Sri Lanka
© Dr. Bronner

When this famous soap company wanted a more ethical source for coconut oil, there were no options available, so it decided to create its own. A sister company called Serendipol in Sri Lanka was born.

Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soap is hard to miss with its colorful labels and quirky mission statement that covers the entire bottle from top to bottom. That mission statement is what president Michael Bronner, grandson of founder Emanuel Bronner, describes as “a principle of uniting the whole human race” – not exactly narrow, he says with a chuckle.

Amusing though the label may seem while reading it in the shower, the company does take its mission statement seriously. This becomes evident when you learn about the work Dr. Bronner’s has done to develop fair trade and organic coconut oil production in Sri Lanka.

Back in 2006, the company realized it needed a reliable and more ethical source for coconut oil, an ingredient used in soap-making. At the same time, Sri Lanka was struggling to recover after the devastating tsunami of 2004 that killed more than 30,000 people. In what turned out to be a mutually beneficial business move, Dr. Bronner’s created a sister company called Serendipol that provides fair trade, organic virgin coconut oil to them while simultaneously benefitting the Sri Lankan farm workers, oil manufacturers, families, and communities who work with them.

“We’ve tried to take my grandfather’s philosophy and apply it to our spheres of influence. How we treat our employees; how we treat the earth from which we get our materials; how we treat the workers who make those materials – that is why we’ve gone fair trade. That is why we’ve gone organic. That all culminates in fair trade coconut oil.”

Serendipol has grown into a large coconut oil company that produces 2,600 metric tons of oil annually, made from coconuts grown by 1,200 farmers, and that number is set to double over the next two years. It has 300 employees who are paid a fair wage and given annual bonuses, medical leaves, and school costs for their children; they are provided with vocational and agricultural training. There is a community fund into which a fair trade premium is paid and, each year, some of this money is allocated toward home improvements for members of the community, as well as other larger-scale projects.

Dr. Bronner’s has just released a short 8-minute documentary about Serendipol and how the company has grown so successfully. David Bronner, CEO (which is translated as ‘Cosmic Engagement Officer’ on the film), explains in a press release why this is so special:

“Serendipol is proof-positive that organic, fair trade projects can scale to meet growing world demand, improve quality of life in their community, and do so without reliance on chemical herbicides, pesticides or GMOs. Serendipol is a blueprint for how we need to shape the future of agriculture—via systems that are regenerative, sustainable, and uphold fair practices for workers.”

Theirs is a feel-good success story that could hopefully be a model for other coconut oil producers and soap companies around the world. Something does need to change for the majority of Asian coconut growers, who are deeply frustrated by how little they make from what has become North America’s new darling commodity.

Buying fair trade is a way to ensure that farmworkers and those who work in the production facilities are paid fairly for the work they do. It is harder to source fair trade, organic coconut oil, since it is not available in most stores, but you can order directly from Dr. Bronner’s.

Tags: Cleaning | Fair Trade | Oil | Skin Care | Sri Lanka

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