2015 Shea Butter Convention
We all know or at least believe that shea butter is here to stay. It is regarded as the Tree of Life and I will be so bold as to say that it is for many African women. The story hasn’t been fully told of the dangers that many of these women face collecting the nuts. Here in America, we regard this butter as a luxury to our skin and hair. It’s not a fad, but a movement in America. But, sadly the picture is not so pretty for the many women who labor to bring shea butter to our market.
Did you know that the many women who produce shea butter for our usage in the US to be used as cosmetics and in European countries for confectionary chocolate, are unfairly treated? Wages are unfairly paid, resources are dismal and they lack tools to produce the shea butter. Many of these women walk long miles to collect the nut in dangerous terrain. In some regions of the Shea Belt these women risk their lives by being bitten by snakes. Some have even died. This year as I lectured at The American Shea Butter Institute’s annual convention, I became aware of a group of women who this is an absolute reality for. The economic structure for these women barely exists. You may ask yourself who’s problem is this? It’s yours and mines? Not because we have a direct hand at treating these women poorly , but when you become a silent collaborator, you are complicit in areas where you as a shea butter retailer, wholesaler, formulator and end user. What makes America great is our humanity and goodwill. Our humanity should count for something. And it should not just be for what goes on in our back yard. These sisters directly and indirectly make our lives a little more easier to live by.
Shea Butter is a huge commodity in the US now. Every major cosmetic company has jumped on the Shea Butter bandwagon. Whether is large corporations like L’oreal or Proctor and Gamble, if we are not responsive to the unfair practices that these women endure to help our industry, why support us? We all have our crosses to bear. And of course everyone has a political, social, and moral agenda. Your fight might not be my fight. But, since I’ve founded a company on Shea Butter, I, bear some responsibility to these women. I’ve never considered myself to be a social activist, but to sit idly by and do nothing, it just wrong on so many levels for me.
Most of these African woman make pennies to our dollars. They are under-educated and under-resourced. The internet boast many Shea Butter retailers that speak of their fair-trade relationships with these women. It is just rhetoric. Many of them have never been on the ground to understand their true needs. Sadly, what we have done is made alliances and agreements to go over there and improve conditions for our benefit, not there’s. No matter how you spin rape is the same in every culture!
The American Shea Butter Institute, exists to help train villagers into the proper processing techniques of Shea Butter, improve best extraction methods, and increase profitability for the producers of Shea Butter to get qualified, certified Grade A Shea Butter. They do this without financial gain. It is has been the visionary of one pioneer, Dr. Samuel Hunter, MD. Each year, he hosts an annual convention with attendees only from Shea producing countries looking to market their raw product here in the US mostly funded by himself. There is never large corporation such as L’oreal, Proctor & Gamble, and Retailers of Shea Butter ever in attendance or supporting the efforts of ASBI. I often ask myself why? These companies make millions here and yet, there is no visibility to help these women. I’ve invited them to the table, but never a response. I think I know why? It’s all about the profit margin. These companies only care about the bottom line. To deal with a non-profit organization that truly works within the African communities to improve Shea Butter, may mean you have to change your practices. Here’s what you will learn when you invest your time with these women. You will learn of big governments that only pay pennies to these women and there’s political fights that these women are not armed for battle to win.
I am obviously sensitive in this area. But, I, too have benefit too from these ladies unfairly. It’s the reason I now and will continue to advocate. Injustice anywhere is Injustice everywhere!
Laeh Shea, LLC