How Businesses Use Ethical Sourcing to Support Women in Africa

January 10, 2024

Highlights from Listen & Level Up: Bringing Humanity to Skincare

SheaMoisture and Hanahana Beauty have company missions to create quality skincare products with fairly sourced ingredients. Both companies ensure that the women who harvest and process the shea butter in their skincare products receive a living wage for their work — and are recognized for the humanity they embody. 

It takes days of work for shea to become the spreadable butter known for its moisturizing qualities. Across the dry savannah belt of Africa, the shea fruit must be collected, cleaned, dried, and husked to reveal the shea seed or nut. The nut is then roasted and ground, releasing an oil that, together with water, is kneaded and whipped — often by hand — to form the shea butter.

African women often do the labor-intensive work required to produce shea butter, and their efforts are not always rewarded with livable wages. In the second installment of B Lab U.S. & Canada’s Listen & Level Up series, leaders of Certified B Corporation SheaMoisture and Hanahana Beauty sat down to talk about the intentionality required to ensure their shea is ethically sourced and that the women processing the shea are fairly compensated. 

Simone Jordan, Global Head of Purpose & Brand Partnerships at SheaMoisture, said SheaMoisture goes above and beyond to ensure that the livelihoods of the women sourcing its shea butter are the priority. That means doing business with women-led cooperatives and paying livable wages plus premiums, enabling communities to invest in schools and other needs.

“They have this village savings and loan program, and that allows them to build schools. It allows them to build safety and health for those who are working within the cooperatives to create our handcrafted shea butter,” Jordan said. “There are so many stories that go behind that, and it really is empowering women to feel like they can make their own livelihoods.” 

SheaMoisture’s supplier, The Savannah Fruits Company, works with local, women-led cooperatives in West Africa to source handcrafted ingredients. In addition to organic and fair trade premiums, SheaMoisture pays an extra premium to the women who hand-make its shea butter. Together those premiums represents an 89% increase in revenue for the women in the cooperatives. SheaMoisture’s core ingredients — organic shea butter and virgin coconut oil — are sourced from women’s cooperatives in Ghana and Burkina Faso. 

Meaningful Action and Examples to Build Racial Equity

To help B Corps and other businesses advance racial equity in their everyday operations, B Lab U.S. & Canada created this downloadable guide. It includes explanations of systemic inequities that contribute to the racial wealth gap, links to resources, and policies and practices from the B Corp community.


SheaMoisture Keeps Values at the Forefront

Jordan said the sourcing goes back to the heritage of SheaMoisture’s founder, whose grandmother sold shea butter in West Africa. Jordan said those commitments have remained strong through the company’s growth, including its acquisition by the multi-national corporation Unilever in 2017. Rather than reducing those commitments, the ownership change has allowed the company to double down, she said. She encouraged business owners to see acquisitions as a partnership where the owner sets the terms to accelerate the growth of the company and the positive social impact it can create. 

“Especially in our community of Black-owned businesses, they think of acquisition as walking away, and it’s not walking away,” Jordan said. “It’s actually saying, who do I need to partner with me to be able to really realize what I was actually hoping to achieve when I started this plan, right?”

For SheaMoisture and the women who supply its shea butter, the Unilever acquisition has helped compound the company’s impact. SheaMoisture’s supply chain has helped more than 53,000 West African women in cooperatives receive fair wages and enabled the payment of $1 million in fair trade premiums to women-led cooperatives. The women are paid 20% above market prices for their ingredients, amounting to more than $12 million in shea butter purchases over the past 10 years. In addition, SheaMoisture provided $1.6 million in grants in 2022-2023 to support infrastructure, training, and technology improvements for the cooperatives. 

Hanahana Beauty Invests in Community Health

Hanahana Beauty, a Black female-owned skincare company, is also committed to ethically sourcing ingredients for its products and ensuring women working in the shea trade are fairly compensated. Hanahana’s raw shea is sourced from the Katargia Cooperative, a women-led cooperative in Ghana, where the company pays twice the fair trade rate for all of its shea butter and invests in community health care. 

“When we’re buying shea, we’re not only thinking about the margins,” said Abena Boamah-Acheampong, owner of Hanahana Beauty. “We’re buying it directly from the producers themselves, so we want to empower the women to be able to be sustained in a way that is beyond just the nickel and dime, in that sense. We’re thinking about closing the living wage gap.”

Hanahana has served over 1,500 shea producers, their children, and members of the Katargia community. The support includes more than 100 monthly education workshops on topics including breast health screenings, nutritional education, and universal healthcare benefits. The company has brought technology to the Katargia Cooperative, including a kneading machine. The machine speeds up the process of making shea and alleviates the physical strain of shea kneading on women’s bodies while improving shea quality. 

Climate Justice for People and Planet

This free downloadable resource helps businesses engage in reflection, learning, and action around climate justice. The toolkit includes a Climate Justice Reflection Challenge, glossary, and calls to action.


On Being a B Corp and the Level Program

For SheaMoisture and Hanahana Beauty, the process of B Corp Certification is another way to reinforce and communicate their values to customers. Jordan said that for SheaMoisture, maintaining B Corp Certification is a priority the brand takes seriously and considers integral to its identity. 

“It shows the consumer that commitment, right?” Jordan said. “I’m not sure there’s any other certification that we believe certifies to our consumers as much that we are thinking about the business — we’re thinking about the women who make our shea butter, we’re ensuring that the quality of life for them is at the forefront of our business.” 

Hanahana Beauty considers its work to become a B Corp aligned with its DNA. Boamah-Acheampong said that as soon as she learned about the mission-driven principles foundational to being a B Corp, it was something she wanted to be a part of. Boamah-Acheampong was a participant in B Lab U.S. & Canada’s Level program, which supports women business owners who also identify as Black, Indigenous, or other People of Color as they work to become a B Corp.

Boamah-Acheampong said that experience helped her navigate the certification process and enabled her to connect with other similarly minded B Corps. “I didn’t even realize what it meant to go through the assessment portion and have to hit all these different marks, these scores,” she said. “Level has been great because it gave me an opportunity to actually meet more brands that are doing this and that are being intentional around their mission.”

Watch the full conversation

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