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Union formed to encourage ethical trade in natural ingredients

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Natural products, Natural environment

The Union for Ethical BioTrade could help cosmetics companies
negotiate the regulatory 'minefield' of trading with local
producers in Africa, South America and Asia, whilst ensuring
ethical trade that benefits small scale producers, according to the
Union's head Gus LeBreton.

As the popularity of natural cosmetics and personal care products increases, the demand for naturally derived active ingredients intensifies. However with the trend comes concern for both the environment in source countries and the treatment of local small scale producers of natural extracts. Consumer concern over environmental and ethical nature of products has rocketed over the last few years and it is becoming increasingly important for companies to demonstrate their compliance in this area. Union Ethical BioTrade - a membership organisation promoting ethical and environmentally friendly trade in wild harvested products - membership is open to manufacturers, suppliers and producers, as well as NGOs The Union for Ethical BioTrade, launched at this year's Beyond Beauty, attempts to promote ethical and environmentally friendly trade in natural products, benefiting both producers and manufacturers alike. Although the Union is not a certification body, (rather it aims to foster ethical biotrade by developing a standard and offering guidance as to how to adhere to it) members will be able to identify them as such. Such an identity could potentially be very important as consumers become increasingly particular regarding the nature of their products. CosmeticsDesign.com spoke to Gus LeBreton, the head of the recently formed union, about how it could help both large scale manufacturers and small scale producers in the promotion of ethical and environmentally friendly trade in natural products. Ethical trade will benefit both producers and manufacturers At present consumer interest in the ethical nature of products is increasing, however it can be very difficult for both consumers and manufacturers to know the true history of products and their ingredients. In particular, LeBreton highlighted the confusing nature of the current situation of legislation and regulation, stating that it can be very difficult to know whether or not both parties in a sale of natural products are in compliance with all the rules. "It's a minefield. Not unsurprisingly many international buyers are terrified of it and justifiably so," he said. According to LeBreton, the UEBT will help large multinationals identify the suppliers and producers who conduct their trade in a fair way according to the union's standards; the company can then be sure of the ethical nature of their products. Equally, of course, the Union will help local producers identify the buyers with whom they can safely trade, without fear of exploitation. Furthermore, LeBreton highlights the fear of certain buyers and manufacturers of being accused of bio-piracy - the patenting of indigenous knowledge and materials without compensation to the source community - a label that is extremely difficult to shake off even if it is undeserved. This fear may prevent multinationals from trading with local producers and harvesters according to LeBreton; a situation that the union hopes to improve. "Becoming a member of the Union specifically requires a manufacturer to submit their supply chain to scrutiny. If they genuinely are bio-pirates they will not be accepted. Equally if they have been accepted it is highly unlikely that they're guilty of bio-piracy". Overall the UEBT hopes to both foster the demand for biotrade and ensure that any trade in natural products benefits the source community, and can be regarded as fair trade. "Any growth in demand for natural ingredients from Africa and South America potentially stands to benefit producers from Africa and South America. The challenge is how to ensure that it actually benefits these local producers," said LeBreton. However he added that "at present it is certainly true that African and Latin American producers are not capturing anything like the share of benefits that they ought to from the supply of their ingredients". Well managed demand for natural ingredients will benefit the environment There have been concerns that the substituting of synthetic ingredients with natural alternatives, unless well managed, may have negative environmental effects. Indeed, a recent report released by the market research company Euromonitor, highlights this as a factor that may harm sales of natural products in the short term.Therefore, the ability of a company to be able to attest to the environmentally sustainable nature of their business may become increasingly important. LeBreton explains that this environmental damage could occur in two ways. Firstly the over harvesting of the source plant is a worry, however equally attempts to limit over harvesting could have devastating effects. "No-one would disagree that unsustainable harvesting of Brazilian acai is undesirable...But if large tracts of biodiverse Amazon rainforest were then cleared to make way for acai plantations, that would also be an environmental disaster," he explained. The UEBT's approach is based on the belief that if the natural ecosystem holds value for the local community, people will protect it. "If the rainforest has low economic value, it risks being cut down and converted into more lucrative cattle pasture. However, if the forest is able to generate more revenue as a source for wild-harvested natural ingredients, people will protect it" he explained. In this respect the Union hopes to ensure that trade in natural products increases in an environmentally sustainable way, adding value to the natural ecosystem and therefore ensuring its protection. Furthermore, there is no doubt that a large international company who can prove that its trade is conducted in a truly ethical and environmentally friendly way stands to benefit in today's climate from increased sales and a positive reputation.

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