At Lush, all of the ingredients we use to make our products are of the highest quality, are produced in a way that respects the earth and the people who grew them and are never tested on animals.
To achieve this, we have a dedicated ethical buying team who not only work to source ingredients and packaging but also immerse themselves in learning about each ingredient’s impact on people, animals and the planet. Our buying team travels globally to closely trace our ingredients from planting to processing to ensure that the supply chain is ethical from start to finish. Maintaining transparent supply chains gives us the opportunity to drive positive change, encourage sustainability and form long-lasting relationships with people all over the world.
Greg Pinch is the Ethical Buying Manager for Lush North America. He has spent the past five years developing a supply relationship with small-scale producers in Haiti. Here, Greg unpacks the emerging possibilities for our new cocoa source.
Welcome to the Lush family
As a rule, Lush favors long-term supply partnerships because we know how important providing a stable, predictable market, year over year, is to producers. So, especially for a key ingredient such as cocoa, which is used in more than seventy-five Lush products, the introduction of a new source is something of a rarity and cause for reflection. Recently, the first containers of cocoa beans dispatched from the port at Cap Haitien, in northern Haiti. As a source of cocoa for Lush, there is much to celebrate about Haiti.
A question often asked of our buying team both internally and externally, is how we arrive at the decisions we make. That is an especially valid question in the case of something like cocoa, which grows in so many places around the world. Personally, I have seen it grown in eastern Congo, Guatemala, Ecuador, Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda. And there are compelling reasons to source from any of these places. In fact, we do source from eastern Congo. And in the northern part Uganda, through our Lush Investments program, we are supporting the planting of cocoa as a countervailing measure to the deforestation and resulting changes in weather, impacting farmers. In Guatemala, once again through our investment program, the aim of which most simply stated is to put more trees in the ground and more money in the hands of farmers, we are supporting the planting out of a 253 hectare former cattle pasture into an agroforestry system with cocoa as a keystone species. So why Haiti?
There has been much handwringing over Haiti’s woes, often times by some of the most persistent architects of these troubles. Conspicuously left out of this narrative are the outrageous odds Haiti has had to overcome, beginning of course with its revolution, the largest slave revolt since Spartacus led a rebellion against the Romans and ending in the establishment of the free republic of Haiti, which in its constitution explicitly abolished race as the basis of social standing. But, notoriously, in order to maintain its sovereignty, Haiti had to agree to compensate French plantation owners for their losses, had—in other words—to agree to compensate them for what was characterized as theft, but was only the emancipation of their own bodies. Haiti labored under the crippling burden of this debt, the modern equivalent of 21 billion USD, until the 1940s. And that’s only one example of what is an embarrassment—truly—of riches in terms of foreign meddling.
Haiti endures. A short drive from Cap Haitien stands the Citadelle Laferrière, built as part of Haiti’s defenses against invasion, built by thousands of hands to safeguard their hard-won freedom and today a symbol of Haiti’s strength and independence. To visit it is to feel in very tangible terms the immensity of what the Haitians accomplished, against impossible odds. It stands as an irrefutable example of what’s possible and might be both inspiration and tonic for Haiti’s neighbors to the north, in their own reinvigorated struggles for justice.
We’ve been witnesses before and we truly believe that by supporting the value, cultivation and fair trade of cocoa beans, emerging possibilities become a reality for the community involved, in this case, Haiti.
A tree crop, cocoa is both touted as a tactic of environmental restoration, as well as maligned as a driver of degradation, especially deforestation. It is an uneasy balance between promoting farmer livelihoods through paying premiums, but at the risk of encouraging more clearing of land. It’s a risk especially acute on the borders of the world’s remaining great forests. Much has been made of the deforestation of Haiti, including wild exaggerations of extent, with claims that Haiti is the most deforested country in the world. However, it is true that Haiti doesn’t have the kinds of primary forests that in other parts of the world face pressure from things like agriculture. In the north, cocoa, which requires the shade of other trees to grow, promotes the conservation of the remaining canopy.
Another possible pitfall of cocoa is favoring cultivation of this cash crop over cultivation of food. This can put farming households in a precarious position, stranded between harvests with their money spent. In Haiti, food security, in the form of Creole gardens (small plots with a multitude of crops), is intrinsic to smallholder practices. Subsistence farming, so often dismissed and discouraged, is in fact an excellent way to manage risk.
Transparency is something we’re always striving for. It’s a critical requirement for our objective of minimizing negative impacts and maximizing positive outcomes. We need to understand what’s happening on the ground, at a farm (or factory) level. Haiti, by its proximity a relatively short flight from Miami, means we can visit more often for the face-to-face interactions so critical to strong relationships.
Two of these key relationships are with PISA, the aggregator and exporter of cocoa, and APROCANO, the producer association. PISA entered the cocoa sector in the north with a splash, immediately doubling farm gate prices to producers, which in turn forced other buyers to follow suit. They have demonstrated a long-term commitment to improving farmer livelihoods by managing the attainment of organic certification and this year, Fair For Life Certification, guaranteeing minimum pricing and premiums for farmers. They are also an integral partner in the promotion of vanilla cultivation, a new crop for Haiti and a potential boon for smallholders, through a project Lush also supports.
In terms of what we want to see in a cocoa source, Haiti is a great fit and we are excited for what the future holds. In 2021, we expect to source thirty to fifty percent of our cocoa requirements from Haiti and we expect that volume to grow alongside the growth of Lush. We believe high quality certified cocoa will improve farmer livelihoods and with the Fair For Life Premiums they earn, farmers can invest back in their farms and their communities. With strong commitments all around and a shared long-term vision, we believe the producers of APROCANO will gain an international reputation not only for high quality, ethical cocoa, but for vanilla as well and we are thrilled to be able to support their efforts.