Kuapa Kokoo

18 Sep 2007

Dame Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop and environmental campaigner, died September 10 after suffering a major brain haemorrhage. Here we publish, as a tribute to her memory, an article she wrote for the magazine SlowArk (no. 38) in 2004.

Travel is a better business school than anything Harvard or Oxford can serve up. Decades ago, before I opened the first The Body Shop in Brighton, I traveled to Tahiti on a fact-finding mission: how did the Tahitian women maintain such beautiful, smooth, supple skin, when they spent most of their lives in the sun?

I met with a community of women, and saw them smearing some sort of yellow goo that resembled cold lard all over their bodies. It was cocoa butter. I tried it, and I was sold. Cocoa butter is the perfect moisturizer – it melts perfectly at body temperature.

Cocoa butter was for those Tahitian women (and is for other native peoples where cocoa is plentiful) a central part of the culture, used in rituals and daily ablutions. In the search for a source of cocoa butter that would not exploit the environment or the communities that produced it, we went to Ghana. I was enchanted by the women who worked in the production of cocoa butter, sorting and fermenting beans for hours a day. They were powerful, exuberant, and sparkling with life—they lived in and celebrated their bodies.

Until 1993, the government of Ghana operated a virtual monopoly on cocoa, buying in massive quantities from farmers and selling at an enormous mark-up to companies around the world. According to farmers, the government would regularly bilk farmers by claiming that a bag of beans weighed ten or twenty kilos less than the farmer had declared. But without any competing buyers, the farmers had little choice but to accept whatever price was offered.

When the system was liberalized in 1993, a small number of licensed companies were permitted to operate as the middlemen in the transaction. One of those companies that emerged was a worker-owned cooperative of small-scale farmers. They called their new firm Kuapa Kokoo Ltd., which in the local Tiwi language means the ‘Good Cocoa Farmer’s Company’. The company earned accreditation from the Max Havelaar Foundation as a Fair Trade company. Since 1995, KKL has supplied The Body Shop’s cocoa under our Community Trade program.
Under the Max Havelaar criteria—which reflect international standards for fair trade—KKL qualifies as an accredited fair trade supplier because:

• it deals directly with small-scale farmers;
• overall, the farmers get more for their cocoa beans than the prevailing market price;
• farmers receive a premium dependent on the difference between the wholesale price sold and the Max Havelaar minimum price;
• the farmers can get credit;
• the agreements made with the farmers are long-term.

Now around 30,000 farmers sell their cocoa beans to KKL, which is recognized as being the largest licensed cocoa trading company in Ghana. Its profitability means that it can pay unprecedented bonuses to farmers. Its success is not solely dependent on the premiums from the Fair Trade purchases; more significant are the principles of business efficiency and its approach to doing business with the farmers, and how ultimately that translates into a higher standard of living and dignity for all involved.

Central to KKL’s philosophy is honesty, openness and transparency. This, combined with good benefits, is the proven recipe for success. Farmers are treated with respect and are involved in the business not only as shareholders but also in the operational matters.

Each village ‘society’ has a democratic voice in the leadership of the company. And the extra money from better process fetched on the fair trade market has enabled the cooperative to funnel money into improvements that have made life better for everyone. The Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Trust, for example, invested in a system to provide clean water in the dry season. Before that, farmers had to move back into the towns or to their home villages in the off season. When they went back to their farms after months away, the buildings were often burned to the ground or vandalized. Now farmers and their families can live on their farms all year round.

A credit union has helped Kuapa Kokoo rescue dozens of farmers from predatory moneylenders. And the credit union also allows farmers to take out loans, making education for their children an attainable goal for most. Medical expenses are often covered outright, or through low-interest loans.

With Kuapa Kokoo, we helped build a new school building in the Ashanti region of Ghana, where existing facilities were crumbling around the children. Since then, more of these projects are within the reach of the farming communities themselves; they don’t need charity, because they are self-sufficient.

In 2001/2002, The Body Shop purchased 116 tons of cocoa butter, which is made from 278 tons of beans and equates to about 30 percent of all the fairly traded cocoa beans sold by Kuapa Kokoo Ltd.

The farmers of Ghana get a decent living, we get a fantastic ingredient, and consumers get a high-quality product—it is unbelievable to me that more companies don’t do this. Everybody wins, and it isn’t even that complicated or difficult to do.

On a recent visit to Ghana, I spent some time with members of the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative. They showed me around their community, pointing out improvements made to their village, including sparkling new latrines. Proudly, they pointed to the legend on the side of one of the latrine buildings.
They had named it after me!

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