Equitable supply chains support small-scale farmers worldwide

Dr. Bronner’s has created or partnered with fair trade and organic projects all over the world: in Sri Lanka for coconut oil, Ghana for palm oil, Palestine and Israel for olive oil, India for mint oil, Ecuador for sugar cane alcohol and palm kernel oil, and Kenya for avocado, tea tree and coconut oils. An estimated 10,000 people around the world benefit directly from our fair trade projects, and we are supporting the development of domestic fair trade programs here in North America as well.

Coconut Oil – Sri Lanka

Serendipol – the world’s foremost source of fair trade organic coconut oil

Serendipol’s Organic and Fair Trade Coconut Oil Project was inspired by Dr. Bronner’s involvement in helping to rebuild cottage industries in the aftermath of the devastating tsunami of 2004. Serendipol started in 2007 with an overgrown, abandoned coconut mill, two shipping containers as office space and the determination of our Sri Lankan partners and a few experienced and highly motivated friends. In those early years, many—including would-be farmers and employees—considered the project to be somewhat of a “fly-by-night operation.”

Eleven years later, Serendipol works with more than 1,200 farmers farming 20,000 acres, employs 250 workers and professional staff and processes up to 30 million coconuts a year. Workers in Serendipol’s plant enjoy working conditions and compensation uncommon in the industry, with opportunities for personal and professional development, and a respectful, participatory management style that increasingly attracts professionals in accounting, engineering, agricultural services, and administration who want to contribute to responsible rural development in the Kuliyapitiya area.

Serendipol’s factory also showcases the potential of a great renewable resource, the coconut palm. All byproducts have value-added uses: the coconut husks are sold and then processed into fiber for rope, doormats, and erosion control; the shells are burned for energy in our boiler or sold to produce charcoal and activated carbon; the seed cake is sold for animal feed and food; some of the coconut water is sold to a local exporter; and the balance is treated biologically and used for irrigation in the company’s garden. Other than common packaging waste, the factory leaves no waste behind. From its inception, Serendipol represented the idea that organic agriculture is about more than just “not using agrochemicals”. Farmers were supported in improving soil fertility by applying compost, returning leaves and branches as mulch, intercropping with other tree species and incorporating dairy cows on their farms.

The fair trade premium paid by Dr. Bronner’s and other customers has funded now close to 1,000 fair trade projects small and large, selected by a fair trade committee including farmers, workers and management. Projects include the initial subsidy of compost production, supplying critical medical equipment for rural clinics, school renovation and vocational training for disadvantaged adolescents, grants to workers for improvements to their homes, restoration of water reservoirs overgrown by invasive plants (plant waste used in compost), and vital infrastructure like bridges, road and electricity to connect rural villages. Support to numerous local community groups is another focus of Serendipol’s fair trade work. To date, Serendipol has spent around 1.8 million dollars on fair trade projects. The company’s pragmatic, comprehensive and effective fair trade program is exemplary in demonstrating the potential of the fair trade premium—if managed with vision and care.

Watch Journey to Serendipol video