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Estee Lauder Shea Supply Chain Programs

Estee Lauder Leads Program to Empower Women Workers in Africa’s Shea Supply Chain 

Few occupations are more aligned with a single region or demographic than harvesting shea, the African tree whose fruit is a key ingredient in food and cosmetics. About 16 million women living in an area from Senegal to South Sudan “live or survive” on shea’s harvest, Premium Beauty News reported, citing data from the Global Shea Alliance (GSA). Most live in rural areas.

Demand for shea butter has “exploded” in recent years amid a trend in developed countries to buy products presented as organic and natural.

Transparency Market Research estimates that the global shea butter market could reach $3.5 billion in 2028. Leading importers include the United States, The Netherlands, Denmark, and France.

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The cosmetics industry has embraced shea butter because of its various uses, ranging from moisturizing dry skin to working as a coloring agent.

Because of its high demand, shea butter is “becoming an instrument of economic development” in some of the poorest countries in the world, Premium Beauty News noted. This is especially true for women, who are the main harvesters of shea. One of the main goals now is to ensure the sector is “further supported to fully benefit local economies.”

That’s the aim of a program overseen by The Estee Lauder Companies (ELC), the New York-based cosmetics conglomerate whose brands include Estée Lauder, Clinique, Aveda, and Aramis, and whose products are sold in roughly 150 countries and territories. 

ELC has partnered with the Estee Lauder Companies Charitable Foundation (ELCCF) and Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) to develop and pilot a financial-resilience training program for women in northern Ghana’s shea supply chain, Sustainable Brands reported. The program is for women who have “historically lacked control over resources, training and education, and financial independence.”

Shea provides economic opportunity to about 470,000 women, according to Sustainable Brands, and ELC is a major purchaser of shea in the region. Investing in these women is a way to help ensure they can adequately provide for their children’s education, food, and healthcare.

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“When you invest in women you see that they will in turn, invest in their family and their community at large. So, you see this really beautiful ripple effect that goes beyond your initial investment,” Mindi DeLeary, head of Global Responsible Sourcing at ELC, said in a pre-recorded video shared with Sustainable Brands. 

A March 2023 press release from ELC noted that nearly 70% of Ghanaian women participate in the country’s economy, but “a significant portion of women in the country are disproportionately at risk from the negative impacts that can accompany business operations and economic growth.”

This is where Business for Social Responsibility plays a key role. BSR is a “sustainable business network and consultancy” that uses insights, advisory services, and collaborations to “create long-term value for business and society.”

ELC drew on BSR’s expertise in implementing training programs for female workers. As part of the pilot, project leaders gathered feedback from female shea nut collectors and processors in Ghanaian villages, according to the press release.

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Leaders found that while Shea collecting provides “supplemental income” to their households, the most in-demand need was access to financial training and literacy such as saving, budgeting, and borrowing. Based on these findings, a training model was created to help support the financial needs of the communities.

The press release said the ensuing pilot reached more than 1,000 women across the two cooperative sites, with tailored training in financial planning, budgeting, money management, and family discussions about finances. Eighty women shea nut collectors and processors volunteered as peer educators. 

Sustainable Brands reported that the shea pilot program is being adapted to pilot a new BSR initiative that aims to engage women in Indonesia’s palm supply chain.

“As a company, we do not believe in walking away from a sensitive supply chain simply because it poses complex issues,” Rachel Tulchin, Executive Director of Philanthropic Partnerships at ELC, told Sustainable Brands. “Due to the complexity of many ingredient supply chains, a 360-degree approach is needed, and social investments can be a solution to improving livelihoods and making a positive impact.”


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