Ethical Principles for Workers Throughout the Supply Chain

This page covers the below sections:

  1. Millennium Development Goals (MSGs)
  2. Cosmetic Industry Supply Chains
  3. Plant Based Ingredient Sourcing
  4. Co-Impact Sourcing

See the Contents for all available Sustainability Hub pages.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

In 2000, the UN launched the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 189 countries of the world were brought together to consider the big challenges affecting the future of society and the environment. This led to the creation of a series of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are a framework of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 working towards a target date of 2030(1).

These targets highlight not only the environmental challenges the world faces today but the effect on communities and people all over the world of an unsustainable approach. Each of the 17 Goals has a set of indicators that gives companies and governments the ability to push for the goals with reasonable and achievable targets.

Fundamental to the aims of the Agenda by 2030 are, amongst others, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development, combating inequality to build just societies, protect human rights, promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The aims are also to shared prosperity and decent work for all.

SDG 8 aims to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”.

Decent work, employment creation, social protection, rights at work and social dialogue represent integral elements of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development(2).

Cosmetic Industry Supply Chains

To achieve the goals of the UN’s SDGs it is imperative that all industries look at their supply chains to ensure that throughout them all employees are treated in a fair and equitable way.

Global supply chains are complex and impact consumers more than they are probably aware(3).

There is greater media coverage of sustainability and ethical sourcing. Consumers are more and more aware of the policies, towards sustainability and ethical behaviour, of the manufacturers of the products that they use(4).

Plant-Based Ingredient Sourcing

The cosmetic industry can have many complex supply chains, it is difficult to audit them all but there are some where issues are more likely to be prevalent. As the industry moves towards more plant-based ingredients, and away from petrochemical sources, then it is incumbent upon the industry to ensure that those involved in the farming of these resources are treated correctly.

  • Palm Oil

See the section on Palm Oil.

A number of the certification schemes for plant sustainability include commitments to enhance the lives of the farmers and growers in their supply chain. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), for example, adjusted their certification standards to ensure that children’s rights are protected at all stages of the palm oil production process(5). RSPO’s standards cover the entire supply chain. The seven Principles for growers to be RSPO certified include respect of community and human rights, supporting smallholder inclusion and respecting workers’ rights and conditions, including paying a decent living wage(5).

Other organisations also promote working with smallholders to improve their opportunities and lift them out of poverty. Through training and certification programmes Rainforest Alliance has encouraged more than 2 million farmers to use growing methods that increase crop yields and therefore income, whilst reducing their reliance upon things like fertilisers. They have shown that if farmers can earn a better living through certification, they have a strong incentive to adopt the other requirements of a standard that supports better livelihoods(6).

  • Women and Farm Work

In developing countries 43% of farm work is undertaken by women, but women also undertake the vast majority of unpaid work, such as childcare, looking after the elderly, cooking and general household chores. At the same time women are often denied access to education, training programmes and technology, forbidden from owning land and excluded from the process of making decisions that affect their lives(6). Studies show that when women gain more economic strength, their families and community’s benefit. When women are in control of the families’ income, they are more likely to spend the money on food, clothing and health related items. It has been shown that there is a 20% increase in childhood survival rates when women manage finances(6). Additionally, it has been shown that when women farmers are given equal access to resources, education, finance and land rights they can increase yields by over 20%(6).

The Rainforest Alliance has also co-founded the Global Living Wage Coalition (GLWC). This is a group of NGOs working with two leading researchers to identify how much money workers need to afford a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. The GLWC then helps its members coordinate implementation efforts and shears its research publicly in order to support efforts aimed at improving worker wages(6).

The Rainforest Alliance has programmes for a variety of crops, including Cocoa, Coffee, Tea, Fruits, Nuts, Flowers and Herbs and Spices(6).

  • Cocoa

See the section on Cocoa Butter.

The World Cocoa Foundation(7) work with groups in Africa and Brazil to end poverty, promote inclusivity and sustainable work, and therefore economic growth. The World Cocoa Foundation has developed the Farmer Economic Model, which gives a deeper understanding of how an individual farmer can transform household income through proper planting and farm management. More information on Cocoa Butter can be found here.

  • Shea

The mission of the Global Shea Alliance (GSA) is to design, develop and deliver strategies that drive a competitive and sustainable shea industry worldwide and to improve the livelihoods of rural African women and their communities(8).

Nearly two billion shea trees grow naturally on parklands in 21 African countries stretching from Senegal to South Sudan. 16 million women living in rural communities individually collect the fresh fruits and the kernel is processed to extract shea butter. Approximately 800,000 tons are collected each year, which means that the industry provides a critical source of jobs and incomes to often poor and underserved communities.

Through its sustainability program, GSA supports its members in identifying industry wide challenges and implementing collaborative projects that promote women’s empowerment and protection of the shea eco-system. GSA is currently implementing an $1M 5-year partnership with USAID West Africa called the sustainable shea initiative (SSI) which has supported 180,000 women collectors and processors and increased the income of beneficiaries by 45%(8).

The Union for Ethical Biotrade (UEBT) also have a programme working to empower women in Burkina Faso working in Shea nut collection(9).

Co-Impact Sourcing

Another model designed to work with farmers, harvesters, distillers and their communities to produce a wide range of essential oils is Co-Impact Sourcing®. This model has been adopted by the doTERRA Healing Hands Foundation(10).

  • Carnauba Wax

Carnauba wax is widely used, particularly in lipsticks, the aim of the UEBT’s Initiative for Responsible Carnauba is to foster a responsible Carnauba wax production that respects demands on people and helps to preserve biodiversity in the Carnauba wax producing areas in the unique semiarid (Caatinga) biome of northeast Brazil(11).

Environmental and social challenges have come to light in some of the carnauba wax extraction areas in northeast Brazil, including high rates of deforestation (of the native carnauba palm trees), degradation of local biodiversity, persistent drought, rapid expansion of invasive species, as well as poor working conditions and low pay. These problems are often systemic, with a wide range of factors involved that contribute to the challenges(11).

As part of this initiative UEBT check whether harvesting conditions of the participating Carnauba wax suppliers comply with the UEBT Ethical BioTrade Standard(11).

  • Mica

See the section on Mica.

The natural ingredients used in the cosmetics industry are not limited to those which are plant derived. Decorative cosmetics, in particular, use a lot of natural mica. The Responsible Mica Initiative(RMI) is a global coalition comprised of multiple organisations committed to establishing a fair, responsible and sustainable mica supply chain in the states of Jharkhand and Bihar in India that will eliminate unacceptable working conditions and eradicate child labour by 2022(12).

Member companies of RMI work with other organisations, such as IGEP to improve the living conditions of families in the mica mining regions. Part of the work with IGEP funds several schools attended by nearly 500 children and adolescents. Apart from basic education these schools also offer courses on carpentry and tailoring. RMI members are also committed to improving local access to healthcare and have, again in cooperation with IGEP, established a health centre to serve 20,000 residents in the mica region of India. More information on mica can be found here.

A number of other minerals are also used by the cosmetics industry, the OECD has published information on Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains(13).

  • ABS

See the section on ABS.

The use of some of the natural derived ingredients used in the cosmetics industry may trigger the requirements of Access Benefit Sharing regulations across the world. These requirements implement the principles of the “Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (ABS) from the Convention on Biological Diversity”, commonly referred to as the Nagoya Protocol. More information on ABS is available here.

A review of the supply chains for all naturally derived cosmetic ingredient therefore needs to consider many issues. This can be an onerous task but some of the groups mentioned above can help provide certification of suppliers and therefore confidence that they are working to high ethical standards.


  1. United Nations: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
  2. United Nations: Employment, Decent Work for All and Social Protection
  3. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF): Sustainable Sourcing
  4. Bom, J. Jorge, H.M. Ribeiro, J. Marto, A Step Forward on Sustainability in the Cosmetics Industry: a review, Journal of Cleaner Production (2019), doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.03.25
  5. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)
  6. Rainforest Alliance: Our Work to Improve Rural Livelihoods
  7. World Cocoa Foundation
  8. Global Shea Alliance
  9. Union for Ethical Biotrade - Shea Nuts
  10. doTERRA Healing Hands - Co-Impact Sourcing
  11. Union for Ethical Biotrade - Initiative for Responsible Carnauba
  12. Responsible Mica Initiative
  13. OECD - Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains