Dr. Bronner’s is well known as a natural soap with 18-in-One uses and an All-One company philosophy. The company is also setting standards for what they call “constructive capitalism” with ethical production, responsible consumerism, and workers’ social justice under its All-One philosophy. Food Tank spoke with Ryan Zinn, of Dr. Bronner’s Special Operations Team, about the company’s definition and implementation of fair trade and regenerative agriculture practices with its supply partners around the world.
Dr. Bronner’s began sourcing organic raw materials for their products 15 years ago. There was little transparency across the supply chain proving products were organic, sustainably harvested, or that workers were paid adequately and working in safe conditions. To ensure ethical sourcing across its entire supply chain, the company began to build relationships with major raw material suppliers. Dr. Bronner’s ensures that the four main principles of their regenerative philosophy are implemented, explains Zinn. “Number one, is using organic as a baseline [for agricultural practices]; two, is fair trade; three is soil health; and last is animal welfare.”
Organic agriculture does not rely on synthetic inputs, such as artificial fertilizers, pesticides, preservatives, or genetically modified seeds. Certification allows farmers to earn a premium for organic products. Organic therefore provides “an avenue to begin to work on a lot of agronomic issues… using organic certification as a baseline,” says Zinn.
Paying farmers a fair price is only the beginning of fair trade, Zinn tells Food Tank. “In many cases, farmers are either operating at a loss or just barely breaking even.” Dr. Bronner’s establishes long term trading programs with farmers giving them financial security to plan for longer-term investments by guaranteeing “funds to be able to do community development and build up their capacity of the business.”
Soil health includes a variety of methods, Zinn tells Food Tank, like “large scale compost operations, providing technical support, and training for conservation agriculture. Looking at things like improving [crop] rotations,” reducing tillage, and fixing atmospheric nitrogen are all part of enhancing soil health—and mitigating climate change. “Regenerative agriculture has a huge potential to actually sequester carbon in soil.”
While Dr. Bronnner’s only sources vegan, raw materials, “many of the farmers we work with raise livestock for their own consumption and so we want to ensure that—even though we don’t market or use livestock—animal welfare principles are incorporated as well.”
The core of Dr. Bronner’s focus on regenerative principals is based on creating sustainable agrarian livelihoods. “If you can’t actually pay farmers a fair price to cover their costs to do all of these regenerative practices, then quite frankly that’s not regenerative,” Zinn tells Food Tank. Enabling farmers to cover the true cost of their production while providing affordable consumer products is another challenge the company is working towards solving.
Using the existing standards of Fair Trade, and organic as examples, Dr. Bronner’s is part of the Regenerative Organic Alliance, along with such allies as The Rodale Institute and Patagonia. Together, they’re supporting the creation and launch of Regenerative Organic Certified, which guarantees that certified products were produced according to robust criteria for soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness.