Moroccan Argan Oil Makers Push for Fair Trade, Better Pay for Women as Industry Expands

As the demand increases for Moroccan argan oil hair and skin treatments, the producers of such oils work to get better protections for their products, including Fair Trade certification — and to improve the quality of life for the women who often create these oils.

Moroccan argan oil, as the name implies, comes from Morocco, and in the Western world it’s becoming the new “it” ingredient in shampoos, lotions, and other beauty products.

But this type of oil is doing more for women than enhancing their appearances. The process by which argan oil is derived has resulted in employment for Morocco’s women through co-operatives, and it has even had an impact on the the country’s literacy rates, too.

The very first women’s co-op in Morocco was established in 1996 by Professor Zoubida Charrouf of the Mohamed V. University in Rabat, Morocco. Charrouf had been studying the Argania spinosa crop for years before that. At that time, however, divorced women were the only ones likely to work outside the home, and the conservative Moroccan government was reluctant to invest in the program.

Today, however, Charrouf has a network of 20 co-ops, and there are close to 200 in total throughout the country, almost all of which are run by women. The Moroccan government has seen the environmental, social and economic benefits of investing in the crops and various argan oil businesses in the country; they even plan to plant up to 100,000 hectares of argan trees by 2020.

The trees, which are used to make edible products and medicinal ingredients in addition to cosmetic oils, are native to Morocco. However, other countries like Niger, Algeria and Tunisia are poised to enter the argan oil business, as well.

“The argan oil is beneficial for both hair and skin and is very moisturizing and nourishing,” says Richard Muma, Founder of Ultimate Argan Oil. “Its healing properties help to heal and regenerate damaged hair, among other things. The high vitamin E and antioxidant content help to protect the body from the damage of free radicals that can lead to the visible signs of aging.”

Charrouf wants to see her facilities become more automated. Her co-ops currently produce just 10,000 liters of oil annually, and they’re only exporting one-tenth of that each year.

By mechanizing the process of cracking the shells of the argan kernels, Charrouf’s workers could save a lot of time and keep up with the global competition. Currently, it takes 16 hours and 30 to 40 kilograms of kernels to produce just one liter of the oil.

She also hopes to gain Fair Trade certification, which serves two main benefits: to add a positive selling point for her customers and, more importantly, to ensure good pay for her all-female staff.

The pay isn’t the only thing that has helped workers in Morocco. Before the co-op program, as many as 90% of female workers in the program were illiterate. Today, the number has decreased to 40%, and the women are also making enough money to send their children to school, in order to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy that many of the women have experienced.

As for the environment, the country is now developing better protections for the argan tree, which is indigenous to Morocco.

Above all, Charrouf hopes to make the products in all of her co-ops Fair Trade-certified; currently, she has one that is, and two more that are being audited.

In addition to the beauty benefits, Charrouf also explains that virgin argan oil has higher polyphenol and tocopherol content and total antioxidant capacity when compared to other edible vegetable oils and a higher vitamin E content than olive oil. This makes them an excellent health supplement, she and her colleagues said in their research.

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