The members of the Bronner family are not smooth business people in expensive suits, with inflated egos and fire in their eyes, backed-up by a well-oiled PR staff. In order to establish a family business in organic cosmetics you may need no more than a strong will, good intentions, and knowledge, backed up by a consolidated purpose, warmth, and love. But to take on a legal battle against the world's giant cosmetic manufacturers – you need all that, and more.
The whole Bronner family contingent, producers of organic soap, were in Israel to launch their products. These days they're involved in legal proceedings against the giants of the world cosmetics industry who claim their products are natural and organic. In reality they are comprised of conventional agricultural substances which take pesticides to grow and industrial petrochemical products which produce chemical waste. The family business began three generations ago in Germany. Today their line of products includes addictive soaps containing a combination of expensive and luxuriant oils. Among them are hemp, rich in omega 3 and 6, jojoba, palm, coconut, and essential oils, all grown organically.
Dr. Emanuel Bronner, a certified chemist, and the company's founder, was the third generation of wealthy, successful, Orthodox Jewish soap manufacturers in Germany. He emigrated to America in 1929 but his parents stayed and were killed in the holocaust. It was a time of scientific development. Chemicals were discovered and they began to be applied in daily uses. Plastic had just been invented and was to change consumerism in a way unimagined; it seemed the good life was just beginning. But to Dr. Bronner this revolution did not appear promising. He chose not to follow the new trend, and produced natural soaps from simple ecological formulas based on old-fashioned quality and expertise.
Alongside his work Dr. Bronner cultivated a personal philosophy; a combination of vision and a strong desire to change the world for the better. He would deliver his doctrines in the city streets and at assemblies which he organized. His philosophy was based on the foresight of an ecological disaster or nuclear war, using the image of the earth as a spaceship of which we must take care. He coined the term "constructive capitalism": The profits of a company are shared among its employees as well as returning the gains back into the earth. Not doing so would result in the world's destruction.
"Following the death of my grandfather, and a year after the death of my father, I undertook the management of the company at the age of 24, full of motivation to succeed, thinking it would actually be fun to work with my family", recounts Emanuel Bronner's grandchild, David Bronner, president of the company today. “I learned a lot about manufacturing natural soap, made a thorough research into raw materials and began to notice the labels of soap products that called themselves 'natural' that were anything but. Hidden under the products' token natural ingredients were the names of the main ingredients, synthetic non-soap chemicals that an average consumer would not discern".
Like the Life Cycle
David decided to take the natural soaps one step further and turn them into organic soaps and, as part of the process, to fight for the purity of the concept "organic". In partnership with his brother, Michael, in charge of operations and international sales, David decided after five fruitless years trying more diplomatic means, on the courageous step of demanding that cosmetic industries remove "organic" from their labels or they would be sued in court. Only two companies chose to cooperate and remove their misleading labels. The rest kept their labeling and at the same time enjoyed the free publicity, so Dr. Bronner’s sued in the spring in California court to force them to stop; litigation is ongoing. The claims statement reveals that more than 20 cosmetic firms world wide, produce personal care products containing main chemical ingredients with only token organic ingredients in the product, but are advertised and sold as organic products.
"It’s like adding some lemon juice to bleach and declaring it a natural product. That's deception", argues David. "When a consumer reaches out to take a product off a shelf with labeling identifying it as organic, he thinks he's buying a product that's organic, in the literal sense of the word. But in reality he's buying a product containing chemical ingredients, like any other conventional product. These manufacturers fraudulently manipulate the concept "organic", thereby rendering it meaningless".
David and Michael Bronner continue the heritage of their grandfather, who never succeeded in realizing his dream of marketing his products in Israel, as most of his resources were invested in developing his soaps and disseminating his message of social justice. In the spirit of the ideology their grandfather developed they do their best to run the business according to the power of the cycle of life. With a clear agenda of social justice, including fair wages, and environmental sensitivity, they buy from farmers in Third World countries at fair prices, while ensuring that the raw materials are organically grown, and the workers are paid well and not exploited. The soap containers are made from post-consumer recycled plastic and the company’s profits are shared with the employees and worthwhile casues worldwide. They have one, clear vision, and they are willing to make sacrifices for its realization. The most important thing is that at the end of the day they will have helped to repair and transform the world.
Estee Lauder, which markets its products in Israel, and among those companies being sued, chose not to respond to this article.
David Bronner, CEO: "It’s like adding some lemon juice to bleach and declaring it a natural product. That's a clear deception"