Amidst the archaic and unsustainable practices of traditional big business, a new kind of social enterprise is emerging. These are businesses that aim to recognise the abilities of every human being, and offer fair opportunities to all. An example of this paradigm shift is The Soap Co., a luxury soap manufacturer that primarily employs people who are blind or otherwise disadvantaged.
The Soap Co. began in a small shop producing and selling handmade soap. The products were meticulously created by blind craftsmen. Now they supply soap to more than 50,000 customers around the world, and are preparing to solidify their reach even further by launching their national brand in a bid to maximise their positive social impact.
More than 70 per cent of employees have a disability or come from a disadvantaged background. Here everyone benefits from an environment that nurtures their individuality, and the profits are invested in the employees’ goals, as well as social events that cultivate wellbeing. The rest is donated to charities related to the employees’ disabilities.
“Every time you use a product from The Soap Co.,” says a company representative, “you are creating opportunities for people with disabilities who create, pack, sell and distribute our soaps with care.” The company aims to generate 60 new jobs per year for disabled people around the country, adding to the over 100 people that it currently employs.
The company professes a deep faith in its humble production process. Their sustainably-sourced ingredients come directly from UK suppliers – a bid to avoid unnecessary environmental damage that international shipping arrangements often cause. These items are assembled by a semi-automated production line which also involves a ‘handmade’ process.
Even the bottles have around 45 per cent lower environmental impact than regular PET plastic bottles, since they’re reproduced from disposed milk bottles. Beyond this, The Soap Co. remains committed to reducing its negative environmental impact. From the 100 per cent recyclable soap-wrap to the completely compostable soap sticker stuck with glue that’s both non-toxic and biodegradable, every aspect of The Soap Co.’s products seems to favour the use of clean, renewable sources.
The company believes in fair assessments of employee’s abilities, and offers opportunities to workers in conjunction with their abilities. “Our mission is to provide a stepping stone into other employment for those who can achieve it, whilst providing a real, long-term job for those for whom this goal is less likely.” they say.
This kind of honest, transparent policy pushes the direct effects of consumer and producer behaviour into the open. It has come to define their brand’s image.
“We believe in doing things differently.” they say. “We have a discretionary pricing policy which enables all individuals and companies to make a difference through their purchases.” But it doesn’t end there. The company wants to push its benefits further, and empower its consumer base and employees in new ways. “In the future, we aim to enable you to see and share the social value you directly create by purchasing our products.”
When it comes to business ethics, The Soap Co. decry the moral complexity that colours a lot of established businesses. Their code of conduct, they claim, is actually very simple: “We believe our policies and products should be good and do good. This ethos extends through our whole organisation, defining our recruitment, financial management, sourcing, production and logistics.”
“We create an equitable environment for our staff, where everyone has opportunities and is considered based on their abilities. We are a fair and equitable employer with people from all walks of life, each with their own story.”
The Soap Co. claim they’re inspired by Dame Ellen Macarthur1s Foundation (EMF), whose work to create a circular economy, in which companies account for all effects of their produce, is well documented. Meanwhile, The Soap Co.’s philosophy is to design with more thought.
“We know soap wrappers look pretty on the shelf and are then thrown out, so we have designed with this in mind and have minimised the environmental impact… why buy new pumps when the old ones still work? We have refill bottles for our products.”
Their support comes from the many gifted designers they work with, who are committed to producing products that exceed people’s expectations, but don’t compromise in sustainability. “We believe there doesn’t need to be a trade off between beautiful design, quality products and a social mission.”
In this type of commerce, the product itself should define its founding ideologies:
“Just like our packaging, our ethics are black and white.”
The Soap Co. is a division of CLARITY – a registered charity and the UK’s oldest social enterprise; employing, training and supporting people with disabilities since 1854.
Photo Credit: Keith Williamson on Flickr.