An Ethical Supply Chain for Australian Plants

June 8, 2009

Australia and ethics, two words that are currently high in consumer consciousness.

An Ethical Supply Chain for Australian Plants

Australia and ethics, two words that are currently high in consumer consciousness.

Jane Tiedtke
Cosmetochem International AG

Juleigh Robins
Robins Foods Pty

Australia, the recent film with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, has generated a lot of interest in all things Australian. Tourism Australia, the National Tourism Board, has launched a $26 million international advertising campaign based on the movie, to attract tourists to Western Australia. So, 2009 looks like the ideal time to look to Australia for some new marketing ideas in personal care. Geographically themed products have been popular for many years, so Australia could be the next destination to create a stir (Fig 1).

Figure 1: Ayres Rock (Uluru) in Northern Territory, Central Australia
Ethics is becoming an important purchasing criterium for consumers.1,3,8 Nielsen carried out a 51-country survey of 28,253 consumers online in 2008 and found two out of three consumers said they would be interested in buying ethical products to support environmental and social causes.9 Consumers are not only concerned with pampering themselves and going back to nature to relieve the stress of everyday life, they are aware that to achieve this aim and to have a feel-good factor, you cannot exploit the environment or the local people. This rise in eco-ethics has lead to the designation of LOHAS,2 an acronym for Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability, to this consumer group. LOHAS consumers care deeply about their health, the environment, social issues and sustainable living and are willing to spend accordingly. They are predictors of up and coming trends and early adopters.

Personal care manufacturers are making products more compatible with emerging lifestyle trends of ethical shopping and eco-consciousness.5,7 Ethical personal care products or “cosmetics that care,” are a growing trend as people often prefer to be defined by what they believe rather than their material possessions. It embraces among other topics, green issues, no animal testing and fair trade.11 The number of ethical personal care products launched in Europe has increased five-fold in 2007 to 2,260, with France and the UK accounting for 74% of the market.7 During economic downturns, values will not be sacrificed for cheaper products when it comes to ethical purchasing according to the Co-op Report.1

Figure 2: The Outback Spirit logo

Outback Spirit Background

Outback Spirit Botanicals (OSB) embraces both Australian and ethical themes and is a partnership between an Australian company, Outback Spirit Pty. Ltd., and Cosmetochem International AG. This range of exotic Australian fruits and plants is derived from an ethical supply chain. Outback Spirit is the flagship brand of an ethical partnership with Australian indigenous people. The logo (Fig. 2) shows concentric circles and dots, which in traditional Indigenous culture represent a meeting place. This is the brand where Indigenous partners' interests and aspirations are matched by committed commercial partners, Outback Spirit Pty. Ltd. and Cosmetochem International AG. The brand was created by Juleigh and Ian Robins who developed an ethical supply chain to source indigenous ingredients for the food industry.

Benefits for Indigenous Partners

Outback Spirit brings social, cultural, economic and health benefits to our indigenous partners. Social and cultural benefits include increased micro-businesses, employment and skills opportunities for women. The use of indigenous plants in today’s food and cosmetic industries encourages indigenous people to retain their culture and knowledge of plants and to pass it on. It also helps to value traditional skills and knowledge and to re-enforce social ties and community cohesion.

Figure 3: The OSF logo
OSB respects traditional culture and knowledge and is endorsed by Indigenous Australian Foods Ltd. (I.A.F.)—a non-profit Aboriginal-owned and controlled entity, working hand-in-hand with OSB. A 10% premium above the farm gate (market) price is paid for all indigenous materials that goes back to the IAF to support the local community. In addition, 2% of the price of all OSBs sold to customers will go back into the Outback Spirit Foundation (OSF), which supports indigenous micro-business development and social projects at the community level. One current OSF project is in the Tanami Desert in remote northern Australia. The establishment of a desert raisin plantation, established under Fair Trade protocols will provide equity in the enterprise for indigenous Australians as well as providing employment and skills training in a disadvantaged and remote community that has little access to economic opportunities. Additionally OSF will assist the community to build a swimming pool that can deliver multiple community benefits. By donating 1% of sales personal care companies can also use the OSF logo (Fig. 3) on their packaging or in their promotional material, which indicates their support for local Indigenous communities.

Benefits for Personal Care Firms

OSB addresses many of current consumer wants/needs and resulting trends in personal care products:
• Ethical supply;
• Traceability;
• Sustainability;
• Purity;
• Defining a new more profound luxury; and
• Australia—the next geographical area after the Amazon and Asia in personal care themes.
OSB also offers tangible branding benefits providing the personal care industry with an exciting opportunity to build brands based on ethical principles.

Traceability and Transparency

Consumers are becoming more and more concerned with the origin of their purchases and the story behind them. The Indigenous plants used in OSB can be traced right back to the people who collected, harvested or cultivated them.


Consumers are now more careful about what is put in and on their bodies, hence the rise of organic ingredients. Some of the cultivated plants in the OSB range have organic certification; e.g., lemon myrtle, native mint, anisata and mountain pepper. However other plants are “beyond organic;” in that they are collected from pristine wilderness regions; these include kakadu plum, desert lime, desert raisin. We are currently applying for “Fair for Life” certification,10 a brand neutral third party certification program for social accountability and fair trade in agricultural manufacturing and trading operations, which covers the social and fair trade aspects of wild harvesting.


All wild harvesting in Australia is either heavily government regulated or done on Aboriginal land using Aboriginal land management principles called “caring for the country;” i.e., according to strict traditional law and in harmony with environment. Only fruits or seeds are harvested. The species that are currently wild harvested commercially are widespread, abundant and occur in wide range of habitats. Wild harvest can be an important part of social and cultural sustainability in remote settlements.

Profound Luxury

Luxury defines who people are and today people want to be less defined by money and possessions and more by their ethics.6 Companies are looking for the new luxury, which has social conscience behind it. OSB, in addition to using ethically sourced raw materials, represents extracts made from plants from pristine wilderness regions, meticulously hand harvested and sorted in the traditional manner with infinite care and can therefore be considered luxury raw materials.

The Indigenous Plants

Kakadu Plum (Terminalia ferdinaniana): Common from N.W. Australia to E. Arnhem Land, the Kakadu plum is a small, green fruit, high in vitamin C12,14,15,16 and antioxidants.15 Also known as Gubinge and Kullari, they are eaten by Indigenous people on walkabout or hunting trips as an energy source and to quench thirst and are considered as a medicine rather than a food.12,13,14

Figure 4: Desert limes
Desert Lime (Citrus glauca): Native to Queensland and New South Wales, desert limes are small, green, fruit with a strong citrus flavour (Fig. 4). They are a good source of antioxidants and fruit acids. They are eaten by Indigenous people and the skin has been used for essential oil extraction.14,18

Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora): Native to tropical rain forests, the leaves of lemon myrtle have a unique citrus fragrance. They are used by Indigenous people as a tonic and aphrodisiac. Results have shown that lemon myrtle oil is has superior antimicrobial activity than tea tree oil.19

Australian Bush Mint (Prostan- thera rotundifolia): Prostanthera is a uniquely Australian.14, 21 It is used mainly by Indigenous people for medicinal use. Rich in essential oils and with high levels of phenolic compounds, the leaves are crushed and used in ointments and washes, and the leaves have antimicrobial and antifungal attributes. Related to Prostanthera striatiflora, the leaves of which have been long used by Indigenous people as a wash or ointment to treat sores and skin diseases14,21 and as a body rub for aches and pains.16,23

Figure 5: Quandongs
Anisata (recently reclassified and renamed Anetholea anisata): Native to Australian east coast sub-tropical rainforests.14 Although no records of Aboriginal use have been identified,14it has been shown, like its close relative lemon myrtle, to have interesting antimicrobial properties.22

Mountain Pepper (Tasmannia lanceolata): Native to woodland areas in S.E. Australia.17 It was also used by early European settlers in Australia as a substitute for pepper or allspice. Leaves are aromatic and the fruit called pepper berries have a hot taste. It has antimicrobial properties and is used to treat aches and pains.14,18 Mountain pepper is also high in polyphenols and exhibits antioxidant properties.15

Quandong (Santalum acuminatum): Quandongs are widespread in arid areas of S. Australia and are now cultivated (Fig. 5). The red fruit are high in vitamin C and fruit acids,14,17 are an important part of the Aboriginal diet and are used for the preparation of poultices and liniments. The seeds yield oil which is smoothed on the skin of the face and body. They have a totemic significance and are an important part of the “dreaming” in the form of ceremonies and rituals.3,14,12

Desert Raisin (Solanum centrale): Desert raisins or bush tomatoes, are common to arid regions of Central Australia.13 They are an important bush food for all desert peoples including the Anmatyerr, Walpiri and the Pitjantjatjara, who form balls from the fruit paste and dry and store them on sticks.12,13,14 They have antioxidant properties, are a good source of fruit acids and protein and contain lycopene and carotene.4,13,18,23

Plants and the ‘Dreaming’

According to Aboriginal beliefs, humans, plants, animals and minerals all form part of a permanent network in the changing canvas of life that can trace is origin back to the “Dreamtime”13,12,20 or the creation of the world by their great spirit ancestors. Stories of the “Dreaming” are often depicted in art
Figure 6: “Bush sultana dreaming”—part of a design by Audrey Napanagka for M&S Textiles, Australia
(Fig. 6). and flora form a major part of the “Dreaming.” The ritual power of plants in Aboriginal culture is dependent not only on their pharmacological properties but also on the spirit of the “Dreaming” within.
Possible applications of these unique ingredients include:
• Spa products; e.g., Australia as the next destination spa;
• Sun care products and skin care;
• Bath and shower;
• Hair care products;
• Ethical branded products;
• High end luxury products;
• Novelty alternatives; e.g., desert lime—a different citrus possibility.


Outback Spirit Botanicals address many of the current consumer wants and resulting trends in personal care products and it offers tangible branding benefits.

The Outback Spirit Foundation supports sustainable indigenous business development to deliver economic, social, cultural, health and well-being advantages to Australian indigenous people. By buying Outback Spirit products customers are supporting ethical trading practices, that benefit the people and the environments that produce these ingredients.

However Outback Spirit Botanicals is about more than ethical practices, it is also about cosmetic raw materials that convey the youth, warmth and energy of Australia to consumers; it is about profound luxury, ingredients from pristine wilderness regions, meticulously hand-harvested and sorted in the traditional manner, with infinite care; it is about traceability (knowing exactly where the ingredients come from); it is about Australia which will be the next geographical region in personal care themes. And last but not least, it is about creating a consumer fantasy.

1.The Ethical Consumerism Report 2007 pub. The Co-operative Bank
2. LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health & Sustainability) www.lohas.com
3. Organic Monitor Industry Watch Newsletter July 2008
4. Brand, J.C. et al. (1983) The nutritional composition of Australian Aboriginal bushfoods Food Technology in Australia 35 (6) : 293-98
5. Mintel GNPD Database
6. Bendell,J. & Kleanthous,A. Deeper Luxury www.wwf.org.uk
7. Lannois,A. & Pitman,S. (2008) Consumers go for environmental and ethical claims Cosmetics Design Europe 11.04.2008 www.cosmeticsdesign-europe.com
8. The Ethical Products Organisation www.ethicalproducts.org.uk
9. Nielsen on-line survey (2008) World’s consumers rate the environment number one corporate priority
10. IMO Fair for Life Certification www.fairforlife.net
11. Good Shopping Guide 2008/9 7th edn. Chapter on Ethical Cosmetics & Skin Care copyright Ethical Company Organisation
12. Clarke, P.A. (2007) Aboriginal people and their plants pub. Rosenberg publishing Pty. Ltd.
13. Isaacs, J. (1987) Bush Food pub. Weldons Pty. Ltd.
14. Hegarty, M.P. & Hegarty E.E. (2001) Food Safety of Australian Plant Bushfoods RIRDC Publication N° 01/28
15. Netzel, M. et al. (2007) Native Australian fruits – a novel source of antioxidants for food Innovative Food Science & Emerging technologies 8 (3): 339-346.
16. Traditional Bush Medicines: an Aboriginal Pharmacopoeia (1988)pub. Greenhouse Publications Pty. Ltd.
17. CSIRO Australian Native Food Profiles (2007)http://cse.csiro.au/research/nativefoods /crops/
18. Zhao, J. & Agboola, S. (2007) Functional properties of Australian bushfoods RIRDC Publication N° 07/030
19. Wilkinson, J.M. et al. (2003) Bioactivity of Backhousia citriodora: antibacterial and antifungal activity J. Agric.Food Chem 51(1):76-81
20. Cowan, J. (1992) Aborigine Dreaming pub. Element Books 1992 & reprinted 2002 by Thorsons.
21. Plants For a Future Database: Prostanthera rotundifolia http://www. pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Prosanthera+rotundifolia
22. Wilkinson, J.M. & Cavanagh, H.M.A. (2005) Antibacterial activity of essential oils from Australian native plants Phytotherapy, 19 (7): 643-46.
23. Merrethene, Arelhe-kenhe (2007) Arrernte Traditional Healing pub. IAD Press, Alice Springs, Australia.