Essential oils have been around for over 5,000 years. These compounds capture the "essence" of various trees, plants, and herbs, or their scent, flavor, and healing properties for use in aromatherapy, cosmetics and medicinal purposes.
Harvesting essential oils are done by natural methods that many local indigenous communities around the world, particularly in Asia, South America and Africa, have been using for thousands of years. They hand-harvest bark, flowers, leaves and seeds, then either mechanically cold-pressed, steamed or distilled to extract the aromatic compounds.
This delicate process is hard work, yet it is vital because if any chemical or non-organic method is used, they are no longer considered true essential oils.
Over the last 15 years, due to the green movement and demand for all-natural products, multi-level marketing companies like doTERRA have emerged, selling essential oils as an alternative to big pharma. The healing properties and benefits of essential oils have made them extremely popular in many households as a home remedy for minor aches and pains, including headaches, migraines, and even inflammation.
doTERRA claims that the oils they sell are produced using sustainable methods and ethically sourced, adding to their selling power. But as we see in Vice's "The Price of Purity", these claims are inaccurate. Journalist Hind Hassan investigates frankincense harvesting in the region of Somaliland in Eastern Africa.
She talks to everyone up and down the essential oil supply chain to get a clear picture if it is all ethical and sustainable as the industry claims. She finds over-harvested and stripped-down boswellia trees due to the large demand from the United States and other mainly western countries. Frankincense experts are understandably concerned, and It is unsustainable and will harm existing trees and future crops.
Another major concern is that big essential oil companies use middlemen to supply them with essential oils and don't have direct contact with the farmers. These middlemen and oil brokers promise higher prices for their products but don't pay the farmers money owed or offer to pay them in food instead. They are stealing from the farmers who have been harvesting Frankincense for generations.
doTERRA, on the other hand, continues to buy from these middlemen and still does not deal with farmers directly. Instead, they "give back" to the community by building a hospital and private boarding schools. And while there is now a hospital of sorts, visitors can find no schools anywhere.
The benefits of essential oils are well known and should be enjoyed by as many people as sustainably possible. It encourages a more natural and organic approach to health care and, simultaneously, gives local communities a chance to uplift their lives.
Companies, however, need to reexamine their suppliers and cultivate direct relationships with harvesters to achieve authentic ethical and sustainable practices in their business. While we consumers need to take a look at these companies and cut through the marketing to ask the hard questions and demand proof of their ethical claims.