The mabagrown® Sustainability Standard

The mabagrown® Sustainability Standard

This case study is part of the free SHP Sustainability and Regenerative Practices Toolkit.

A Conversation with the Martin Bauer Group

Martin Bauer Group sources more than 200 botanicals from over 80 countries and develops tailor made solutions for the tea, herbal infusions, beverage and dietary supplement industries. More than 300,000 people work in these supply chains in cultivation and wild collection.

To ensure ethical sourcing of these natural ingredients with a certified standard, Martin Bauer Group brought together quality, safety and sustainability in its own standard: mabagrown®. The standard incorporates the requirements of the Ethical BioTrade standard of UEBT (The Union for Ethical Biotrade),and is certified in the context of the UEBT/UTZ* herbal tea program. Practical examples of supply chain improvement projects in Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Egypt, Sudan or Lesotho show the challenges, but also significant achievements in terms of scale and good practices.

I spoke with Anne Wedel-Klein, Member of the Management Board of MB-Holding, responsible for Group Sustainability, and Joscha Reichold, Sustainability Management Supply Chain, about the development of this standard and their approach to sourcing raw materials more broadly.

For information on the Martin Bauer Group’s Sustainability approach, and their Supplier Code of Conduct, Code of Conduct, see here. See What Does Sustainability Mean? to learn more about what sustainability means in the Martin Bauer Groups work with raw material suppliers.

How has the approach of Martin Bauer Group changed in the last 10, 20 years?

Over the past decades, Martin Bauer Group has evolved from a raw material buyer to a partner. We are guided by a mission: we aim to ensure access to high quality botanicals while responsibly using natural resources and taking care of the well-being of the people who cultivate or wild-collect our botanicals. At the same time, we strive to meet quality specifications and ensure transparency and traceability in the supply chain. In order to meet this ambitious goal, we have changed our way of sourcing step by step, which is now guided by a standard.

More than 20 years ago, Martin Bauer was driven by the goal to improve product quality, in particular the avoidance of pesticide residues. As a response, the sourcing strategy “Controlled-Integrated Cultivation (CIC)” was introduced. The approach led to better product traceability, helping to identify the root causes of residues in the products which we then addressed by working closely with growers.

Four Pillars of mabagrown®

After working many years with the CIC approach, Martin Bauer Group wanted to go a step further to increase the level of traceability and transparency in a larger part of the supply chain as well as focusing more on sustainability aspects. Also, we wanted to include wild-collected products as well. At that time, no existing certification scheme covered the botanical ingredients or criteria Martin Bauer Group was looking for. As a result, we decided to develop our own sourcing standard—mabagrown®. In developing the standard, Martin Bauer Group partnered with key customers, raw material partners, internal and external stakeholders and long term partners to reflect their needs and blend them with the sourcing philosophy of the Martin Bauer Group. The standard includes four pillars:

  • Safe: Minimize any potential product risks along the supply chain.
  • Secure: Achieve long term availability of products.
  • Sustainable: Ensure social, environmental & economic sustainability.
  • Special: Optimize processes and crops for high quality products.

In the following years, Martin Bauer Groups’ customers increasingly asked for external sustainability labelling. Therefore, Martin Bauer Group decided to benchmark its existing mabagrown® standard with a recognized label. This led to a cooperation with UEBT and UTZ in which a new version of mabagrown® was developed, bringing in more criteria, especially around environmental sustainability. Version 2 of mabagrown® incorporates the criteria from UEBT Standard, UTZ Herbal Standard, as well as some criteria from FairWild and FairTrade certification and of course all the experience from many years working in various supply chains. This version is acknowledged to meet all criteria set by the UEBT/UTZ Herbal Standard.

Implementing the mabagrown® standard?

Martin Bauer Group started with the implementation of mabagrown® in 2011 by working with key suppliers and long term partners with whom we share a strong partnership and level of trust. We provided specific trainings in all categories of the standard to help producers meet the requirements. Through agricultural consultation of experienced and qualified staff and sharing examples of best practices, a platform for farmers was developed to exchange knowledge and improve practices. Higher prices and long-term product planning further incentivized the common work.

What were the challenges?

The criteria of the mabagrown® standard are very high. Not every partner was prepared to meet those requirements. We found that in many cases practices were used that were not in line with the standard, such as smoking cigarettes while wild harvesting, as drying on the bare ground. Changing the behavior and mind set of people in very different cultural and social contexts remains the most challenging part in implementing any standard. Also, producers initially did not see the need for long audits with many questions. It was interesting, however, to see that over time, producers began to see the value in the standard not only because of better prices and pay, but also for the positive impacts on the environment and in the community.

Are some regions of the world more challenging?

The challenges are very similar all over the world. The most important factor for success is the willingness of the partner to invest time and effort to make changes happen. The willingness depends very much on the foresight of local partners as well as their commitment to the land and the people. Of course, some countries have bigger social challenges than others, but even in the most difficult environments, improvements are possible in good partnerships.

Lessons Learned

 We learnt that our business can have a positive impact on the lives of people who are involved in sustainable herb cultivation. The involvement in the business can provide people with an opportunity to stay where they live. The mabagrown® standard supports people to get to know the ecological system in which they work more fully. Managers, collectors and field workers start appreciating the environmental contribution of respectful sourcing, learn about the positive impact of herbs on the community or individual health and start changing their own practices, at home or at work.

We have seen how herb sourcing has changed people, households or even whole communities. Especially the combination of a more ecological and social friendly sourcing approach, coupled with practical community projects, ranging from basic support, such as providing better tools to more complex programs to improve household income, have had deep impacts. Ultimately, it is our aim to strengthen the self-help capacity of people to make lasting change through our responsible business conduct.

As an example for some of the real life impacts. We worked in a community in Paraguay where one man had to leave his family for 3 months every year to work in Argentina to be able to provide the needed income for his family. His wife hated the fact of her husband being away, so they decided to join a beekeeping project to find an additional source of income. The beekeeping project was made possible through the UTZ premium fund and was so successful, that today, the family earns enough income from the mabagrown® certified wild collection and the income from beekeeping that the husband does not have to leave the community for work.

Such investments in community programs are made possible through direct investments of Martin Bauer Group, local partners, customers as well as by the UTZ premium which is part of the UTZ certification of the Martin Bauer Group. Up to now, over 60 projects focused on social and environmental sustainability were implemented in mabagrown® certified supply chains.

Success of mabagrown®

“The standard is helping drive change in the herb industry from a place of conventional, uncontrolled and non-traceable supply chain, where no questions are asked about the lives of people now to a place where they know all the people in the supply chain and are working to address their needs. It is helping improve the standards for the industry as a whole. Thus, we have some work ahead of us…” — Anne Wedel-Klein

“Martin Bauer Group sees more of their customers requesting mabagrown® certified products and shifting away from conventional products. This happens especially as the customers and consumers are understanding the benefits of having a certification like this. “In the end, it has to be part of a company’s sourcing strategy in order to be able to harvest not only today, but tomorrow.” — Anne Wedel-Klein

“Working with our partners often means long term security of household incomes. People are often working with our raw material partners for 10 or 20 years which is usual in our herbal supply chains but often untypical for the usual work in some of the countries we source from. This shows us the importance and the meaning of our business for the people.” — Joscha Reichold


*UTZ is a certification program, whose name is derived from the Quiché Mayan language phrase Utz Kapeh meaning “good coffee.” Learn more here.