Volume 18 Number 2
From Turtles to Cosmetics
01 April 2005

When the Mexican government banned turtle-fishing in 1990, many of Mazunte’s inhabitants were left without work.

THE TOWN of Mazunte on the Pacific Coast of Mexico’s Oaxaca state is a small piece of paradise, where people and nature cohabit in a harmonious equilibrium. The area is famous for the Olive Ridley Turtles which return there every year to breed.

For generations local people have lived from turtle fishing and processing. But at the end of the Eighties a private consortium industrialized the fishing, raising fears for the species’ survival. When the Mexican government banned turtle-fishing in 1990, many of Mazunte’s inhabitants were left without work.

Tourism does not provide enough income to support Mazunte’s entire community. As a result many of the inhabitants have been drawn to the US, where they work illegally.

Cosmeticos Naturales de Mazunte (Mazunte Natural Cosmetics) was set up in the mid-1990s to provide alternative employment. The company, which was launched with help from The Body Shop and other organizations, uses natural ingredients in its shampoos, conditioners and creams.

Today, the cooperatively-owned company supports 15 families and is completely independent. Its annual revenue is 2 million pesos (approximately US$200,000).

The company’s success is surprising given the lack of infrastructure and education in the area. The nearest city is 30 minutes’ drive away and internet facilities are still precarious.

None of the employees have college education: not all of them completed high school. This makes their achievement all the more impressive. Women whose universe a few years ago was their home are now production directors, sales managers or retailers.

After 10 years of growth, Cosmeticos Naturales de Mazunte now faces the transition from a small social project to a micro-enterprise. It needs to find the way to be competitive while respecting equal opportunities and the environment. And to keep on finding new clients, lowering costs without cutting quality, establishing a more efficient organization, changing product design... Its staff are determined to prove that a social enterprise can be competitive.

Change can be difficult, particularly in a rural milieu. The decision-making process is sometimes slow because every worker has the right to express his or her opinion. As a foreign student in Mexico, doing an internship at Mazunte, I have had to adapt and reshape my thoughts.

I have found the experience overwhelming— and a wonderful opportunity to contribute, in a very small way, to Mexican development and to give life to my passion for Latin America.
Emilie Fresneau