Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap emanates from San Diego

By: Dion Markgraaff

The company’s core message that we are “All-One”, their leadership on global issues and solutions like organics and fair trade, and their compassionate support of those in our community, makes this San Diego business a world leader for others to emulate.

The Bronner family dedicates profits to “Human Projects” all over Spaceship Earth – from fresh water wells in Ghana to orphanages in Haiti and China; from helping organic farm projects to donating over 1,200 acres of land to the San Diego County Boys and Girls Club.” Their web site also states, “In total over the last five years, Dr. Bronner’s spending on social and environmental causes and charities has roughly matched our total after-tax income, and we intend to keep doing so as circumstances allow.”

A long family tradition of naturally cleaning the body and mind
Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps is a family business founded in Germany in 1858. Fleeing the rise of Nazism that would later annihilate his family and community, 3rd generation master soap maker Dr. Emanuel Bronner came to the U.S. in 1929 at the age of 21.  After working as a consultant for the U.S. soap industry, he launched his family’s soap recipes in 1948 with his universal message on the bottle that we must realize our transcendent unity or perish – “We’re All-One or None!” After escaping an Illinois mental institution, Dr. Bronner moved to Southern California, eventually establishing the current facility in Escondido in 1973.  His all-natural biodegradable soaps with his passionate message of peace on the label resonated with the counterculture of the late 60s and 70s that rejected the faceless corporate “Better Living Through Chemistry” that was destroying the planet. The magic soaps do many things in addition to cleaning your body.  They also wash your dishes, clean your teeth, wash your dog, and can also be used to spray pests off plants.

A good portrait of who he was and the energy of his spirit has been documented in a recent film, “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox”. This film was shown across the country in theaters and on local television many times. The film is an independent production, but has a lot of good footage. Todd David Schwartz of CBS Radio called the movie “An inspiration for eccentrics everywhere!”

The company is also a major supporter of the cannabis community and has given hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to the movement.  They subsidize the Hemp Industry Association (HIA) and continuously give money to Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana (NORML), the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), WAMM, and Erowid.

The role of cannabis in their products and activism comes from David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. After living in Amsterdam for a few months after college, he became a “cannabist” (cannabis activist) inspired by Jack Herer’s seminal work, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. The company has also been a supporter of NUG Magazine since our beginning.  David Bronner states, “NUG fills a critical need in San Diego for real up to date awareness about medical cannabis, especially given how rapidly the situation is changing and how incredibly lame our local political establishment is.  Information is Power, thank you NUG.”

Yes We Cannabis Fire Truck
David supports Prop. 19 and is working with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), the lead student organization working with the Yes on 19 campaign. With a massive fire truck touring California campuses, SSDP activists and the Yes We Cannabis Fire Truck will “Sound the Alarm to Vote Yes on Prop. 19.” SSDP already planned a massive canvass in Northern California months ago, but the group received a surprise $75,000 dollar donation from David Bronner and another $25,000 from Capitol Hemp Clothing and Accessories. “Young voters are the primary victims of the drug war and logically the largest group of supporters for Prop. 19,” says Aaron Houston, SSDP’s Executive Director. “We plan to register thousands of students in the next 10 days and help many first-time voters develop plans for Election Day.”

David does not mind battling and beating Goliaths
In 2001, the DEA and Federal Government tried to make all hemp food and cosmetic products that we buy today, a Schedule I drug, like heroin. David and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap Company was the major force defending the entire industry and fighting in court for the right to sell hemp products. Victory was declared in February of 2004.  Dr. Bronner then sued the DEA for legal fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act and prevailed, receiving more than $20,000 from the DEA.

Over the years, David has also supported local individual cannabis activists including me. He helped Steve McWilliams and Barbra MacKenzie with support, money, and bail through Steve’s medical cannabis lynching and suicide death at the hands of the federal government. When the City of San Diego said money was needed to get the town’s medical cannabis card ID system started, he offered to personally finance the $25,000.

The labels and philosophy of Dr. Bronner
Today the message of “All-One” continues in increasingly conscious company practices. The company’s relationship with their workers, suppliers, sellers, and consumers is brought to life, being the change they want to see in the world. It caps all family executive compensation at 5 times the lowest paid warehouse position, and gives generous profit sharing and bonuses to employees along with non-deductible healthcare.  The company has extended this ethic to its major supply chains as well. In 2003, they certified all soaps under the USDA’s National Organic Program, the same that certifies organic food.  By 2007, all major raw materials were certified “Fair Trade” as well.

The over 30,000 words spread across all the soap labels were Dr. Bronner’s life work of searching every religion and philosophy for “Full Truths” that can be summed up in two sentences:



Dr. Bronner would be very proud of his company and grandsons for giving life to the philosophy he preached.  Today, the company is run by the 5th generation of the family, grandsons of Dr. Bronner, David and Mike, and their sister, mother, uncle and brother in-law also work for the family owned company. These guys are smart. David graduated from Harvard and his brother Mike from Brown University. They have taken their family’s company to another level while sticking to the core ideas of their grandfather. Sales have grown from $5 million to over $33 million in 10 years and it is now the #1 best-selling natural soap in the United States and Japan.

In addition to the company’s core item – their famous all-purpose soap – they have also expanded the company’s product line to include lip balms, tattoo balms, lotions, hair rinses, and shaving gels, all made with their principles of being organic, fair trade, and vegan.

Organic Integrity
Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps has led the struggle for meaningful organic standards in body care. In 2005, the company was at the center for the fight for organic label standards and beat the USDA in a court action, and is in process of winning litigation they initiated against “organic cheater” brands in the natural channel such as Avalon Organics, Nature’s Gate, and Giovanni.

Dr. Bronner’s is a strong supporter of the Organic Consumer Association’s “Coming Clean” campaign to force cheaters to follow standards so consumers can have confidence in what they buy. Most people would be shocked to find that many “organic” and/or natural brands are made mainly with petroleum and non-organic agricultural material.

Fighting for Fair Trade
Following their philosophy of sharing their profits with the workers and world from which they make it, Dr. Bronner’s has adopted “fair trade” criteria in all dealings with farmers and workers around the world who produce their major raw materials (representing over 95% of their annual agricultural volume). Along with their families and communities, they benefit from fair prices, living wages, and funding for local development projects.

Their environmental consciousness extends to their packaging, where their bottles are made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic and their bar soap wrappers from 100% post-consumer paper.

Is there a “cooler”, more conscious company?
I admit I am biased towards Dr. Bronner’s because I have worked for them and they have supported me personally and professionally with my cannabis advocacy.  But in all honesty, I can say there is no cooler company than Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps.

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

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