Last year, I broke the news that heritage French cosmetics house Guerlain would partner with Angelina Jolie and UNESCO’s Women for Bees Programme to help counter the dropping rates of the world honeybee population. Now, one year later, the 50 women who have been educated as beekeepers through the program have graduated and will go into beekeeping training programs with the help of Jolie and a second €1m donation made by Guerlain.
This stage of the efforts will see the launch of the Cambodian phase of the program. 12 of the new women beekeeper trainees who have been chosen by the UNESCO team in Phenom Pen along with Jolie’s charitable foundation in the region, the MJP Foundation, will enter into six months of training which has been officially inaugurated by Jolie.
The overarching objectives of the Guerlain x UNESCO Women For Bees Programme is twofold: to create entrepreneurship and employment opportunities for women while also working to repopulate dwindling bee populations, an insect which plays a critical role in pollination and, as a result, food security. According to IPBES Assessment Report on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production, close to 75% of all cultivated plants and 90% of wild flowering plants depend on pollinators, which includes bees.
“In 2021, we joined forces with UNESCO and actress and philanthropist Angelina Jolie to launch the Women for Bees program with significant goals for 2025–2,500 hives installed in the heart of 25 UNESCO biosphere reserves, 125 million bees repopulated and 50 women trained and supported in establishing their own beekeeping operations,” says Cécile Lochard, Guerlain’s Chief Sustainability Officer.
“Following the first training program in France and now this second one in Cambodia, the Women for Bees program will have trained 18 total beekeepers, all of which are well underway of creating their own beekeeping operations worldwide. And at the end of the first year of the program, we are on track to have repopulated nearly 25 million bees.”
Earlier this year, Jolie—who is the muse to the house and Godmother of the bee program—visited Cambodia to launch the 6-month training program for the 12 beekeepers where she was joined by a graduate from the program’s inaugural class, beekeeper Aggelina Kanellopoulou. With Jolie’s support, Kanellopoulou acted as a mentor to the new trainees and shared her experiences with them which included her education in the best practices in beekeeping.
As part of the visit, the two went to Siam Reap, the Samlot District and the Tonle Sap UNESCO Biosphere Reserve which is part of the Angkor Archeological Park. Jolie also stopped at local high schools, forest conservation and biodiversity survey sites within the reserve and also joined a beekeeping session at the Guerlain Bee School in the Samlot District.
Jolie’s participation in the Guerlain x UNESCO Women for Bees Programme came full circle with this recent visit as it was she who brought Guerlain to the Southeast Asian nation in 2019 as the place to commence her work with the French house. Cambodia was the backdrop for their first Mon Guerlain commercial together and during the visit, she and the Guerlain team met members of the MJP Foundation as well as the people of the communities which benefit from the work the foundation is doing.
Jolie’s passion for Cambodia is in part to honor the motherland of her son Maddox who hails from there (the MJP in her foundation’s name stands for her son’s initials, Maddox Jolie Pitt). Jolie chose to base the foundation in the Samlot Region because it’s the area of the country which had been most impacted by the Cambodian Civil War.
As part of its mission, The MJP Foundation aims to counter the extreme poverty which exists in rural areas of Cambodia. There are several aspects to executing its mission which include improvement of health and health services, education, agriculture, and women’s empowerment programs. There is also a strong emphasis on the protection of the environment and conserving wildlife in the area. Additionally, the foundation educates farmers on how to gain the maximum output and utility from their livestock, land, and other resources and are also being trained to raise bees for honey production.
Both the MJP Foundation and the The Guerlain x UNESCO Women for Bees Programme do have to combat strong Cambodian cultural values tied to wild honey in order to achieve their missions regarding bee preservation. The use of wild honey is extensive in traditional Cambodian medicines and beeswax for blessing ceremonies is deeply rooted in the culture, so much so that honey-hunting is considered a long-standing ancestral tradition.
But this honey-hunting along with deforestation and pesticides are the major threats to the population of honeybees in Cambodia, so the goal of all parties involved is to shift the value system around wild honey in Cambodia through education, outreach and training which extends beyond the bee program trainees. Tour guides are also being educated as part of a pilot program which utilizes the guides as disseminators of information to the general public, including tourists, on the importance of native bee conservation.
In addition to these long-term efforts, Guerlain is calling upon its supporters, customers, and anyone who wants to help bee preservation to shop their products between May 20th (World Bee Day) and May 22 (The International Day for Biological Diversity) during which 20% of all sales will be donated to the program. Additionally, all sales of the limited-edition Huile-en-Eau Abeille Royale, whose bottle has been decorated with artwork designed by famed designer and artist, Tomáš Libertíny, will go to the bee program. Guerlain has also taken this initiative digital via an activation where €20 will be donated for every repost (with the hashtags #GuerlainForBees and #WorldBeeDay) of Tomáš Libertíny’s visual created for the house’s social media.