By Production Manager Catherine Charlebois
“Why don’t you wear makeup? I think a bit of mascara would look super cute on you.”
Those were the words that started it all—my growing fascination with makeup. I didn’t have a “typical” experience when it came to discovering the world of cosmetics. Growing up, my mother was never one to doll herself up and it was never really a huge part of my youth. When one of the girls in my grade nine gym class approached me, my interest was piqued. As for many early teens, the way people transformed themselves with colourful powders, pencils, and wands was completely foreign to me.
It only occurred to me as I reached early adulthood to wonder about what went into creating makeup—not just which shade of cheap eyeliner I wanted to try out next. Finding pictures of crusty-eyed, red-skinned, patchy-furred bunnies as the result of repeated product testing by makeup companies during my research had me delving deeper into the true meaning of cruelty-free cosmetics.
Issues in makeup production have steadily been hitting the forefront of the cosmetic world, with a variety of brands now ditching animal testing in favour of human trial and vegan options. These brands have stopped using animal by-products like horse hair, beeswax, and collagen. A growing awareness of makeup production practices has consumers turning to non-testing brands and buying makeup from companies who proudly stamp the “cruelty-free” bunny symbol on their product labels. Yet, taking company claims of being cruelty-free isn’t always so clear-cut—your money could still be contributing to animal testing.
For example, there are issues of parent companies who buy out or take over a smaller company, keeping both companies separate, some of which are not cruelty-free. These all- powerful parent companies can still use animal testing to test ingredients—affecting the cruelty-free status of their smaller brands by association. Many of the staple cruelty-free cosmetic brands, such as The Body Shop, are now run under L’Oréal, a multi-billion dollar company that tests on animals.
L’Oréal, among other parent companies, has had some dubious practices called out by the public and ethical watchdog groups. While they claim not to have tested on animals since 1990, they have done so for new ingredients under European Law requirements.
Despite this change, The Body Shop can still claim to be cruelty-free, by being a subsidiary to this bigger brand.
The Body Shop opened in the United Kingdom in 1976. Its creator, the late Anita Roddick, focused on social causes that empowered women, encouraged fair trade and ethical consumerism, and opposed animal testing.
After the L’Oréal takeover in 2006, The Body Shop received flack for its apparent hypocrisy, with animal rights activists protesting the takeover and telling their followers to boycott the chain.
The Naturewatch Foundation, a European charity “dedicated to the advancement of animal welfare”, actively questioned the takeover as it happened. The late John Ruane, the foundation’s director, stated in a 2006 interview for The Guardian that “If [the consumer is spending] money at The Body Shop, it could go to animal testing,” upping the stakes by taking The Body Shop off Naturewatch’s list of approved cruelty-free retailers.
Amidst this controversy, Roddick reassured the media in March of 2006 that L’Oréal would comply to The Body Shop’s strict no animal testing policy. “There’s only one area we challenge [in L’Oréal’s animal testing policies],” she said.
“They have a great statement about what they’re doing on the issue of animal testing, or what they’re trying to do. I’m too old, I’m too smart, to give it away for it to be destroyed.”
Though The Body Shop has committed to avoiding animal testing within the company or in its supply chain since 1989, L’Oréal still has an animal testing program.
According to the L’Oréal website, the company plans to phase out animal testing within the next 20 years.
A Body Shop veteran sales associate of 24 years who wished to remain anonymous joined the company in the late 1980s. After being let go in 2013 due to a series of health complications, she has had time to reflect on all the changes brought about by the L’Oréal takeover. Inspired by the company’s values, she first joined the company as a sales associate due to its corporate values.
“When you’re young and idealistic, and you find a company that stands out for political activism and encourages its employees to take a stand for what they believe in—well, you just jump at it,” she says. “I thought it was amazing to work for a company that truly believed in nurturing the planet.”
She recalls Roddick being seen as an idol, a champion of animal rights and social activism, who prompted her employees to go out and do good in the world. “We weren’t just selling soap,” she says. “We were promoting a lifestyle of awareness of positive change that individuals could make.”
Foot massages at the Walk for Aids event in Vancouver, refilling product bottles, encouraging customers to use their public facilities, working in kitchens in local seniors’ centres, babysitting at daycares for teenage mothers, and piling into a Greyhound to attend the Clayoquot Sound Protests in the 1990s are just a few of the socially conscious events she participated in during her time as a “Body Shop Goddess”.
“When L’Oréal bought out [The Body Shop in 2006], there were tons of repercussions on all sides,” she says. “L’Oréal has never had a great rep as far as cosmetic testing is concerned, and The Body Shop has been instrumental in having a European ban on testing on animals.”
With an overhaul of company design and rebranding of products, the formulas themselves have changed, deterring some, including myself as an avid Body Shop patron, from remaining loyal to the company.
“I think Anita sold the company with the best intentions, though she was very naïve in thinking so,” she says. “She honestly believed that she would be able to bring more money to more communities and more social and environmental issues.”
In addition, cruelty-free brands cannot sell to China, where national law requires cosmetic testing on animals before they are put on market.
On March 11, 2014, Choice (a consumer watchdog company), discovered that The Body Shop had products on shelves in the Duty Free section of at least two Chinese airports. According to an article in The Guardian, The Body Shop released a statement that the Beijing and Shanghai airport stores “[were] treated differently to mainland Chinese mandatory regulation.” It further stipulated that “[The Body Shop does not] believe that the post market surveillance testing on animals is applied and [the company has] no knowledge it has been.”
The next day, the company’s products were pulled from the shelves by The Body Shop after receiving news of the incident. It is unclear whether the company knew about their products being on the Duty Free shelves prior to this discovery.
Choice’s chief executive, Alan Kirkland, deplored the company’s choice of selling in the airports, claiming both L’Oréal and The Body Shop had been deflecting requests for clarification on the matter. In the same Guardian article, a Body Shop spokesperson assured the media that products sold in China “[were] a short-term thing,” adding, “If it comes about that there’s any reason to be concerned, we will absolutely stay out of the [Chinese] market.”
While products sold in airports don’t follow the same regulations as the required animal testing policy in China, they can still be subject to post-market testing.
Criticized heavily for “not doing their homework” by Choice after the airport fiasco, The Body Shop got the message after the 2014 incident, and has since stayed out of Chinese markets, except for two company-owned entities (stores selling Body Shop products but owned separately) in Hong Kong and Macau. The Body Shop still maintains its strict no animal testing policy, as stated on its website.
As for myself, I’ve since stopped buying from The Body Shop. I dream of a day where the issue of cruelty-free cosmetics will be a thing of the past. With an increase in animal activism being done in China where there are increasing protests, challenges to traditional unethical practices, fighting for the betterment of animal welfare, and works to change testing requirements, I hope this will become a reality in the next decade. When it comes to buying cruelty-free, and the strong push of activism in China, Anita Roddick’s famous quote rings true: “If you do things well, do them better. Be daring, be first, be different, be just.”
Listed below are a few of the big names in cruelty- free makeup brands. Found on <peta.org>, some of the brands below have been moved due to their ‘grey area’ status.
• Anastasia Beverly Hills
• BareFaced Cosmetics
• Colourpop Cosmetics
• e.l.f Cosmetics
• Kat Von D Beauty
• Manic Panic
• Too Faced
Grey Area Makeup (owned by parent companies)
• bareMinerals • Burt’s Bees
• Liz Earle
• The Body Shop
• Urban Decay