Cruelty-Free Cosmetics: The Choice is Yours

When you try a new cosmetic product, do you care what the company you’re buying from did to get that product to market? Until recently, I didn’t give it too much thought. Then on curiosity I did a little research on some of the makeup companies whose products I admired. I learned a lot more than I bargained for.

Animal rights groups and animal-ethics conscious consumers have always advocated against companies that test on animals and praised those which maintained cruelty-free policies.

These Animal rights groups and conscious-consumers have recently been thrown for a loop with the uncovering of companies like Estee Lauder and Mary Kay in China, and the realization that by Chinese law, every company selling cosmetics in China is either testing on animals, themselves, or paying for a third-party company to carry out the tests. I searched and searched for a loophole, and alas it seems there are no two ways about it. If they’re selling in China, they are paying for their cosmetics to be proven safe for Chinese consumers via animal testing.

European and North American consumers have challenged the companies moving into China, asking if the sacrifice of their cruelty-free policy was really worth it. Companies like Urban Decay, once admired for their strong stance on the matter, argue that moving into China now allows them to start working from within to change the Government’s mind and educate Chinese companies about in-vitro testing, which is using chemicals rather than animals. For some, the argument that Urban Decay and other companies like it are slashing their cruelty-free policies in order to fight for the right to sell in China with animal testing is well-received, and the company may maintain their business as an activist company. For others the only appropriate stance a company can take towards the Chinese policy is to refuse to sell their products there.

Consumers urging companies to entirely refuse sales in China on the grounds of ethics are up against a force which has always been an equal, and in many cases greater match than ethics: money. The cosmetics market in China is described as an emerging one, meaning that it’s only getting bigger. Furthermore, as we all know, China has a lot of people. The risk of losing the animal-conscious consumer market around the rest of the world may not matter if these companies find success in China.

There is a distinct choice being made when companies move in to China. If they refuse to make that choice, they force themselves towards a more complex business model. Europe has long since banned the testing of cosmetic products on animals, and last week made that ban more potent by also banning the sale of products that contain animal tested ingredients. This means that for products being sold in Europe, they can, from raw ingredient to product in the consumer’s hand, never have harmed an animal.

With the entire European Union under this legislation, companies will either have to choose between selling in China or selling in Europe, or else create separate branches for the different nations with products which may be for all intensive purposes, the same, but one version would be cruelty-free and the other would not.

Some states have moved in the direction of cruelty-free legislation but neither the United States or Canadian federal governments have moved toward creating a federal policy on the matter. With the powers of Europe and China already implementing restrictions and rules to suit their ideals there is argument that for the West to do the same would make it very complicated for many international companies. Not to mention while many of our consumers are against animal testing, our most readily available products are animal tested.

Creating a comprehensive list of products that are safe for the animal-conscious consumer to purchase guilt-free is a hefty task. Lists already out there on the internet are vast and hard to keep update as different companies move into China, often without any more of an indication than a change of animal-policy on their website. However, walking through Shoppers Drug Mart’s cosmetic section with a smartphone and Google or Peta’s website leaves “Marcelle” as the only cruelty-free brand available without visiting a particular salon or ordering online.

Arguments for animal testing have long been results that prevent humans from experiencing any discomfort in the use of cosmetics. However, advocates against the practice insist that with the constant development of scientific in-vitro methods it is no longer necessary to inflict suffering under the guise of “public safety.” Still, some might add that while in medicine there is a life and death factor, the use of cosmetics is optional, and one afraid of trying something not tested on an animal might do fine in life without using makeup.

As the debate wages on between consumers and companies it will be interesting to see the change and development of world policy.