I'll start with a disclaimer: I love makeup. I love it, but I can't justify buying a product that isn't essential to my life, that has been developed by companies responsible for the suffering and death of animals, regardless of how good the discount is or whether Kate Moss appears in the advert.
My quest for cruelty-free started with the beauty company Lush. I thought that if they could sell products that didn't harm animals, what was stopping other companies from doing the same? The more I looked into animal testing, the more of a no-brainer the issue seemed. Animal experiments have only a 5-25% success rate for predicting harmful human side effects. Animals pass 92% of clinical tests that humans fail, meaning that the predictions from animal testing are inconclusive and often incorrect. If the tests aren't producing meaningful results, why haven't they been completely eradicated?
This is a question that is still relevant in the UK despite the EU banning the sale of all cosmetic products developed through animal testing in March 2013. The process of picking out truly cruelty-free products is much more complex than it needs to be because we make our purchases in an increasingly global marketplace. Countries operate under different regulatory standards and there is still no formal national regulatory acceptance process in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, Russia and Canada. Big companies want to sell to as many places as possible, meaning that animal testing often sneaks into their practices despite the EU's ban.
If you go to your local Boots or Superdrug and pick up a Rimmel mascara or a Maybelline foundation, your purchase still supports animal testing elsewhere in the world. This is because large companies like the two mentioned above sell their products to the Chinese market. In China, it is illegal to sell cosmetic products that have not been tested on animals. The products you buy in the Europe may not in themselves have been tested on animals, but the company will still conduct animal tests elsewhere in the world.
Toxicologists, chemists and pharmacists who are committed to removing animals from cosmetic testing are currently working on the 'Three Rs' principle. The Three Rs stand for Reduce, Refine, and Replace, and the main focus is on the complete replacement of animal subjects in testing. In the not-so-distant future, all routine toxicity testing can be conducted in human cells and cell lines. 3D models of human tissue are the way forward as they offer much more accurate predictions without relying on animal suffering.
Although I'm not specifically writing about the use of animals in testing drugs and medications, there have also been replacement developments in this area. For example, in October 2014, human brain cells were replicated for use in Alzheimer's research. If we can replace animals in medical trials, there is no reason why they should be used for cosmetic products.
On 24th November, Lush held their annual conference and awards ceremony, to celebrate and reward the work done globally to end animal testing. I caught up with Mark Constantine, the founder of Lush, and Hilary Jones, the ethics director at Lush, to find out more about Lush's cruelty-free principles and their plans for the future.
The Body Shop became part of the L'Oreal Group in 2006. L'Oreal is known for continuing to test ingredients on animals, a practice that is antithetical to the founding principles of The Body Shop. Could Lush 'sell out' in the same way?
Hilary Jones: If you want to run a company to a set of values of your choosing, then it seems to us that it is essential to not take in investment from outside or go public. When others outside the company are interested only in financial returns or share dividends, this limits the scope of the decisions one can make.
Mark Constantine: We're making sure that no one can ever sell Lush. We cannot be bought by L'Oreal. They wouldn't have the intellectual property. Our aim is to have more staff ownership, a staff trust where people get the profits of their hard work coming down through the business. The key is to employ as many passionate people as possible, who have fierce views on how things should be run, so that whenever anyone tries to turn away from that, they will be met with strong opposition. We need to be passionate and vigorous, answering questions as they come up, and fighting battles that have been won before but need to be won again.
Is Lush doing anything to help change the regulatory laws in China?
Hilary Jones: There is almost no way to completely stop the illicit purchase and resale of our products into China, try as we will. But most important to us is the dialogue that many animal groups are having with China, to try to encourage them to harmonise their legislation with the stricter non-animal standards of Europe. Any advances in animal welfare in a country the size of China have a huge effect on vast amounts of animals. We will not trade there until there is no longer any requirement for animal testing at all stages of product development and sale.
Do you consider Lush to be an ethical employer?
Hilary Jones: Internally we never call ourselves an ethical company. We have a vision for our company that we are constantly striving towards but is always just that little bit out of reach. I am not sure that we would ever settle for where we are, because we would always want to make more improvements or implement other ideas. We know we are not perfect, but the heart and soul of the company is good and caring and there is a wish to create something different and better than the norm.
How would you respond to claims that a profitable business cannot be run on ethical principles?
Hilary Jones: Well it simply can. All too often that is just used as an excuse to do nothing. The business-as-usual idea, where anything goes in the pursuit of profit. We make sure that we judge our decisions against a set of values and objectives, with money simply being one of them. There are times when decisions have been made that dent profit - but those kind of losses can be offset by other ethical decisions, like taking more care of how one uses energy and water. We believe a healthy business model can be built that allows for the freedom to do the right thing at more cost sometimes, where necessary, without sacrificing overall profitability.
Would you consider releasing a cheaper range of make-up for shoppers on a budget (students etc.) who wish to switch their cosmetic products over to cruelty-free?
Hilary Jones: We certainly don't regard ourselves as a high end brand by any means. But we also recognise that many families have had less disposable income over the last few years and prices need to be affordable. We try to price our products fairly, taking into account the costs of the materials used in each individual product. We don't squander money on packaging, or advertising - which are things that hugely inflate the prices of many cosmetics brands. But it is not necessarily the cheaper products that become our best sellers - so clearly price is not the only thing that drives our customers. For us, the challenge is putting together a product made of wonderful ingredients which customers then find meets a need in their life and wants to keep buying. To invent a product that our customer love, that can be made with ingredients from our fair trade projects and that required no animal testing is for us the greatest joy and the reason we come to work each day - and if that product is also one that requires no packaging, then we feel our work here is done.
Mark Constantine: We're doing it. The real key is to cut away the marketing and get the advice right. If I make sure that what you buy from me is appropriate for you, you won't end up with a bathroom cabinet or dressing table full of crap that you know you're going to throw out. So if you're buying three for two, and you only use a tiny bit because it wasn't right for you, then that's what we're fighting. We don't want you to end up with trial and error products, where a lot of it is a waste of your money and then goes to landfill.
If you're interested in switching over your makeup and grooming products to cruelty-free alternatives, it's important to have accurate information at your fingertips. Don't get confused by brands that claim to be cruelty-free, while employing other companies to carry out animal tests for them. This information changes all the time, for example, Urban Decay are no longer considered cruelty-free due to their involvement with L'Oreal.
Public health is not being protected by animal testing. These tests are not reliable and we have 21st century solutions that can guarantee consumer safety without causing suffering. What we need now is joined-up, global thinking across big brands, and a vote-with-your-feet consumer approach. If you don't like animals getting sick and dying for your foundation or shower gel, don't buy from brands that use animals in tests. The majority of companies are profit driven, meaning that the consumer has much more individual and collective power than you might think.