In an announcement that surprised many, the China Food and Drug Administration has issued draft guidelines which we understand to mean that animal testing for most cosmetics will no longer be required from June 2014 - initially for production in China, but with an extension to imports planned as a further step. This is a dramatic change from the previous position, which was that China was the one country in the world that insisted on testing every cosmetic product before it was allowed on the market.
The benefits for animals are very significant - anyone who is aware of the infamous Draize Eye test that forces shampoo into rabbits' eyes over several days will appreciate that change was overdue, especially as the non-animal alternative tests often have a better predictive value for actual human reactions.
The way this happened has implications beyond the world of animal protection and cosmetics. A chain reaction began as far back as 2004, when the European Union banned the test of finished cosmetics products on animals. A ban on the testing of cosmetic ingredients followed in 2009. Further campaigning by 20 animal protection groups across Europe led by the BUAV in Britain gained majority support in the key European Parliament committee to ban even the import of cosmetics tested on animals, and this was confirmed by the Commission and took effect from March 2013.
Up to this point, much of the industry had resisted the campaign as an undesirable constraint, but their interest has now flipped, after all in a globalised world it is simply a nuisance if one market bans animal tests while another insists on them. Accordingly, when China announced a review of its regulations this year, the BUAV's global partner, Cruelty Free International, was able to assemble a coalition of concerned companies for a joint submission to China. This was reinforced by supportive input for change from the European Chamber of Commerce and the European Commission.
Visits to China by senior Cruelty Free International staff to talk to regulators and companies reinforced the effort, and a global petition with The Body Shop raised a million signatures urging governments worldwide to end animal testing for cosmetics.
Some conclusions can be drawn:
• A change in regulations relating to ethical standards in a major world market may lead to a review of the regulations across the world.
• Campaigns for higher ethical standards need to operate globally, so that success in one region can be used as a basis for progress in the others.
• Opponents of change before it happens may become supporters once the change is underway, because the need for global standardisation trumps previous resistance.
• China is not as impenetrable and difficult to engage as is widely assumed, where there is a clear business case for change and it is an issue that consumers care about.
The tendency in recent years has been to see globalisation as an unalloyed danger, inevitably leading to a "race to the bottom". That does not have to be the case. Yes, we have global markets but no global government. We do, however, have an increasingly global ethos of what is and is not acceptable, and even apparently rigid governments may respond - sometimes slowly, sometimes unexpectedly, but sometimes more positively than expected.
Working for ethical change can be frustrating, and we sometimes long for a simpler age. However, when change comes, it can echo around the world.