Western Beauty Brands: Cruelty in China

By Eloisa Artuso

Although testing cosmetics on animals became illegal in the EU last year, several big name European beauty companies have sadly been forced to remove the Leaping Bunny logo that declares them free of animal cruelty after they decided to sell their products in China.

L’Occitane, Yves Rocher, Dior, Chanel, Caudalie, Estee Lauder, Lancome, Givenchy, YSL and L’Oreal are amongst some of the beauty brands that can no longer use the internationally-recognised official Leaping Bunny logo that indicates their cosmetics are free from animal testing – because now, they’re not.

This change came about after these mainly French firms decided to sell their goods in China, where animal testing on beauty products for human use is still actually required by law. America’s Proctor & Gamble, which owns Gillette, Crest and Braun, and Estee Lauder, which owns Clinique, Tom Ford, Elizabeth Arden, MAC, La Mer, Bobby Brown and surprisingly, the ‘eco-friendly’ brands Origins and Aveda, are also included in the group that test on animals in China.

Western Beauty Brands: Cruelty in China

Western Beauty Brands: Cruelty in China

Clearly, these companies believe continued growth in a US$32  billion beauty market is more important than killing thousands of animals per year, simply to test cosmetic ingredients, most of which have been proven safe already. Although animal testing is still fairly common in other big markets like the United States,  China is the only major market where companies must legally test every new beauty product on animals. According to London-based animal-rights group Cruelty Free International, “rabbits are killed or ingredients dripped into their eyes during Chinese tests”.  PETA estimates that at least 72 animals are used for each product.

The EU, on the other hand, tightened regulations even more to also prohibit products tested on animals anywhere else. Therefore, it would be against European policies to sell any product that has been tested on animals in China, so companies would need to reformulate their goods for the two markets.

L’Oreal stated that in 1989, the company was able to end all testing of its products on animals, without making them any less safe. In addition to that, they claim that “since March 2013, The Group no longer tests on animal, anywhere in the world, and does not delegate this task to others. An exception could only be made if regulatory authorities demanded it for safety or regulatory purposes”.

Western Beauty Brands: Cruelty in China

Exceptions? According to L’Oreal, “the exception is very rare and has not occurred since March 2013”, yet they also declared that  “local authorities could choose to reexamine the safety data of a known family of ingredients, and could require new safety data”, which take us back to the situation in China. L’Oreal says they are not doing the testing themselves, but that  “in China, the regulatory authorities carry out within their evaluation centres animal tests for finished cosmetics products before these are placed on their market. We think these tests are unnecessary but we cannot prevent them.”

We think this is a poor excuse. Britain banned animal testing as far back as 1998, and several large cosmetics companies including Paul Mitchell, The Co-operative, Superdrug and Marks & Spencer all have Leaping Bunny certification, meaning they are cruelty-free.

Even if the Chinese government is doing the animal testing rather than the brand, several British brands, such as hair-care giant John Paul Mitchell Systems, find that unacceptable. JPMS pulled out of China after being informed that the company would have to pay for government-run animal tests in order to continue selling its products there.

Paul Mitchell CEO and co-founder John Paul DeJoria put sales in China on hold last year and confirmed they will not sell products in that country in order to remain committed to the company’s cruelty-free policy. Revlon has also pulled out of China. Why aren’t the French brands taking the same position?


Next steps

According to L’Oreal, the group has been working in close collaboration with Chinese authorities to bring rapid change to the regulatory framework of products that require animal testing in order to recognise alternative methods that are already validated in many other countries. However, the fact that the French cosmetics giant has started buying up local beauty brands to sell to the Chinese market makes us doubt their commitment to cruelty-free cosmetics.

According to Xu Jingquan, the General Secretary of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, China is not averse to the idea of tests without animals, although developing expertise will take time:  “Our R&D [Research and Development] isn’t as sophisticated, and the consumer here doesn’t think as much about ideals such as animal testing… they care about the price, the brand and the product,” said Xu Jingquan.

Western Beauty Brands: Cruelty in China

This fact is reflected in the Chinese preference for Korean beauty products, which have no restrictions about being tested on animals, and which are cheaper than Western brands.

While China seems to be considering easing rules on animal testing for some “non-specialised cosmetics” manufactured in China (such as shampoos, soaps, nail products and some skin products), it seems that with its ever-growing demand for ivory, coral, tiger bones and penises, rhino horn, shark fin and other exotic animal products, animal cruelty in China won’t stop any time soon.

Meanwhile, Western brands like L’Oreal continue to court Chinese consumers. But with their cruelty-free policies dropped, we predict they’ll be losing a lot of Western customers at the same time.

All images: Fair use of the stipulated brands’ adverts

Chere Di Boscio

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  • Reply
    Feb 18, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    Thanks for a good piece. In my experience, big cosmetics companies, like L’Oreal don’t give a flip about the animals they test on or phasing out animal testing as a whole. They care about profits. If you’ve ever seen their testing labs, they look like animal shelters: dogs, cats, monkeys, rabbits, rats, goats…every animal under the sun. Their words are pretty much just lip service to keep people buying their products. In fact, there’s not a single prestige cosmetics brand that has turned down sales in China or taken a strong stand against animal testing. What’s nice is that there are so many other brands that have never, will never, and actively fight the process of testing on animals. To me, that’s true luxury. Great, effective products that are kind to animals and the earth. “Prestige” and “Luxury” are all relative and I hope that we stop equating those with a price point and start attributing those based on the value system of the product and companies.

    • Reply
      Feb 20, 2014 at 10:04 am

      As I’m reading this, I’m not very surprised. This is percisely why I choose to never outsource anything from China. I’m talking: packaging, labels, boxes, brushes, ingredients. Nothing.

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