China still tests their beauty products on animals, so why is it that big beauty brands continue to sell there?
Every year over 375,000 animals are used for testing in China, they are then killed when testing is complete 1
Beauty is big business, the global industry is worth over 200 billion dollars and Estee Lauder makes up around 30 billion of that. 2
Estee Lauder is one of the biggest beauty companies in the world, they own a plethora of make up and beauty brands; MAC, Bumble and Bumble, Clinique, Glam Glow, La Mer and Origins to name a few. So why does a company who own some of the biggest names in skincare in the world, and is the second biggest beauty conglomerate in the industry, still allow their products to be tested on animals?
We met up with Estee Lauders Vice President of Communications Anna & Ken, senior VP from their regulatory department to find out if it’s all about the money or if there is more than meets the eye.
As Industry leaders, how are you inciting change within the country?
Anna - A lot of our efforts have been put into working with the Chinese Authorities to change this problem, we have faced this issue before as we were one of the first companies to push alternatives to animal testing back in the 80’s.
But how are you working towards an end to Animal Testing in China?
Ken - We are campaigning in China, it’s my feeling that in order to be effective you have to be there, if we just pull out of the country we are a non entity, we aren’t there to put pressure where pressure is needed. Over the past few years we have been training their scientists on alternative methods, we have joined with a group called IIVS (international institute for in vitro sciences) they’re very focused on China and have been working with the NIFDC (national institute for the control of pharmaceutical and biological products) to design new methods to roll out to the governments. China is a complex country and their governments work very differently to ours so inciting change is a long process. You have to have training programs all set for scientists as well as the government, and now that is being rolled out across the country I feel like change is closer than ever and that’s all due to the pressure companies like ours are putting on the Government. There have been multiple seminars and talks given to them by us and trade association committees on how to do safety testing without even looking at a animal, we have had the US dept of commerce go out on our behalf and talk to them about their regulations, so we are 100% not just sitting doing nothing, we are really working hard to make this change happen.
We all believe in Estee Lauder that it’s the right thing to do, we stopped animal testing in the late 80’s and there is no need for us to go back, and that proves a point that it’s not, and never has been necessary.
Anna - We are very lucky to have Ken pushing this as he was part of that movement in the 80’s pushing for that change and encouraging the acceptance of alternative testing methods.
We have a face in China, we have credibility, we have a seat at the table and our own scientists are able to engage with people on the ground so for us we see it as an advantage and we see that we have a role in the solution here that is on the scientific side. We understand that other companies are activists from the outside, campaigning for change without being in the country and thats really important but because of our position and the fact we have done this before we have the opportunity to be there and try to affect change from the inside. I will say working with IIVS (MAC has started working with them in a much closer capacity), who also work with PETA and humane society, has been very productive, we wanted to find an organisation who was already making change within the country and pool our resources with them.
Ken - In May I visited the NIFDC with a group of industry leaders and the Department of Commerce and there were multiple times during those meeting that the NIFDC admitted how much they appreciated the efforts of the IIVS. They are a recognised entity within the country that the governments are using now to start to implement these changes.
Do you feel with all the work you are doing in China with the Government that there is an end date in sight for animal testing within the country?
Ken - I think it will stop in phases, in China they divide products into simple and special cosmetics. Simple cosmetics are things like blushes, lipsticks, foundations, shampoos, eye shadows etc and so for those simple cosmetics, in my personal opinion not Estee Lauders, will stop animal testing within the nest 5 years and they will be able to supplement it with safety assessments. It’ll take a little longer for special cosmetics like sunscreens, hair growth products and whitening products with a more medicinal like nature to them, as the government will probably be a little more reluctant to let animal testing go entirely.
One of the key differences between here and China is that here, Europe and most of the world we the company are responsible for the safety of our products. When you get to China it’s the government that is responsible. So if something goes wrong here & in Europe the repercussions come back to us which is why we are so careful with our prouducts. But in China, even if we are responsible, it’s also a person in the regulatory department of the FDA and they know if anything does go wrong that they are going to lose their job, their career and so it’s a different world to work in because of that. They have a mentality of 'we need to protect you from yourself' and that's why I think they are so slow to change because they just want to protect themselves.
With regards to the length of testing and the time it takes to approve any specific chemical based ingredients in China do you think this will negatively effect the time it takes for them to move away from animal testing?
Ken - The testing process is a long process, in their catalogue of approved ingredients there are around 8000 ingredients, so we have enough to work with for formulations, getting an ingredient approved is such a long and arduous process that no one really starts it, not to mention the animal testing that these ingredients have to go through which none of us like to do.
How is Campaigning for change in China different to the approach you used in the USA & Europe?
Anna - China are at a different stage of their evolution on this issue and we know that we are not going to get traction within the country by shaming anyone. Our Campaign is very different, we want to have the right people in place to share our knowledge of the alternatives, and we are pushing for the acceptance of these alternatives. We have been using the alternatives to animal testing for years and they also exist in China but it's the acceptance that those methods work is another matter. So our campaign is to support them with more scientists, more facilities for non animal testing, we are working continually close the gap and they them know that the alternative methods are safe, they are validated, and they work. We want to help the government get to the stage where they no longer feel it is necessary to test on animals.
Do you feel there would be more of an impact if you pulled out of selling any products within the country but continued to work with them on the alternative route?
Anna - I think we would be at a disadvantage, it takes all approaches to incite change. For companies who have decided to not sell in the Chinese market that is great, we need to come at this from all angles. We as a company have a unique opportunity because of our credibility in this area and I cant reiterate enough how much we don't like this practice, especially for some of our brands, MAC especially who were such market leaders in this area. But by being there and by having that presence we feel that we are able to put more pressure and help them. If we are all gone what incentive does China have to change their practices?
Would their incentive not be to get you to come back?
Ken - To be honest they wouldn't care. They are starting to build their own Beauty brands now, they'd probably be just as happy if we left.
Anna - We believe that the industry working together and all of us having different tactics will help change come faster. We chose to be within the country and to be really engaged with pushing change through in China.
Ken - We have always been quiet about things like this, it's just not in our culture as a company to talk about it. In the 80's when we stopped testing on animals we didn't shout about it, we just got on with it. The whole world has moved on from animal testing and I think China are just stuck in the 70's with regards to testing and we are trying to help them move forward.
China is changing, we have been working with them for over 10 years and they are becoming more modern with their thinking, they are developing their own cosmetics and beauty brands to put out and sell into the rest of the world and if you are a wold player you can't put things out that are going to have averse reactions so they will have to adopt the materials and the standards of the industry as a whole.
Anna - They are going to have to meet where the world is now with regards to testing if they want to move onto the world stage.
It's becoming more widely known about the animal testing issue in China, do you think it would be beneficial to you as a brand to be more open about the work you are doing with the Chinese government to end animal testing?
Anna - That's why we wanted to talk to you. We have realised over the last few months that in this process we have been our own worst enemy by being silent about the issue. We realise now that people may be misunderstanding our point of view and our effort in this area. In the rest of the world we do not test our products on animals but with regards to China we are in a country where this is the industry standard. Instead of pulling out we feel it is our responsibility to help them move forward and adjust their standards.
We do want to talk more openly about this issue and we want others who have a different opinion to understand where we are coming from. Again we do believe that it's going to take the entire industry to change this, with people campaigning from the outside and companies like ours trying to work with them internally.
We want people to ask us, we want people to be invested in this change as much as we are, if they have a different point of view thats ok, but we want to make sure our investment in this is understood and we definitely don't want people to think that they can't have a conversation with us about China and animal testing.
So there you have it.
Whilst we will not be running to buy any Estee Lauder owned products anytime soon we will be watching closely for updates on their progress within the Chinese market. Hopefully by being more open about this Estée lauder will have inspired more brands to do the same and the archaic practice of testing on animals will soon be a thing of the past.
We want to hear from you! What are your thoughts on this subject, did you know China still tested on animals? Do you want to hear more from Estee Lauder on their efforts in China? Do you think this will change your beauty shopping habits?
Join the discussion on Twitter - #ffdtalksanimaltesting