Expanding the gulf between image and reality is what the cosmetics industry is all about
LONDON, U.K.––Cosmetics and personal care industry media are abuzz with the June 1, 2021 announcement by The Body Shop that every product it offers will be 100% vegan by the end of 2023.
Many consumers, on the other hand, are bewildered, having believed for years and even decades that all Body Shop products had always been vegan.
To be sure, The Body Shop itself has never made that claim. Testifies The Body Shop web site, “Over half our products are now vegan.”
But The Body Shop has created the impression of being a vegan brand, even if inadvertently, through aggressive market positioning.
“Save the Whales”
“Activism is in our DNA, since we first teamed up with Greenpeace back in 1986,” The Body Shop web site boasts, referencing that the then-ten-year-old company promoted the Greenpeace “Save the Whales” campaign.
This was before Greenpeace decided a few years later, in response to protest from indigenous whalers, that it does not oppose whaling “in principle.”
A decade later, in 1996, The Body Shop web site remembers, company representatives delivered a petition “Against Animal Testing” bearing four million signatures to the European Commission.
This campaign, The Body Shop claims, ignoring that the European Commission is not and was not then the same entity as the Parliament of the United Kingdom, led in November 1998 “to a U.K.-wide ban on animal testing on cosmetic products & ingredients.”
“A natural next step”
History aside, “Our decision to go 100% vegan is a natural next step for The Body Shop,” company global brand director Lionel Thoreau told Global Cosmetics News.
Elaborated Liam Pritchett on June 1, 2021 for the online daily vegan product news periodical LiveKindly, “The Body Shop is aiming to be 100% vegan by the end of 2023. The British cosmetics and beauty company just announced that The Vegan Society will be certifying its entire formulations portfolio. Approximately half of The Body Shop’s products are already vegan-friendly,” Pritchett confirmed, “though several others include honey, beeswax, lanolin [a wax obtained from wool], and shellac.
“Previously,” Pritchett added, “The Body Shop said it was ‘moving away from using any animal-derived products,’ and has not created any new or additional items featuring lanolin or shellac. Earlier this year, it even launched an updated version of its classic ‘White Musk’ [scent] in a recyclable bottle and made with a vegan recipe.”
“Younger millennials & Gen Zs”
Observed longtime Associated Press correspondent Sally Ho for the Hong Kong web site Green Queen, “The Body Shop’s decision to ditch all animal-based products is no doubt a move squarely aimed at the increasingly influential group of conscious consumers, primarily younger millennials and Gen Zs, who are changing the way brands behave.”
Caution from VegNews
But Anna Starostinetskaya of VegNews was cautious in her enthusiasm.
“Currently, 60% of The Body Shop’s offerings are clearly labeled as ‘vegan,’ Starostinetskaya wrote, “including its iconic perfume White Musk—which does not include the deer gland secretions found in non-vegan musk scents.
“The Body Shop has been working for more than 20 years with Cruelty Free International to advocate for the end of animal testing,” Starostinetskaya acknowledged.
“However, from 2006 to 2017, the brand was owned by L’Oreal, which has a sordid history of conducting cosmetic tests on animals. Now owned by ethical Brazilian brand Natura & Co.,” Starostinetskaya continued, “The Body Shop is looking to reconnect with its activist roots.”
Explained Starostinetskaya, “One of The Body Shop’s largest competitors is vegetarian brand Lush Cosmetics. While Lush has always been cruelty free and is a vocal advocate for ending cosmetic testing worldwide, the brand still uses animal ingredients such as honey in some of its formulations. However, in 2019, Lush took a big step toward becoming even more vegan-friendly by removing eggs from its products, stating that it was ‘unconvinced that even the very best egg production is free from suffering.’
“Instead of eggs,” Starostinetskaya said, “the brand now uses linseed oil and aquafaba (chickpea brine that is often used as a vegan egg white replacer in cooking). In recent years, LUSH has also consistently released fully vegan lines, including a recent six-product hair care line designed specifically for curly, coily, and textured black hair.”
Starostinetskaya also mentioned that in May 2021 “haircare giant TRESemmé became the 24th brand owned by Unilever to commit to ending animal testing worldwide. TRESemmé worked with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to join its Global Beauty Without Bunnies program and will display its PETA-approved logo on its packaging starting in January 2022.”
Anita Roddick, who founded the 50-nation, 2,000-store Body Shop cosmetics store chain with a single shop in Brighton, England, in 1976, and built the activist reputation of the Body Shop brand, died at age 64 on September 10, 2007 from a major brain hemorrhage.
Roddick had acquired hepatitis C from a blood transfusion in 1971, while giving birth to a daughter, but her chronic illness had no evident connection with her death.
“Roddick, known as the ‘Queen of Green,’ was lauded around the world for trailblazing business practices that promoted environmentalism and other causes dear to her heart, from human rights to Third World debt relief,” memorialized D’Arcy Doran of Associated Press.
Added PETA vice president Dan Matthews, “Before Body Shop you could only find cruelty-free products in hippie shops. Now they are everywhere.”
Said then-Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, “Her commitment to ending the use of animals in cosmetics testing, first in the European Union and then in the world, was never overshadowed by the economic success of The Body Shop. Untold numbers of rabbits and other animals were spared due to her staunch ‘against animal testing’ policy.”
However, the Body Shop image took a hit in 1994 from two-time Emmy Award-winning ABC and NBC television news producer Jon Entine, who won a National Press Club award for an exposé of the Body Shop published in the journal Business Ethics.
Entine is now best known for founding the Genetic Literacy Project in 2011, a pro-biotechnology advocacy nonprofit organization that he still heads.
“She got interested when it made money”
Initially, Entine alleged, Roddick “didn’t have any interest in animal testing as an issue. Her cosmetologist, Mark Constantine, insisted on having a no-animal-testing policy, and then she got interested when it made money.”
Entine argued that the Body Shop maintained a no-animal-testing façade through a policy of not using any substance within five years of it being tested on animals.
This, Entine contended, meant little because animal testing of new products is often done more than five years before they reach the market.
“In an internal memo dated May 19, 1992,” Entine wrote, “the Body Shop’s purchasing manager acknowledged that 46.5% of its ingredients had been tested on animals, up from 34% the year before. Body Shop memos issued in 1991 and 1992 indicate that from 53.2% to 59.7% of ingredients as of then were not animal-tested, while about 28% had been animal-tested within a decade.”
Rapped down by German courts
A German court in 1989 barred the Body Shop from using statements such as, “We test neither our raw materials nor our end products on animals,” on grounds this would be misleading advertising.
Upon appeal, the verdict was upheld by the Higher Regional Court of Dusseldorf, which found no substantial difference between the animal testing policy of the Body Shop and that of other cosmetics manufacturers.
Roddick and her husband withdrew from directing the Body Shop chain in 2002, and in 2006 sold it to the French firm L’Oreal, a longtime target of PETA boycotts, for $1.14 billion.
The Body Shop was sold to Natura in September 2017 for $1.24 billion.
Your article brought back some memories for me. I had a teacher bring me some early “Against Animal Testing” flyers that she had picked up at a Body Shop store located in the airport. I always appreciated and remembered that gesture, because although the teacher didn’t support animal advocacy causes at all, she chose this kindness instead of making sarcastic remarks or trying to debate me in class like some others did.
A bit later, I can remember my parents drove a distance to take me to this store, as they were one of the few places to buy “No Animal Testing”-labeled personal care products I could find. Like finding vegan products, it was difficult!
I had no idea of the controversy surrounding their practices, although I was shopping here a bit earlier than the expose cited in this article. Back then, information outside of companies’ official narrative was also harder to come by.