Beauty

Is PETA’s Cruelty Free Record Legit?

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There has been a lot of discussion in the cruelty-free community about whether or not PETA’s cruelty-free brand list can be trusted. I don’t always agree with tactics and stances PETA has taken on other issues but setting that aside, I wanted to learn more about their cruelty-free cosmetics brand list.

After researching post-market testing in-depth with several sources, I have come to realize that China’s post-market testing is no longer a major risk. In fact, post-market testing on cosmetics can happen here in the US (and in the EU). Much more on that here. It seems a lot of the cruelty-free community’s mistrust of PETA has to do with post-market testing. So that barrier being taken out of the way made me take a second look at PETA’s cruelty-free brand list.

You can read my thoughts at the end of this article. As always, I try to be unbiased, flexible in my thinking, and fact-based in making determinations.

Notes from my interview with PETA Senior VP, Kathy Guillermo

Kathy Guillermo is Senior Vice President of PETA’s Laboratory Investigations Department. A 31-year veteran of PETA, Kathy leads the organization’s work to end the use of animals in experiments. Her many victories include shutting down the construction of a massive monkey-breeding facility in Puerto Rico and exposing the abuse of animals at a North Carolina product-testing laboratory, Professional Laboratory and Research Services, Inc., which led to the closure of the facility and the adoption of hundreds of dogs and cats into good homes. She is the author of the 1993 book, Monkey Business: The Disturbing Case That Launched the Animal Rights Movement.

What are the requirements for a brand to be approved as cruelty-free (and to be added to PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies list)?

They ask that the brands do not in any way conduct, commission, or allow tests at any point in development, and suppliers must do the same. Companies sign legally-binding statements attesting to this. Suppliers change and they come and go. Larger brands may have 10,000+ suppliers. PETA does not require documents from the suppliers themselves, but they require that the brands have language in place with every supplier that mandates the no animal testing policy. They require the brands to give them their language before they are approved. Most of them put this in their contracts with their suppliers. 

Ingredients can sometimes be required to be tested (by ingredient suppliers) in the EU for other purposes – such as their inclusion in a chemical (non-cosmetic) product (this is not supposed to happen under EU regulations, but it has – see sources below). This could be an environmental purpose or a worker safety issue investigated under REACH loopholes. One example (that is luckily not happening often), is that when an ingredient reaches a certain tonnage, it has to be tested (under REACH).

PETA would disqualify a brand if it was buying from a supplier that has tested due to these laws. PETA has challenged these laws and does not believe they are valid under the European animal testing ban.

Sources for all of this info here. There is more info here (but please be warned – there are graphic images on the next two links): animal tests still happening in the EU and action you can take to help.

Do brands pay to join the program? If so, how does that work? 

There is no charge to be listed. There is a one-time $350 fee if brands want to license the logo. This helps to pay for PETA’s administrative and legal fees.

How is the program different from Leaping Bunny’s program?

According to Kathy, PETA was initially part of Leaping Bunny/CCIC when it was being established 25 years ago. Their designers actually designed the Leaping Bunny logo. The discussions broke down about what the requirements should be. Specifically, how long ago an ingredient could have been tested on animals in order to approve a brand. PETA believed 5 years was too long because it was making it impossible for some brands to get approved. (Editor’s note: currently Leaping Bunny requires a fixed cut-off date for testing but there is no limit on what that time is – it could be 1 day or 5 years.) They wanted to encourage brands to stop testing and join the program. Today, PETA makes sure not to allow brands to do all their testing and then try to get certified. They investigate and work with brands who have evolved, and have ended animal testing. Companies are always innovating and going into new markets so it’s the commitment to being cruelty-free going forward that is important to them. 

Are companies required to recommit each year? Are they audited at all after they sign up? 

Not every year. Every couple of years they check in to make sure policies are the same and have them sign a new agreement. It depends on the company – if they are in constant contact, they may not have to. All companies are required to sign a legally binding agreement. But, they have caught companies lying and have removed them. There are a lot of whistleblowers that help with this. PETA has exposed companies who have paid for tests in China without telling anyone. 

How do you assure that brands are not conducting pre-market and post-market testing when entering China? 

PETA started the first investigations into brands that were conducting animal tests in China. They work closely with IIVS (Institute for In Vitro Sciences). The scientists at IIVS help to train Chinese scientists on using non-animal testing methods. PETA has very few companies on the list who are currently in China (see below).  As we all know, there are certain parameters to allow for no animal tests – products have to be manufactured (or final product assembled)  in China and there can be no “special-use products”. When working with large companies like Unilever and P&G, they know that the brands are very well versed in the laws of China.

PETA-Certified Cruelty Free Brands Selling in China:

Eco & moreLisa RabbitDove (Unilever)Herbal Essences (P&G)  Wet n Wild Physicians FormulaFirst Aid Beauty

Editor’s note: the Chinese have just released the new CSAR (Administrative Measures for Filing of Non-special Use Cosmetics) and my colleagues and I are still trying to determine what they will mean for PRE-market testing in China going forward. Some have said that pre-market testing is coming to an end, but that is not clear to me yet. We are currently trying to interpret new guidelines from the NMPA. Here is PETA’s statement on this.

Another important note – Kathy says that brands would be given the opportunity to remove their products from China if post-market animal tests were required. I asked Harald Schlatter (Director Scientific Communications & Animal Welfare Advocacy at P&G) about this, and he said, “We have been told by Chinese authorities that no products of other P&G beauty brands have been tested on animals over the past couple of years. While there is no 100% guarantee, they told us that in case of a health-related consumer complaint, they would reach out to us to provide further safety perspective.  If they then believe more is necessary, they would consider follow up testing, but usually patch testing with human volunteers, not animal testing.“

But the fact is, officials are not requiring post-market animal tests anyway (see my previous article on post-market testing in China). Kathy says post-market testing has been mainly to ensure products are not counterfeit. In that case they wouldn’t need to do animal tests – they would just analyze the product. There is the potential for complaints about safety, but products that have been on the US or EU markets for years would not be likely to have issues. And if they did, the brand would be able to decide what types of additional tests would be done, or would have the option to pull their products from the Chinese market.

Do you have any assurances from officials in China that testing can be avoided? 

IIVS has relationships with officials in China. But this is not really necessary (see above). In 2014 China allowed pre-market testing to be avoided under the parameters mentioned above. PETA has an Asian division. (a PETA affiliate called PETA Asia). PETA checks the Chinese database to make sure no pre-market tests were done before they approve new companies. They also look at when a product was first registered for sale in China and what types of products they offer (no “special use products” allowed).

Do you note if the parent co is cruelty-free on your list? I see for example that Too Faced says Estee Lauder but it isn’t noted that Estee Lauder is not cruelty-free. 

Kathy thanked me for the suggestion and is going to look at this and possibly make updates to the list.

Do you note if the brand is vegan?

Yes, they note if a brand has signed their paperwork guaranteeing all of their products are 100% vegan. Going forward, brands won’t be called “cruelty-free” unless they are vegan AND not tested on animals. Companies who do not test on animals, but are not entirely vegan will be called “not animal tested”.

So, can PETA’s cruelty free list be trusted? My thoughts and bottom line.

So after talking to Kathy, I personally feel better about trusting PETA’s cruelty-free cosmetics brand list. I do feel that it is more lenient than Leaping Bunny’s cruelty-free list, mainly because they are vetting the brands on behalf of the suppliers rather than the suppliers themselves. But they are requiring legally binding documentation from the brands. And the brands are required to then supply language to their contracts with their suppliers. They are not auditing every year, but they are checking in on brands and removing them if they find any issues.

To compare and contrast, I had an interview with Kim Paschen from Leaping Bunny and will be publishing an article with information from that discussion soon.

At the end of the day, ANY cruelty-free brand list (including my own) has to take brands and suppliers at their word. All we can do is call them out if we discover lies and discrepancies and I think that we are all on the same team in that sense.

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Katherine Clark