I have been hanging back on story about Avon losing its animal free status with the BUAV, the society that campaigns against the use of animals in scientific experiments. I wanted to read the ASA’s actual adjudication first, but I have just realised that Avon have not contested it so there won’t be one. Avon themselves haven’t adressed the issue on their website. So I am forced to rely on the Daily Mail, which I don’t regard as a respectable source of information, and on Uncaged’s website which obviously has a very firm point of view. I don’t have any connections with Avon and I don’t have any special insight or knowledge of their particular actions in this case. But I think I know what has created the story, so I’ll try and give what I think is the background. I hope I have got it at least roughly right, but I am happy to be corrected.
Avon has been a company that has worked to eliminate animal testing, but behind the scenes and hasn’t made a big noise about it. Avon is a global company and this is a complete non-issue in many countries. I was actually quite surprised to read that they had even been making any claims about their animal testing policy, but it turns out that there was until recently something about it on their website.
The reason they have had to drop this is due to operating in China. Chinese regulations require cosmetic products imported into China to be submitted to state approved laboratories for testing before the product is allowed on the market. Chinese produced products don’t have to be. I am not sure what sense this makes from the point of view of safety of the Chinese consumer. It does have the effect of making it harder for outsiders to trade inside China – whether this is an unintended consequence or the true intention I couldn’t possibly comment. But it does make it very easy for a group like Uncaged to spot what they are doing and make a complaint to the ASA about it, which in turn creates a story for the Daily Mail.
This is a particularly difficult problem for Avon who have a very wide product range indeed. It would be a very difficult undertaking to set up local production for absolutely everything in one hit. So their choices are to forego the large and growing Chinese market altogether or comply with the Chinese animal testing rules.
If you are as passionate about the issue as the people behind Uncaged obviously are you might well say that they should stay out of China. The whole point of having principles is after all that you hold to them even when it is not to your advantage to do so. But it isn’t just Avon’s profits that are at stake here. There is also the issue of jobs – if Avon’s growth is hit then they will employ fewer people.
It really does seem to be a grey area. Avon has always struck me as one of the more ethical companies in the business. The reps I have met and talked to have been well informed and helpful. Their products are generally pretty good and pretty well priced. And by the standards of multi-level marketing they are well above average. It does seem hard on them to get bad publicity about animal testing given that it was hardly something they would have chosen and when they are not getting any benefit from it.
A further twist is that Avon owns Liz Earle. Liz Earle have also been pretty solidly against animal testing – admittedly not too difficult to do when you operate mainly in the UK. I am pretty sure the Liz Earle products, or at least some of them, were accredited by the BUAV at some point not too long ago. But if they were, or indeed still are, they don’t advertise the fact on their website at the moment. If Avon are in the wrong, does this apply to a company they own even if that company itself has done nothing wrong at all?
I have to say I don’t really know and this is something that everyone is going to have to make their own mind up on.
And this gives the American perspective on the same story.