I have written before that I don’t see any need for animal tests on cosmetic products. This isn’t really a moral thing. I think we know enough about the way things work already. All animal tests tell you is what happens in other species which just complicates the issue as far as I can see. And it isn’t as if cosmetics have many problems associated with their use. Nobody dies from shampoo. You don’t get rushed to hospital late at night suffering from mascara overdose. But mine is a purely logical argument that we don’t need to do it. I think that most people who are opposed to animal testing on cosmetics do so not because it isn’t helpful but because they don’t think that it is right to use animals for the purposes of making humans look better.
I am not a moral philosopher, but I have a feeling this isn’t really a matter you can argue about. You either think it is wrong, or you don’t. I don’t think anything anyone else says will alter what you think.
So if you think it is wrong to test cosmetic products on animals, what can you do about it? The good news is that there are genuinely vegetarian brands out there that take seriously the idea of preventing cruelty to animals. I am afraid I am going to have to apologise to non-UK readers, but I’d like to share my direct personal experience which is what happens here – I don’t know how relevant it is elsewhere. There are two main organisations in Britain that take an interest in the matter of animal testing: the Vegetarian Society and the British Union Against Vivisection. Between them they run an accreditation scheme for brands that are committed to working to reduce the numbers of experiments on animals. There are actually two different schemes, one to ensure that a product doesn’t contain animal products and one to ensure that the production of the product doesn’t involve cruelty to animals. I’ll ignore the straight vegetarian logo for now, but a lot of cosmetics qualify as vegetarian as well and there are some that have that logo too.
Participants in the scheme are allowed to put the logo on their packs and to make reference to it in their promotional literature. You might be surprised how many companies that you have heard of participate in this. The reason for this is quite interesting. On the whole I don’t think that these logos actually do much to generate sales, and the marketing types don’t really choose to run with them much, so it often comes as a surprise to people to learn that say Marks and Spencer’s own label toiletries are approved. Look closely and you’ll find the logo. It is pretty discrete, because there aren’t really enough people around for whom it is a strong motivator. It doesn’t really help them sell any more units, so they don’t highlight it.
So why do they do it in the first place? There are two reasons. Although it is not perhaps a strong positive, it does avoid some negatives. Most people don’t give a lot of thought to animal testing, but they don’t like it when they hear about it. A negative story in the press can harm your brand even amongst those who never give the issue a first thought let alone a second. So by aligning yourself with the angels you can avoid the spotlight when something bad happens. It’s a sort of insurance policy. The other is that some brand owners genuinely support the cause. I don’t think this is relevant with huge corporations – they don’t and probably shouldn’t have moral opinions. But some smaller companies are run by people who are knowledgeable and sincere about the issues. I know cynicism and suspicion about the cosmetic industry is widespread, but that is what I have observed.
And this accreditation doesn’t come for free. The Vegetarian Society charges a fee for the use of its logo ( I haven’t put it on this post because I haven’t found out if I am allowed to – but here is a link). It isn’t a huge one, but nonetheless is still a cost. There are also costs of compliance. You can’t simply ring them up and declare that you are one of the good guys. There is a published standard which you need to comply with and which generates a fair pile of paperwork. The time spent on that kind of thing has to be paid for, and is certainly a lot more than the fee. It also genuinely does restrict what you can use. Some raw materials simply aren’t animal friendly. A lot of silicones have been animal tested for example.
And they do check up. You need to have a proper system in place to be able to prove that you are only using ingredients that have not been tested on animals or harmed animals during their production. The auditors visit actual facilities. They ask questions and check the paperwork is in order. It would, I suppose, be possible to fool them by giving them fabricated information. But given that they are checking on everyone else in the business at the same time I think you would get caught out unless you went to a great deal of trouble. It would look very odd if your paperwork looked different to everyone else’s.
Overall I think it is a good system and I believe it has the effect of making suppliers reluctant to carry out animal testing. There may not be many vegetarian brands but nobody wants to lose a sale. In particular the manufacturers like to keep their inventories down so it is much easier to just use one grade of say glycerin. You can use animal friendly grades in any product after all. I think the existence of the standard promotes the cause the Vegetarian Society believes in very effectively, and given that vegetarians are such a small minority this is quite impressive. It also does it in a way that does not particularly inconvenience anybody and even generates an income for them. So all in all a neat bit of work.