In Part 1 I discussed my reasons for going cruelty-free and gave some definitions, misconceptions, and resources. In this second part, we’ll discuss the nitty gritty behind animal testing laws, different markets, third-party testing, and parent companies. Because these are complex, it's important to know where you personally stand when you start to go cruelty-free. Last, l'll finish with a bit about voting with your dollars.
Disclaimer: This information comes largely from logicalharmony.net, crueltyfreekitty.com, and from my own additional research. If you’d like further source information, please let me know. :) In addition, my reasons are my own and they are not meant as a judgement of anyone else’s choices.
Animal testing and Chinese law
If you talk to anyone about cruelty-free products for more than 5 minutes, you'll eventually hear the words "mainland China." That's because it's the biggest market with strict laws surrounding animal testing. It can be extremely confusing to sift through the information, but this is about as succinct as I can make it.
Animal testing is legally required for most products sold (brick and mortar stores of their own or carried in others) in mainland China. This does not include Hong Kong, which has its own regulations.
Large companies often choose to have a separate manufacturing line for Chinese markets for this reason, especially as manufacturing may be cheaper in China as well.
Finished products manufactured elsewhere and sold in China can get around animal testing, but there are lots of restrictions. Unless the company can confirm they’ve done so, it’s best to assume animal testing took place on products sold in mainland China even if the North American arm of a company says it is cruelty-free.
On the positive, Internet cosmetics retailers can ship orders to Chinese persons without animal testing being required and products manufactured in China and sold elsewhere do not require animal testing. This is important because it means websites that send orders to China or sell products that come from China are not automatically tested on animals.
Brands that test overseas
When brands phrase their stance as “no animal testing except where required by law”, this is a way of distancing themselves from the testing that happens in these markets. In lots of cases, third parties conduct this testing as well, although the brand has paid for and is aware it is happening.
Another common phrase is “no finished products are tested on animals.” This means that individual components can be and are likely still tested on animals.
By emphasizing the separation between places where testing is required and those where it is not (North American markets), framing testing as an obstacle that must be met, and using separate product lines/plants for Chinese markets, companies can claim that their US/Canadian product lines are cruelty-free and that they’re simply at the mercy of the law in other cases.
While individuals involved may indeed wish testing wasn’t a requirement, the sentiment is somewhat fraught when companies are voluntarily choosing to seek profit/lesser costs by targeting Chinese markets. They believe these markets are profitable, and thus are trying to do business there while keeping consumers in other markets from having to consider the implications or feeling like they’re complicit in it. This kind of grey area or technicality is generally considered not in keeping with the ideals behind a cruelty-free lifestyle.
Testing parent companies of cruelty-free brands
On a related note, there is the issue of cruelty-free brands which are owned by testing parent companies. Some examples include Burt’s Bees (Clorox), Too Faced (Estee Lauder), Nars (Shiseido), Urban Decay and NYX (L’oreal), and Tarte (Kose). In these cases, the brand and products themselves are certified cruelty-free (and vegan in some cases) but are owned by parent companies which conduct animal testing.
It’s important to note that, even if a brand has been recently acquired, if it maintains yearly Leaping Bunny certification and does not sell products in mainland China it is still cruelty-free. As long as the brand confirms this information, the quality of their products has not changed. In addition, by continuing to support the brand, you are potentially sending the message to that parent company that cruelty-free practices are important to consumers.
However, similar to the discussion about North American arms of companies claiming to be cruelty-free while testing occurs elsewhere, lots of people take issue with supporting these brands. Fundamentally, your purchases, while not directly of animal-tested products, do give financial support to the parent company that conducts testing in other parts of its holdings.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you and your ethical standard. Your personal CF philosophy comes into play because if your goal is to mainly purchase CF products yourself, then you may not have a problem with parent companies’ profits.
On the other hand, if your goal is to give as little support to animal testing as possible, the individual product’s CF status may not hold as much weight for you. In addition, for lots of people, cruelty-free brands are hard enough to access without also eliminating those owned by larger companies.
Perhaps someday a majority of products available will be completely CF and independent - we can dream, right?
Voting with your dollars
It’s been a great help to me in transitioning to CF (and vegan) products to frame the decision as one of power. Instead of telling myself that I’m denying or taking away things I like and use, it’s much more useful (and true!) to place these decisions in the context of conscious consumerism.
Each purchase is an exercise in influence, and when I choose to support products/brands that stand for good things like no animal testing or ingredients, that says to the marketplace: “I, your customer, value this and will support it. More importantly, its presence means I will not support that other thing that your competition offers.”
Though for us going cruelty-free is often a moral decision, for long-term change to come it has to be a financially advantageous one as well. This is the reason lots of dairy companies are now expanding to plant-based milks, because there is support and demand. And while I can spread the message of the evils of big cosmetics and animal testing all day, the money I exchange for cruelty-free products still has a more concrete effect.
Whew! If you made it through all that, I tip my hat to you. And hope it was helpful. :) I plan to do more content around cruelty-free/vegan products in the future, so stay tuned.