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Beauty Companies Are Losing Their 'Cruelty-Free' Designation for Selling Products to China

Animal testing in the cosmetics and beauty industry is still prevalent, despite the effort made by consumers and activists alike to get the practice b

Animal testing in the cosmetics and beauty industry is still prevalent, despite the effort made by consumers and activists alike to get the practice banned in the US. Politicians introduced the Safe Cosmetics Act in 2011, but it has yet to be adopted into law.

It gets even muddier when you go abroad, because designations of "cruelty-free" mean different things in different countries. An EU ban on animal testing is due to go into effect next year, but until then it's unclear what sort of practices are going on, according to The Daily Mail. The UK, on the other hand, banned animal testing for cosmetics back in 1998.

But for many brands it's important both to their ethos and to maintain their customers loyalty to adhere to strictly cruelty-free practices. The "Leaping Bunny" symbol (at left) is universally recognized as the symbol for cruelty-free products, and now some big name beauty companies--L'Occitane, Caudalie, and Yves Rocher--have lost their bunnies. Why? Because they want to sell in China, according to a story in The Independent.

China has laws that state that beauty products must undergo animal testing before human use. So while L'Occitane and Caudalie both released statements to The Daily Mail saying that none of their products are ever tested on animals, the bottom line is that if you sell to China, the Chinese government will require those products to undergo animal testing. So companies who sell to China, even if their products are completely cruelty-free up until that point, then become complicit in supporting the continued use of animal testing. Hence the loss of the Leaping Bunny.

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Some companies, like Urban Decay, cancelled plans to enter the Chinese market because of the animal testing issue. Other companies, like L'Occitane, are hoping they can work with Chinese authorities to change the policies there. UPDATE: Caudalie's founder Mathilde Thomas gave us this statement:

Caudalie’s position has not changed. We remain against animal testing and we don’t test our ingredients and formulas on animals. We are now selling our products in China and Chinese government reserves the right to conduct tests with cosmetic products but I have hope this situation will change soon by outside pressure. I am, and have always been since my childhood, very touched by issues relating to the environment and animal causes.

This is the reason why Caudalie has become a member of the 1% for the Planet Charity and we have committed to giving 1% of our worldwide turnover back to environmentally friendly charities. As an example we support WWF for the protection of animals – specifically endangered species located in Tessa Nilo on Sumatra Island. These are our ethical commitments to make a difference at our humble level.

We came across some encouraging news in that direction on industry blog Cosmetics Design. Scientists have been introducing non-animal testing alternatives to China, and the country has been receptive. One of the scientists on the project, Dr. Brian Jones of the Institute for In Vitro Sciences (IIVS), said, "[The Chinese] are cautious and careful about wanting to make any changes to protect consumers, but I think when they see something that works well they act on it and do it quickly."

He compared it to the process of Western countries finally adopting non-animal testing alternatives--as the industry matures they can afford to tweak and refine their processes. In the meantime, though, animal testing is still the norm there.

So should companies take a stand and not sell to China?