This has been a hot topic ever since I started blogging about cruelty free and vegan beauty, but to be honest my own beliefs have back-and-forthed. The vegan community is known for its strong opinions, but this is one that the community has no clear answer to:
If a brand is cruelty free, but is owned by a parent company that is not cruelty free, are they really cruelty free?
(I’ve said cruelty free too many times.)
But you get the gist – take Too Faced, for example. They’re certified cruelty-free by Peta (read here why you should take that with a pinch of salt), and they don’t sell in China where post-market testing is required by law. However, they were bought by Estée Lauder in 2016, a company which is known to fund and facilitate animal testing. Do we still class Too Faced as cruelty-free? Or do we look beyond them, to where the money is really going, to find out?
Some of the largest animal-testing companies that have been acquiring smaller beauty brands are:
Unilever – they own beauty brands such as Dove, Sure, Toni & Guy and Vaseline, as well a whole bunch of household brands like Ben & Jerrys, Pot Noodle, PG Tips and even Marmite. See the full list here.
L’Oreal – they own many high-end beauty brands, such as Giorgio Armani, Lancôme and Urban Decay, and more household names like Garnier, Maybelline and, of course, L’Oreal Paris. See the full list here.
Estēe Lauder – as well as Too Faced, Estēe Lauder owns La Mer, MAC, Smashbox and Bobbi Brown, to name a few! See the full list here.
Proctor and Gamble – they focus more on haircare, owning Aussie, Head & Shoulders and Herbal Essences, as well as a frightening range of household cleaning products and period product brands. See the full list here.
Cruelty Free Subsidiaries: The Pros
The biggest argument for supporting (i.e. buying from) cruelty free brands that are owned by non cruelty free parent companies is that you are letting the parent company know that kindness sells. Put simply, if a large parent company sees that their cruelty-free brands are selling way better than their non cruelty free brands, they’re more likely to transition the rest of their subsidiary companies to become cruelty free too.
Therefore, you can very rightly argue that this supports the cruelty free movement. A business thrives on demand, and if we create demand for cruelty free products, their numbers will keep increasing. Once the demand for non cruelty free brands disappears, so will they. It’s an argument that can be applied pretty much anywhere (and I definitely used it when I was tucking into my vegan KFC burger last week).
It’s also true that the majority of brands operate individually and separately from their parent companies. When you buy from Too Faced, you aren’t plunging money straight into MAC’s animal testing labs. Estēe Lauder are unlikely to be reinvesting the money you spend on cruelty free brands into testing brands – although, you can’t rule it out completely.
Cruelty Free Subsidiaries: The Cons
Having said all of that, there are definitely more ethical places to put your money. There are loads of great brands out there that are either independent, or owned by non-testing parent companies. (And I should mention here that if I refer to a ‘cruelty-free’ brand on this blog, I will say if they’re owned by a testing parent company).
There’s also something to be said for boycotting brands in this situation. When The Body Shop was famously bought out by L’Oreal in 2006, a mass boycott ensued. Even Forbes speculated that this lead to the decrease in profits that eventually saw L’Oreal selling The Body Shop to Natura (a cruelty free parent company) in 2017.
Branching away from the cruelty-free side of things a little, it’s also great to support smaller companies. Not only can you be more sure about their cruelty free status, it’s also much more likely that your money is going into the pockets of hard working individuals, rather than getting lost in the billion pound profits of multinational conglomerates.
What Really Matters
In reality, there is a lot more to ethical shopping than cruelty-free and vegan practises, and that’s something I hope to cover more widely on this blog in the future. Everybody has their own personal code of ethics, and as long as you are making conscious choices around what matters to you, that’s enough.
There will will always be somebody on the internet to condemn something you do. At the end of the day, none of us are perfect, and nor should we be.
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