The Body Shop sells out on animal testing

CHOICE uncovers the truth about the company's operations in China.
Learn more

01.CHOICE investigates The Body Shop's cruelty-free claims

The Body Shop secretly sells out on animal testing

An investigation by CHOICE has uncovered that The Body Shop, which has built its brand on being a cruelty-free company, has entered the Chinese market and is selling products in duty-free shops in Beijing and Shanghai airports. The Chinese government, in accordance with their law, can take cosmetics off the shelves at random and conduct animal testing. CHOICE believes that because of this, The Body Shop can no longer guarantee that its products are cruelty-free.

Video: The Body Shop's cruelty-free claims

CHOICE has found The Body Shop products for sale in duty-free shops in Chinese airports. What's the story?

What our investigation uncovered

  Shower gel purchased at Shanghai International Duty Free Shop, China
  • CHOICE purchased The Body Shop products in Chinese international airports.
  • Cosmetics sold in duty-free shops in Chinese airports are subject to random testing, which can include animal testing.
  • The Body Shop (through its parent company L'Oreal) is knowingly expanding into China, while still assuring their customers that it doesn’t operate in mainland China due to animal testing regulations.

What Chinese law says

  • All foreign-manufactured cosmetic products intended for sale in mainland China must be tested on animals before being made available to consumers.
  • According to Chinese industry insiders, while no exemptions are specified in the legislation, cosmetics sold exclusively in duty-free stores do not have to undergo mandatory testing before being sold in China. 
  • However, the Chinese government also carries out random so-called "post-market" testing, without warning, pulling products from shop shelves to assess conformity with approved formulations. Products in duty-free stores are subject to this testing. According to Chinese cosmetic industry insiders CHOICE spoke with, there is no way to guarantee that this testing regime doesn't include animal testing.
  • A representative of the General Administration of Customs of the People's Republic of China said: "It is inconceivable that any foreign cosmetics company can bypass Chinese regulations and sell at the airports. The airports in Beijing or Shanghai are part of the Chinese territory that is subject to the same rules."

While this random post-market testing isn't necessarily done on animals, it can be, so companies selling products in Chinese airports cannot guarantee that their products will never be tested on animals.

The Body Shop hides its mainland China sales from consumers

The Body Shop isn't being up-front about the fact that their products are available in airports in mainland China. On its Hong Kong website The Body Shop says “The Body Shop does not currently operate in Mainland China. We have no stores or online shopping presence. The Body Shop cannot guarantee the quality or authenticity of any products purchased in Mainland China.”

But when we rang the Hong Kong information line, the customer service agent knew all about the products sold in the airports and told us they were genuine and sourced from L’Oreal’s Travel Retail Division.

"Until China changes its stance on animal testing, we are prepared to not enter that market... While it's tempting in terms of the size, until the day comes that you do not need to test your ingredients or your products on animals, we will not be going into that market at all.
- Body Shop Australia CEO Mark Kindness

And in May 2013, when CHOICE's investigation into companies with misleading animal testing claims first hit the airwaves, the CEO of The Body Shop Australia, Mark Kindness, said "Until China changes its stance on animal testing, we are prepared to not enter that market... While it's tempting in terms of the size, until the day comes that you do not need to test your ingredients or your products on animals, we will not be going into that market at all [emphasis added]."

Meanwhile, in February 2013, before CHOICE's original investigation was published, L’Oreal Consumer Products Worldwide Marketing Director Travel Retail Charles Roullet had this to say to travel retail and duty free business trade magazine the Moodie Report: "Key Body Shop travel retail openings in 2012 included Beirut, Frankfurt, Milan, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Tokyo, Shanghai [emphasis added], Bangkok and Buenos Aires. Now we are looking forward to exploiting many new opportunities in 2013 and beyond."

So the bottom line is The Body Shop products are being sold in China. CHOICE believes that The Body Shop is misleading consumers when it comes to being cruelty-free. 

Other companies resist entering the Chinese market

While The Body Shop has taken advantage of the duty-free market in China, other companies have resisted.

Earlier this year CHOICE spoke with Emma Hart, a spokesperson for certified cruelty-free cosmetic brand Lush, which has a similar ethos to The Body Shop. We did not raise CHOICE's investigation into The Body Shop, but asked Hart about Lush's position on entering the Chinese market.

Hart told us that the possibility of Lush products being tested on animals after hitting Chinese shelves is enough to prevent the company from being in the market at all. We asked whether Lush would enter China if products were exempt from pre-market animal testing, such as in the case of purely duty-free goods.

"Even if you have an exemption from pre-market testing, there’s still an opportunity once your products are on the shelves [that] they could be tested on animals. Post-market testing is something we’re still not okay with. You’re not guaranteed that it’s going to happen, but the fact that it could happen is something we’re not willing to risk as a company," Hart says.

When also asked about Lush's stance on companies making claims about cosmetics being cruelty-free but still operating in China, Hart did not discuss any specific companies. However, she did comment on the fact that generally, companies making cruelty-free claims but not fully committing to them is a problem. 

"Our opinion is whether it’s directly you doing the testing or not, the testing is still happening and by being in the market you’re enabling it. The only way to change Chinese legislation is to take a stand. That’s why we’ve chosen not to enter China. We’re willing to take our beliefs on animal testing more seriously than the potential sales in China. The Chinese market could be huge for us. And we do hope to open in China, but we won’t do that until the legislation is changed."

CHOICE spoke to the media earlier today, further explaining some of our concerns with The Body Shop's cruelty-free claims.

More than one million customers duped by The Body Shop

CHOICE’s revelation comes just months after The Body Shop and Cruelty-Free International announced they had gathered one million signatures from their customers for a global pledge for a ban on animal testing of cosmetics. Speaking about the success of their petition at the time, Jessie Macneil-Brown, global campaigns manager for The Body Shop International, said: “For over 20 years The Body Shop has proved that beauty can be cruelty free. One million signatures demonstrate the unwavering passion from our customers as we keep fighting for this cause.”

But it has become apparent that The Body Shop has misled consumers by continuing to claim it is not selling products in China, while in fact capitalising on China’s 134-billion-yuan (over $24.2bn Australian dollars or over £13bn) cosmetics market.

Against animal testing” is one of The Body Shop’s self-appointed core values. The company’s website states: “Here at The Body Shop we’ve always been passionately against animal testing. We’ve never tested our products on animals. This means you can be sure that our products have not been tested on animals for cosmetic reasons.”

In its Animal Protection Principles, The Body Shop says: “We guarantee that none of our products are tested on animals... Make no mistake: we’re as committed today as we ever were. And that’s guaranteed!”

What The Body Shop Australia says

When CHOICE approached The Body Shop Australia to ask whether its stance on animal testing in China had changed, executive chairman Graeme Wise told us it had not. In a statement, he said: “Until such time when the local situation permits otherwise, The Body Shop will not enter the Chinese market. N.B: Duty Free is not designated as in-country because products are not required to be tested on animals.”

However, while it is true that animal testing of duty-free goods is not “required”, it is a potential risk, and CHOICE thinks that this isn't good enough. 

For more, see the full statement from Graeme Wise of The Body Shop.

Updated at 12.20pm, 11 March:

The Body Shop has released a further statement to CHOICE. They have said:

"It is our understanding that our trading in China is through exclusive Duty Free outlets, and as such, the products that have been sold to these outlets were never tested on animals.  If there are any instances of post market animal testing on our products by the Chinese government, it is absolutely being done without our consent or our endorsement and violates our strict code of ethics."

But the nature of the Chinese government’s testing regime in duty-free outlets is that companies are not given the option to consent or decline – it is compulsory, and it is done randomly and without warning. As the General Administration of Customs of the People's Republic of China said: “It is inconceivable that any foreign cosmetics company can bypass Chinese regulations and sell at the airports. The airports in Beijing and Shanghai are part of the Chinese territory that is subject to the same rules.”

Updated at 12.25pm, 12 March:

The Body Shop has released a further statement, saying: 

"We, The Body Shop have not, and will not, undertake or resort to any animal testing in order for our products to be sold in any country.

However, given the questions that have arisen, we have temporarily removed the products until we can clarify the situation. In all cases, The Body Shop will not sell products if it would compromise one of its core beliefs which is our opposition to animal testing."

CHOICE has welcomed The Body Shop’s decision to temporarily remove its products from sale in China. CHOICE Chief Executive Alan Kirkland says: “The Body Shop’s decision to enter the Chinese market in 2012 clearly put its products at risk of being tested on animals.”   

Following the release of a CHOICE investigation revealing that The Body Shop had expanded into China, The Body Shop yesterday conceded that if any “potential risk” of post market testing on animals existed it would withdraw its products from sale in China.

Read on to find out how consumers are being misled.



Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

Your say - Choice voice

Make a Comment

Members – Sign in on the top right to contribute to comments