02.How the story unfolded
CHOICE was tipped off to the fact that The Body Shop had started selling its products in Chinese airports late last year, despite the fact that the company’s Hong Kong website unequivocally states that The Body Shop does not sell products in mainland China.
The evidence builds
The Body Shop display "gondolas" have been in Chinese airports since 2012, according to travel and duty-free industry trade magazine The Moodie Report, with a L'Oreal executive telling the magazine in February 2013: "Now we are looking forward to exploiting many new opportunities in 2013 and beyond."
At the same time, The Body Shop has been denying selling its products in China, with Australian CEO Mark Kindness saying in May 2013: "Until China changes its stance on animal testing, we are prepared to not enter that market."
|The Body Shop "gondola" in Shanghai International Airport
Parent company L’Oreal and The Body Shop Hong Kong, at the very least, are both aware of the fact that The Body Shop has entered the Chinese market, and has therefore opened its products up to the risk of animal testing. But The Body Shop continues to publicly maintain through its websites and through commentary that the company is "against animal testing" and not available in the Chinese market – meaning consumers are being misled.
Why is this important?
Many consumers are strongly opposed to animal testing, and don't want their cosmetic and personal care products to have any chance of being tested on animals. CHOICE believes information should be available so that those who want to choose products that aren’t tested on animals can do so.
Unfortunately, in a market survey we conducted in 2013 and in this investigation, it has become apparent that cosmetic companies are willing to mislead their customers to gain credibility (and the goodwill that comes with it) as a cruelty-free company.
Lush's Emma Hart spoke to CHOICE about companies that make claims about their cruelty-free status while still selling in China. She did not speak specifically about The Body Shop or any other companies, but told us that generally, consumers are being misled. "Taking advantage of the image of being cruelty-free but not being completely honest with the details is frustrating, both from a consumer perspective and from ours. Some of our competitors are using something they were once strong in as a selling point, despite the fact that they have entered the Chinese market."
"If you ask a company whether they test on animals, and the answer is 'no except in China' or 'except where legally required to', then they do test on animals. We definitely don’t think companies should be using it as a marketing tool unless they are totally not associating with animal testing around the world."
Should you trust cruelty-free labelling?
CHOICE has reported on the problems with unofficial cruelty-free labelling in the past year. Unfortunately, our latest investigation reveals that even official third-party certifiers can sometimes get it wrong.
The bad news is that certifiers such as The Leaping Bunny and PETA, both of which have The Body Shop on their cruelty-free lists, rely largely on the honesty of companies in declaring their positions on animal testing (and the threat of legal action should they breach their statutory declarations of their animal testing status).
The good news is that these official third-party certifiers do tend to check on the cruelty-free companies on their lists, and can and do de-certify companies.
CHOICE will remain vigilant when it comes to uncovering abuse of the system. Consumers need to know about the origins of the products they’re buying so that they can make informed purchasing decisions, and we're here to keep the cosmetics companies accountable for their promises.
The story so far
CHOICE has been covering this story for some time, since discovering the fact that certain global cosmetic companies were misleading Australian consumers by telling them their products weren’t being tested on animals, when in fact they were. At the time, we praised The Body Shop’s refusal to enter the Chinese market.
What can you do?
Consumers who have purchased The Body Shop products on the proviso that the company is cruelty free have been misled and may be entitled to a refund under the
Australian Consumer Law. If you’re concerned about the misleading statements being made by The Body Shop and L’Oreal, vote with your money – take the products back to the store you bought them in, and send the message that consumers deserve to know the truth.
Products purchased at Beijing International Airport Duty Free
Read on to see how The Body Shop has built its business from humble beginnings to global conglomerate.