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The Body Shop sells out on animal testing

The truth about the company's operations in China.

the body shop sells out
Last updated: 11 March 2014


Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Need to know

  • 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.
Bunny with Body Shop logo

What our investigation uncovered

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.

CHOICE speaks to the media, further explaining our concerns with The Body Shop's cruelty-free claims.

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."

Although 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 

plastic bag with duty free shower gel purchased at Shanghai International Duty-Free Shop, China

Shower gel purchased at Shanghai International Duty-Free Shop, China

The Body Shop isn't being upfront 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.

Body Shop stand in Shanghai International Airport

The Body Shop "gondola" in Shanghai International Airport

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 [our emphasis]."

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 [our emphasis], 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. 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. CHOICE believes that The Body Shop is misleading consumers when it comes to being cruelty-free.

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, although 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 2014:

The Body Shop released a further statement to CHOICE. They 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 2014:

The Body Shop 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.

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."

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 been covering this story for some time, since discovering 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.

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 will follow up on reports about 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.

What can you do?

body shop products with w receipt

Products purchased at Beijing International Airport Duty Free.

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 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.

The Body Shop timeline

1976 Anita Roddick opens the first The Body Shop store in the UK on $8000 start-up capital to support her two children while her husband rides a horse from Buenos Aires to New York.

1978 The Body Shop launches its first overseas franchise in Belgium.

1982 Growth of The Body Shop heats up, with an average of two new franchises opening per month.

1984 The Body Shop is floated on the London Stock Exchange.

1995 The New Academy of Business is launched by Anita Roddick. The management degree it offers addresses social, environmental and moral issues, and is run at The University of Bath in the UK.

1997 The Body Shop signs up to the Humane Cosmetics Standard.

1998 In response to a massive campaign, in which The Body Shop played a key role, the UK bans animal testing of cosmetic products and ingredients.

1999 The Body Shop creates a new business unit in Asia.

2003 Anita Roddick is appointed a Dame of the British Empire.

2005 The Body Shop is awarded for achieving higher standards of animal welfare in the cosmetic category at the first annual awards of the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in the UK.

2005 L'Oreal opens the Pudong L'Oréal Research Center in China, created to conduct research into Chinese hair and skin.

2006 The Body Shop wins PETA's Proggy (progress) awards for its ongoing commitment to avoid animal testing.

2006 L'Oreal purchases The Body Shop for £652m. The Body Shop is delisted from the London Stock Exchange. While L'Oreal is based in Paris, The Body Shop continues to be based in the UK. According to The Body Shop, it operates independently within the L'Oreal Group and is led by a management team reporting directly to the CEO of L'Oreal. Anita Roddick says of the acquisition: "Combining L'Oréal's expertise and knowledge of international markets with The Body Shop's distinct culture and values will benefit both companies."

2007 Dame Anita Roddick dies aged 64 from a brain haemorrhage.

2009 The Body Shop is presented with Australia's RSPCA Lifetime Achievement Award.

2012 The Body Shop starts selling products in Shanghai airport duty free.

2012 The Body Shop supports the launch of Cruelty Free International, promoting its campaign across The Body Shop stores in 65 countries around the world.

2013 Israel bans the importation of cosmetics tested on animals.

2013 L'Oreal Consumer Products Worldwide Marketing Director Travel Retail Charles Roullet tells industry publication The Moodie Report that The Body Shop travel retail openings in 2012 include Shanghai, China, saying: "Now we are looking forward to exploiting many new opportunities in 2013 and beyond."

2013 The EU prohibits marketing of any cosmetic products in the EU that have involved new animal testing.

2013 India announces it will ban animal testing of cosmetics and their ingredients.

2013 In May, a CHOICE investigation finds animal testing of cosmetics is still widespread but The Body Shop maintains its public stance against it. The investigation prompts The Body Shop Australia CEO Mark Kindness to confirm the company will not consider exporting their products to China until the laws change.

2013 China announces that from June 2014, new, domestically manufactured cosmetic products or those that are imported into China in bulk, unpackaged, no longer need to be tested on animals. However, products that are imported packaged are still subject to the old testing regime, which includes animal testing.

2014 The Body Shop has 2500 stores in over 60 markets worldwide.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.