Ok, I’m usually up to speed on developments in the vegan world, so I’m not sure how this managed to escape me for so long… You probably already know but if you didn’t, The Body Shop is no longer owned by L’Oreal so it’s now back on my vegan-friendly shopping list!
Well to me it was… – GIPHY
What was wrong with The Body Shop being owned by L’Oreal?
It’s like asking what’s wrong with McDonald’s owning a vegan burger chain.
What is The Body Shop about?
Most of us know The Body Shop for being a high street purveyor of natural lotions and potions, but it has a deeper origin story.
Anita Roddick founded The Body Shop in 1976. The business incorporated sustainability, ethical sourcing and social activism from the beginning. She was a real trailblazer and well-known personality. Roddick led everyday people towards ethical products whilst enlightening us about issues at the same time.
Back in the 90s, animal testing on cosmetics was still legal in the UK. Hard to believe isn’t it? In 1996 The Body Shop launched a campaign to ban it. This added fuel to the fire of public opinion already incensed about fur farming. 2 years later in 1998, the UK did just ban animal testing on cosmetic products and ingredients. So not outright on everything, but still, a great success. Whilst The Body Shop wasn’t solely responsible, it was undeniably a very strong force.
And to think, all that was in the days before the Internet and social media.
So the Body Shop was a desirable, high street haven for the increasingly visible eco-conscious, or ethically aware consumer. Yet it had mass appeal.
After 30 years, The Body Shop’s sale to L’Oreal did not go down well
It was a great shock when L’Oreal bought The Body Shop for over £650 million in 2006.
Founder Anita Roddick assured us L’Oreal would uphold The Body Shop’s values. Though she had previously denounced L’Oreal, she fought back against widespread criticism for ‘selling out’. L’Oreal was already known for being unethical, which was made worse for having a parent in Nestlé. But that’s a topic for another time.
The entire ethical stance and purpose of both companies were at odds, and the loyal customers felt betrayed. It just made no sense to anyone. Except perhaps shareholders who thought that people would just get over it, I guess? Though there was hope that the new green kid might rub off on it’s meaner parent. Today, we now know better that it didn’t work out that way.
Instead it just never seemed to fit in with its new family, and it’s old friends turned to new rivals. For example, Lush. Since opening its first store in Poole in 1995, Lush has grown to 900 stores in over 50 countries. They have done so whilst also retaining strong animal-rights, social, ethical and moral values.
Let’s explore the L’Oreal controversy a bit more
Ok, so what’s so bad about L’Oreal?
L’Oreal, in my opinion, are just a horrible company, with a fitting major shareholder in Nestlé. They use nasty ingredients like lead in lipstick, and actual known carcinogens in various products (including a children’s shampoo), as well as running production operations in poor countries where working standards are low. By comparison their history of misleading customers through airbrushing and flat out lying in advertisements seems almost twee.
Then there is their attitude towards animal testing.
L’Oreal’s stance on animal testing tries to pull the wool over your eyes
The world’s largest beauty company claims to be against animal testing, but they really aren’t. On their FAQs regarding animal testing they go to great lengths to explain themselves in a way that makes out they are just such nice guys…
The first question: “Do you test on animals?” has a simple enough answer:
L’Oréal no longer tests any of its products or any of its ingredients on animals, anywhere in the world. Nor does L’Oréal delegate this task to others. An exception could be made if authorities required it for human safety or regulatory purposes.
A lot of people would stop reading there and feel satisfied. But the next questions answer why Peta and Cruelty-Free International are not convinced. See if you can untangle this riddle:
“When a supplier proposes us an ingredient, we ask to examine its safety dossier. If the dossier contains data generated by means of animal testing before March 2013, L’Oréal can retain the ingredient. If the data was generated after March 2013 and was for a cosmetics application, L’Oréal cannot retain the ingredient. If the data was generated after March 2013 but was for a usage other than cosmetics, then L’Oréal can retain the ingredient.”
Can we just re-examine that? L’Oreal is happy to have ingredients that were tested on animals up until 2013. That’s just 6 years ago, and magically coincides with when the EU banned animal testing on cosmetic ingredients. That’s a quite a few more years of involvement with animal testing than 1989, when they claim to have stopped testing on animals (see below).
Also note the last line. It says that L’Oreal can use an ingredient tested on animals if for a non-cosmetic purpose. This loophole allows them to continue animal testing, whilst all the while maintaining the appearance of a company with any sort of ethics. How? Consider this, what if the ingredient was originally tested for pharmaceutical research?
Remember that story I linked to above, where L’Oreal came under fire from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for advertising certain skincare products that make them sound like drugs?
Well, L’Oreal love to claim they can reduce the signs of aging. They advertised creams that could “boost the activity of genes” or “stimulate cell regeneration” to achieve this.
However, the FDA considers products that make such claims to be drugs. This is because the claims show intent “to affect the structure or any function of the human body”. Therefore this could imply that an ingredient’s purpose was indeed “for other than cosmetics“.
If they indeed researched new ingredients that have an officially non-cosmetic purpose, this allows them to continue to use new ingredients that have been tested on animals for cosmetics!
So ultimately they can say what they like. I don’t trust them one little bit.
But they think we should take their word for it, even when they won’t use the words…
This has to be the funniest attempt at spin I’ve ever seen. Check out their odd response to “Will you put a ‘Cruelty-Free’ label on your products?”:
No, we don’t think that would be desirable. The « cruelty-free » or other labels are ambiguous in our opinion to the extent that they acknowledge that products and ingredients were all tested on animals before a given date.
Moreover, these labels do not guarantee the quality or the safety of cosmetics products. L’Oréal of its own initiative stopped testing its products on animals as early as 1989, and continues to meet the beauty needs of men and women around the world with safe and effective products.
Oh how they lie!!! Consider another of their brands, Urban Decay, which is widely loved for being otherwise cruelty-free. Recently, Urban Decay faced intense backlash for plans to accept animal-testing for Chinese expansion. The response was so powerful that they backed out of going to China.
So in this world of growing ethical consumerism, would it really “not be desirable” to have clearly identifiable and certified cruelty-free products?! After all, would you believe someone who said: “Oh yeah I was a great sprinter as a kid and I could have won gold in the Olympics if I’d trained, but no-one cares about it so I didn’t bother”. No, you wouldn’t. You’d think, “liar”, “what a weak, pathetic excuse” or “there’s probably something you’re missing out from the story”.
Just be honest and and admit that you just don’t care about animals. Just admit that you’re doing the minimum to keep people buying your products and your profit margins as high as possible.
A good reminder about labelling on packaging
Whilst they know full well that they would have a PR sh*tstorm on their hands if they tried to call their products “cruelty-free”, that hasn’t stopped them from starting to slide in “100% Vegan” on some items, but not everyone is falling for it. So bear in mind that if you don’t see a logo demonstrating certification from an accredited body, do your research.
It would be very different if packaging that didn’t qualify for the Leaping Bunny had to display a logo stating “ANIMAL CRUELTY INVOLVED”, with a symbol of a lifeless, bloodied rabbit. People would make other, kinder choices with the reminder staring in them in the face. Then they’d do everything possible to eliminate it from all their suppliers and markets.
Hang on, but you buy stuff from companies owned by other horrible companies; why pick on the Body Shop?
It’s funny because I wasn’t even a vegetarian when I stopped shopping at The Body Shop. However, despite that, I would certainly avoid brands involved in animal testing wherever possible.
We don’t live in a world of absolutes, and there are times when compromises need to be made and there are times when they don’t. Cosmetics and bubble bath come under my ‘low-to-no compromise permitted’ category, along with handbags, perfume and other non-essentials.
If given a gift from the Body Shop, of course I would accept it graciously, but I wouldn’t actively shop there myself.
In addition to abandoning The Body Shop, I boycotted L’Oreal. I refused L’Oreal products at the hairdresser and never bought their skincare. It may not have been ‘fair’ to The Body Shop, but it is down to this boycotting behaviour that L’Oreal failed to make a commercial success of their purchase. The losses made them sell it off to a company that aligns with The Body Shop’s original values, and customer base.
Back to The Body Shop and 11 years in the wilderness
Whilst The Body Shop continued to do business it lost it’s sparkle as a result of this dirty deal. To make matters worse, the outspoken Anita Roddick sadly passed away in 2007. The brand had no public face to reassure customers, and to keep the pressure on L’Oreal. It’s not dissimilar to thinking about a Virgin Group without Richard Branson, really, how would that even work?!
The Body Shop suddenly felt different. Though Roddick had sold her shares, her loss still affected public perception of her creation. Now it felt totally under L’Oreal’s grasp and with it, any sense of transparency or faith in them evaporated. After all we couldn’t tell if we were being ‘greenwashed’. Also, the weird stain on its reputation turned people off the higher prices. Why bother going to The Body Shop specially to pay more when you can just buy a cheap cruelty-free brand at Boots? Though their windows still proclaimed ethical values, the reality felt wishy-washy.
Over time, The Body Shop’s share price fell and L’Oreal’s plans to expand its retail locations fell quiet. In 2016 we first learned that L’Oreal were looking for a buyer for The Body Shop. The sale finalised in 2018.
Who owns The Body Shop now?
The Brazilian group Natura &Co bought The Body Shop in 2017. The Body Shop now sits along side Natura and Aesop in the group, rather than L’Oreal’s Garnier, Maybelline, Kiehl’s and Urban Decay etc.
Natura &Co are much more in line with The Body Shop’s original spirit and values, and I look forward to rediscovering them and their vegan line.
Great, so how vegan-friendly are The Body Shop’s products?
They claim to have “around half of products” that are 100% vegan, which at time of writing is 219 products. On the other hand Lush is currently at 80% and lists 939 vegan items.
The Body Shop certainly seem excited about vegan business though, and with vegan products making up a third of sales, they claim to have sold a vegan product every second in 2018 (Based on UK sales 01/01/2018 – 17/11/2018 of all product sizes. Selling period 24 hours a day 7 days per week). Impressive stuff.
I’m keen to try their dinky bath bombs and the Seaweed Oil Balancing Toner, and of course get a classic body butter! Aaaah I also need to go in-store and smell the perfumes too!! I’m genuinely excited for this guys! My genuine disdain for L’Oreal has deprived me from enjoying The Body Shop for over a decade. I think you can tell that I’m keen to make up for lost time!
A legacy that, despite a weird turn, will live on
I am so grateful that The Body Shop has found a new home. I truly believe that Anita Roddick genuinely thought she would be able to help lead L’Oreal onto a kinder path and that The Body Shop would influence the group and their brands. If she had lived longer she likely would have had a positive impact on them, either in the boardroom, or out in public. She was never shy of public engagement and I like to think that she would have continued to be a force for good. After all, there is no denying that she made a difference. Even in her death, she left her £51 million fortune to charities.
Hopefully, The Body Shop will now be able to regain the wholehearted support of ethically conscious shoppers. Including those who, like me, are a bit late to the celebrations!
What do you think, did you continue to shop at The Body Shop when it was owned by L’Oreal? Should we boycott otherwise ethical brands that are owned by nasty parents? Also, what’s good at The Body Shop these days?! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!