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Cosmetics industry cannot afford to ignore ethical claims

By Simon Pitman , 01-Jun-2009

As more and more cosmetics companies gain kudos thanks to increasingly rigorous ethical sourcing and trading claims, companies that ignore the phenomenon stand to lose out.

This rule has traditionally applied to organic and natural manufacturers, who are targeting some of the most savvy and ethically conscious consumers in the market.

This type of consumer is not only buying products that are free of harsh chemicals for their own benefit, they also want to be assured that the products they are buying are derived from sustainable and ethically sound sources.

Growth of naturals is igniting ethical interest

But as the natural and organic beauty trend becomes more and more mainstream, the ideas behind ethical products are slowly filtering down into the mass market arena.

Although few mass market beauty products have tapped into the ethical trend to any significant degree, many are now sharing retail shelf space with beauty products that are shouting out loud about their ethical claims.

The Body Shop was one of the first beauty businesses to make claims about the ethical sourcing of ingredients and ethical trading practices, and now increasingly important players such as UK-based Lush and US-based Dr. Bronner are taking such claims one step further.

Extreme ethical

One market researcher, Nica Lewis from Mintel, recently referred to this as ‘extreme ethical’, attributing the trend to the increasing awareness of consumers.

Indeed, over the past year or so both Lush and Dr. Bronner have even pushed their ethical claims into the controversial world of politics.

Such moves has seen Lush using a bath ball product to condemn human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay, while Dr. Bronner highlighted the importance of conducting trade in conflict areas by sourcing key ingredients in Sri Lanka and Palestine.

The 'extreme' illustrates the growing importance this trend is having on consumer purchasing habits and is yet another warning sign that the industry as a whole should be paying attention

Few leading players make ethical claims

Although most cosmetics players, particularly those addressing the mass market, are unlikely to make such bold claims, few of the leading players have made any significant waves in the ethical arena.

One exception to this rule is luxury beauty provider Clarins, which has been one of the pioneering ‘big players’, having had a policy of total transparency with regards to sourcing its ingredients for some years now.

The likelihood of big players such as P&G or Unilever marketing their beauty products on the back of heavy weight political activism seems remote, but moves such as the one by Clarins are likely to pave the way for the rest of the industry.

Growing awareness of the environmental impact from ingredients sourcing in the public domain means that manufacturers who choose to ignore this message will be in for a tough ride from environmentalists and consumers alike.

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