“Extreme ethical” emerges as new cosmetics trend

By Leah Armstrong

- Last updated on GMT

According to Mintel, ‘extreme ethical’ is set to be a major cosmetics trend for 2009, with many cosmetics companies seeking to become advocates for social change.

Fair trade and ‘ethically sourced’ have long been buzz words in the cosmetics industry. The number of product launches with fair trade ingredients doubled in 2008.

While 2009 has seen fewer launches of fair trade products, Mintel insists that this does not reflect a rejection of ethical principles. Rather, it would seem that the inverse is true.

Advocating social change

Mintel told Cosmetics Design that the reduction in fair trade product launches is due to brands repositioning themselves as advocators for social change by supporting charitable initiatives, implementing sustainability in production and packaging as well as reducing their waste and carbon footprints.

Dr Bronner’s Magic Soaps drew attention to this issue at the Natural Beauty Summit earlier this month, when the company gave a talk highlighting the importance of social investment in conflict regions, such as Palestine and Sri Lanka.

Dr Bronner sources 90% of its olive oil from Palestinian producers near the West Bank town of Jenin. It also established an independent, fair trade supplier of coconut oil in Sri Lanka.

UK based company Lush, has been consistently improving and developing its ethical stance and now funds a plethora of environmental and social charities.

Lush customers can purchase a ‘charity box’ of cosmetics, which donates 100 per cent of the price of the product to an expanding list of charities.

Ethical accreditation

Part of the problem for cosmetics companies when pursuing an ethical strategy, is the lack of recognition from independent Fair Trade or ethical accreditors. Dr Bronner has overcome this by funding accreditation from the IMO Social and Fair Trade Certification, who offer a ‘brand neutral, third party program’ called ‘fair for life’.

Although the IMO organization does offer Fair Trade advice and certification, companies must pay for their services. Many brands have instead resorted to self-regulation.

“There are hardly any Fair Trade certified products on the market, but yet quite a few pioneer companies have developed a tradition of fair trade relations with their suppliers or wish to improve their relations and gain more understanding about the social impact of their production”​, Florentine Meinhausen from IMO told Cosmetics Design.

Lush said it is in talks with the Fair Trade Association regarding potential accreditation, but is awaiting the final result.

Hilary Jones, Ethics Director for the company told Cosmetics Design: “Fair Trade is after all just a label. What is important to us is that all our products have been fairly traded. That’s why we get on the ground, visit where our ingredients are sourced from and make sure high standards are maintained.”

If the principles held by Lush and Dr Bronner seem ‘extremely ethical’, this is apparently matched by consumer demand in the cosmetics market.

“No one traditionally looks to the cosmetics industry as leaders on ethics, but we have been very encouraged by customer reaction to our policies”, ​Jones said.

Mintel said that the industry’s pursuit of ‘extreme ethical’ strategies is no longer the preserve of niche natural and organic beauty brands. Bigger brands such as Clarins and The Body Shop have taken to the trend too.

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