BEATING BEAUTY'S UGLY SIDE: ON THE ETHICS OF COSMETICS
The Guardian (UK) 8 January 2005, p. 43
You've probably given some thought to what your face cream is doing to your skin - but do you ever think about where the ingredients come from? Over-harvesting of rare plants, use of non- sustainable petrochemicals (mineral oil, petroleum), destruction of rainforests and ecosystems, patenting of native plants, and the pilfering of indigenous people's knowledge of flora and fauna without financial recompense are all things our bathroom cabinets conceal.
"We are extremely concerned about the use of palm oil in products in the UK," says Robin Webster, corporates campaigner for Friends of the Earth. "Palm oil plantations are monocultures, often grown on cleared rainforest areas or on community land. Once they are in place, there is no choice for local people but to work on the plantations or lose their livelihood - and no hope for the cleared forest."
Some businesses are beginning to take action, however. Unilever (producers of Dove, Timotei and Lynx) and the Body Shop are two companies that have signed up to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (sustainable-palmoil.org). Clarins, meanwhile, is one of the few luxury brands with a clear policy on ingredient sustainability. "Obviously the plants we use must be safe and efficient," says Lionel de Benetti, head of research and development at Clarins, "but we also do a serious investigation into the possible consequences of harvesting. If the plant belongs to a rare species, or if it is a major source of food for local people, we will not use it." In 2000, Clarins was given top marks (alongside the Body Shop and Beauty Without Cruelty), in Ethical Consumer magazine's report Because I'm Worth It?
"We as indigenous people must protect our knowledge, our intellectual property and our heritage," says Dr Richard Walley, chairman of Songman Circle of Wisdom (SCW) - a groundbreaking accreditation protocol that was recently launched by and for aboriginal people to protect the rights, resources and knowledge of indigenous communities.
The first venture to implement the non-profit SCW protocol is a partnership between Aveda and Australian sandalwood distributor Mount Romance (each of which has donated $50,000 to support the launch of SCW). After discovering the Indian sandalwood it used was unsustainable and unethical, Aveda switched its sourcing to Australia. Now it buys all its sandalwood from a small Aboriginal community, Kutkabubba, and pays a premium on top of the state- controlled price, which goes to the community. "This has given us more money now, which we're going to use to make our community better," explains Kutkabubba elder and sandalwood harvester Ken Farmer. If this model works, the SCW certification mark could appear on products from around the world.
"When we go into these partnerships, we don't go with weakness saying, 'Please, Mr Aveda' or 'Please, Mr Consumer - help us'," says Walley. "We go in saying, 'We are a strong group of people who've got a philosophy. We know this culture, we know this land, we can help you - not you help us. We can help you.' "