A wave of shock and unpleasant surprise is spreading amongst consumers of beauty products and cosmetics in most of the Western world as many big-name beauty brands are accused of going back to animal testing in order to fulfill the legal requirements of the cosmetics market in China. The fever to expand market share has hit broadly, as the reversal of years of progress in suppressing animal testing also affected high-end international brands that lost their "Leaping Bunny" logo, which ethical guarantee is overseen by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, and assures purchasers that their favorite beauty brand does not resort to animal-testing in the elaboration of its products.
Many companies had a perfect record until last year because they always claimed to resort to animal tests "only when necessary". However, most of the brands that have come under scrutiny have already seen their financial situation improve as they expand into China and profit from its emerging middle-class market, overcoming their desire to be bunny-branded. Indeed, in order to bring cosmetics to the 700 million potential female consumers in China – responsible for the 18 percent surge in beauty sales last year, reaching around $15 billion – companies have to comply with the Chinese legal requirement of animal testing for greater human safety.
Not all companies have put profits above principle: U.S. Urban Decay and U.K. Paul Mitchell both took a stand against this testing step back – the first opted for a cancelation of its plans to enter the Chinese market and the latter for a suspension of sales in China in 2011. Such techniques are designed, according to company executives, to put outside pressure on the Chinese government and provide an incentive for change.
Bunny-less companies have tried to justify their actions in the same way, arguing – as did Caudalie’s founder Mathilde Thomas – that by operating within the country, they would be in a privileged position to foster progress in local legislation regulating animal testing. Unfortunately, companies agreeing to sell in China may not be the ones directly performing tests on animals, but they are still giving Chinese researchers the financial resources to do so since it is only a short hop away from actively funding tests that include using unsafe chemicals in rabbits’ eyes or monitoring irritation on their skin.
This heated controversy has generated powerful reactions. It has become apparent that pressure is not likely to come from Chinese consumers, which makes the international campaign against animal testing even more necessary. The European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE), the American Anti-Vivisection Society and the British Cruelty Free International have all openly stated their outrage. This then stimulated some non-complying companies to take steps in working with their Chinese counterparts towards implementing substitutive methods, not requiring animal testing. Specialized institutes such as the Institute for In Vitro Sciences have stepped forward to help Chinese researchers train and learn these new cruelty-free techniques. China has accepted this international help in training and grants as part of its five-year plan, recently developed by Chinese authorities.
Other countries have tried for years to tackle the problem of animal testing. In 1998, the U.K. banned the practice and paved the way for a larger E.U. initiative in 2003. The two-stage process was to prohibit first "acute" animal tests (e.g., lethal poisoning, eye tests, skin irritation tests, etc.), and then focus on the remaining tests. This second stage was set to come into force in March 2013, but the E.U. is now considering taking a leap backward and possibly postponing the full ban for 10 years – by use of the European Commission’s small print right to revise the law. Similarly in the U.S., the Safe Cosmetics Act was introduced in 2011, but has not yet been adopted into law.
For now, charities are left with lobbying for ethical practices against China’s attractiveness due to the size and weight of its market. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Foundation indicated that there were welcoming signs of progress in China, signaling that hope is kindled.