Is Clinique cruelty-free? The answer is complicated. Their company’s official statement is that they do not test on animals except where required by law, which isn’t a definitive answer. Many nations have completely banned animal testing of cosmetics, including the entirety of the EU. Others have encouraged companies to avoid animal testing when possible by encouraging alternative methods. However, there is one market that is a holdout of older, crueler methods: China.
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The China Effect
Until 2014, all cosmetics manufactured or sold in China were required to be tested on animals, which meant that virtually all major cosmetics firms engaged in animal testing. The Chinese cosmetics market is massive – over $29 billion per year – and this financial gain outweighed the minor PR hit that they would take for testing on animals. China is the one major market that still requires animal testing – most companies would not participate if they weren’t required to by law. Animal testing is expensive, dangerous, and clunky. In-vitro human skin models are the preferred method for cosmetics, due to their increased accuracy, safety, and ease. Since 2014, certain products can be waived from the animal testing requirement. It still remains for any cosmetic that makes a functional claim; shampoo that claims to reduce dandruff will be tested, but regular shampoo will not. This requirement is also in place in the US, but can be waived for products that do not include any new, untested ingredients. This means that while many of Clinique’s products are not tested on animals – and likely none of their US or European products – their company is still involved in animal testing in accordance with Chinese law.
It's a Complicated World
If you’re buying a Clinique product in the US, you’re probably not buying something that was tested on animals. However, you are financially supporting a company that does test on animals. While this may immediately put you off of Clinique, there are some things to consider. Firstly, many “vegan” brands are owned by non-vegan conglomerates that do test on animals. Tom’s of Maine is one example; while the products themselves contain no animal products and are not tested on animals, they are owned by Colgate-Palmolive, which does not make any such guarantee and does sell in China. In the complicated world of global business, it is difficult to know whether any “vegan” brand is completely disconnected from any company that practices animal testing. For example, Jason Natural Products, while cruelty-free and 99.9% vegan itself, is subsidiary of the Hain Celestial Group. This conglomerate owns several popular vegan and cruelty free brands, like the Almond/Soy/Rice Dream line of plant milks, Alba Botanica skincare, and Avalon cosmetic products. However, it also sells turkey and chicken under the Freebird and Plainville Farms brands, as well as dairy products under The Greek Gods brand. There are two ways to approach this ethical dilemma.
Making Moral Choices
First, you could only choose to support brands that are completely, 100% free of any involvement with non-vegan products, whenever possible. This is possible, but not necessarily practical. The majority of supermarket foods are owned by only a few large conglomerates, which are all involved in the meat and dairy industries. Planter’s Nuts and Classico pasta sauce, for example, are owned by Kraft-Heinz, which also owns Oscar Meyer. If you’re not willing to either memorize all food conglomerate connections or simply grow all of your own food, it’s going to be difficult to truly be sure that you’re not indirectly funding meat and dairy.
Second, you could only support vegan branches of non-vegan conglomerates. In a capitalist society, firms react to market changes. If a vegan subsidiary is outperforming a non-vegan one, that could send signals to ownership that vegan products do well. To refer back to an earlier example, Colgate-Palmolive is invested in the success of Tom’s of Maine. If Tom’s does well, that might signal to Colgate that they too, perhaps, should consider ditching animal testing. Supporting subsidiaries and brands that abstain from animal testing and animal products is a way to signal to large conglomerates that vegan products are a worthwhile investment.
So What Can We Say?
So, with regards to Clinique, it is not cruelty-free, strictly speaking. If you want to abstain from all companies that conduct animal testing, Clinique should be on your blacklist. However, consider how much the “cruelty free” sticker truly means. Clinique is not testing anything on animals that is not required to be so by Chinese law – it makes no business sense to do so. Refusing to buy Clinique will hurt their bottom line, but that may backfire – money that they lose in the US and Europe will have to be made up somewhere, and China is only getting richer.
It is possible that this will pressure Clinique to lobby China harder for an end to animal testing. In short, simply not-buying Clinique products will not necessarily produce any meaningful change in China’s animal testing policies. While it will harm their bottom line, the animal testing demand is largely out of their control. Clinique could pull out of the Chinese market until the government bans animal testing, but doing so would cost them a fortune, and is therefore unlikely to happen. In short, the efficacy of boycotting cosmetic companies that enter the Chinese market is dubious at best, simply because Americans and Europeans have little impact on the decisions of the Chinese government.
This does not mean that we should give up – make your voice heard, both at home and in the greater world. Tell Clinique and similar companies that you want them to lobby the Chinese government to end animal testing. Donate time and/or money to animal rights groups that are fighting to abolish the abhorrent and barbaric practice. There are numerous reasons to support smaller, completely vegan companies instead of massive conglomerates. You could seek to support candidates that care about animal welfare.
In short, ending animal cruelty will take time. Maybe generations. But this is important, and we may be at the beginning of a bigger movement towards the vegan lifestyle. Do you see it coming? I think that I do.