The campaign against animal testing for cosmetics has had some major wins over recent years, such as the European Union banning all cosmetics tested on animals anywhere in the world since 2013, and similar successes with bans in countries such as New Zealand, Norway, India and Israel. But buying cruelty-free beauty products sadly isn’t quite that simple. Transnational corporations who sell make-up worldwide also sell in China, where animal testing is not only permitted, but is a requirement to be able to sell the products at all. These global brands are obliged to pay the Chinese government to test samples of their product on animals, and so from the perspective of the ethical consumer, buying from these brands means funding animal testing.

Image courtesy of borosjuli via Flickr

However, often small cruelty-free make-up brands are bought by these transnational unethical parent companies. In the case of most cruelty-free beauty brand acquisitions, the products themselves stay as cruelty-free as they were before, but the profits from the cruelty-free brand go to the parent company, who in turn fund animal testing in China. Meanwhile of course, the parent company is assessing the small cruelty-free make-up brand’s sales performance in order to evaluate the consumer demand for cruelty-free beauty products. If the smaller ethical brand performs well, perhaps the parent company will see that demand for cruelty-free products is high, and perhaps even move away from animal testing themselves. So is it better to boycott the cruelty-free brand, to avoid funding animal testing in any way? Or is it better to continue to buy from the cruelty-free brand, to prove to the parent company that cruelty-free make-up is in demand, in the hope that they stop using animal testing altogether? We want to know: what’s your stance on cruelty-free make-up brands bought by parent companies?

We are keen to provide a non-judgemental and respectful arena for people with a range of different perspectives to share their point of view. We asked our followers on Instagram, if there’s a cruelty-free make-up brand owned by an unethical corporation: to buy or not to buy? Here’s what they thought…


As conscious consumers, the idea of voting with your money is a familiar one. Unfortunately it’s the case that companies will always follow the profits wherever they go, much quicker than national legislation can be created and enforced. It seems that our consumer voice is much louder than our political voice at times. @becoming_crueltyfree feels similarly with regards to buying from brands owned by unethical companies:

“I avoid brands who are owned by unethical companies. It’s a shame that the big businesses buy up some great cruelty-free brands, but as a consumer I see my money as my voice. If I give money to one of the bigger companies then I’m not supporting my beliefs. It’s also hard to keep track of who owns who at times but the internet is a wonderful resource of information to quickly discover what’s what. What really annoys me is brands and companies who test on animals but are trying to appeal to the vegan market by advertising their products as vegan. I got caught out by this recently with Maui hair, which is created by ogx who Johnson & Johnson now own. But I was able to return the item easily. Important to remember that vegan does not mean cruelty free!”


The mislabelling of products as cruelty-free or vegan is a particularly difficult issue, as it makes it so much harder to make an animal-free purchase without correct or reliable information. As @becoming_crueltyfree points out, it’s always safer to scour the internet before buying. It’s also worth noting that in the US, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t actively regulate “not tested on animals” or “cruelty-free” claims on packaging, and so any brand can label their products as such without any evidence that this is true.


Becoming vegan doesn’t always happen overnight, and it can often be a long and gradual process to instil such a large scale lifestyle change. Perhaps it begins with Meatless Mondays, progresses to pescatarianism, and then to vegetarianism before working up to a totally plant-based diet and lifestyle. @barbie_engineer compares this process to that of parent companies acquiring cruelty-free cosmetics brands:

“Most people had to transition. I like to think that some of these bigger brands that are buying a cruelty free brand are trying to transition. Like too faced is their way of trying out being a vegetarian. And then maybe they will go a step further with another brand. I think we should acknowledge change is hard and if companies are trying to test the market, it can’t be a bad thing.”


It is a fact we’ll all reluctantly be familiar with by now that the fight for animal rights can be a slow and difficult process. That parent companies even want to buy cruelty-free brands must be a good sign that they’re opening their minds to the undeniable truth that you can have both a high quality and safe beauty product without testing on animals.


Whilst ideally many vegans might prefer to shop in a totally vegan supermarket, it is often not possible or practical to do so, and so we often shop at supermarkets that sell meat, eggs and dairy. The accelerating commercial success of non-dairy milks in supermarkets is one we might be able to replicate in the fight against animal testing, as @vivienne_wonderland points out:

“I think it’s important to show the smaller cruelty free brand that there is a demand for their products. Hopefully this will eventually show in the sale figures for parent companies who also own non-CF brands. They will see that their CF companies are making money while their others aren’t. In my eyes, it’s the same as me buying Alpro milk from a supermarket that sells non-vegan items. The supermarket is still making money from my purchase. But guess what, the sales of dairy milk have gone down and business’ are finding that out the hard way, which in turn is creating demand for vegan alternatives. And what are we seeing now? Vegan options popping up everywhere. If we don’t buy from the smaller CF companies, who don’t always have control over who buys them, they will just stop investing in CF measures. Each to it’s own, but that’s how I see it. We, as consumers need to demand CF and vegan options. And we do that with our money!”


@vivienne_wonderland makes an interesting comparison here between the two industries, adding the caveat that it is precisely those parent companies that also own non-cruelty-free brands that need to see the demand for cruelty-free products, and therefore increase their cruelty-free offering. Taking this into consideration, perhaps it’s therefore even more important to buy from small cruelty-free brands owned by unethical corporations, in order to encourage the parent companies to change their business practices. After The Body Shop was bought by L’Oreal for £652m in 2006, founder Anita Roddick argued she wanted to be the “trojan horse” in the boardroom, helping L’Oreal to step away from animal testing, working to change the organisation from the inside out. The Body Shop is now represented by Natura & Co who have a ‘commitment to sustainable and ethical business practices’

Image courtesy of 阿蠻Amanda via Flickr


@ecochicvegan notes that a single cosmetics purchase can be relatively expensive, and so boycotting an entire brand could have a big financial impact that is noticed by those bigger brands who invest a lot of time and money analysing sales data:

“This often becomes a delicate choice. Often, it seems that your favorite brand has gone over to the dark side through a buyout overnight. It’s something you may not find out about until months later. This has happened to me often and I just go without makeup while searching for a new ethical brand that makes shaded that work with my skin tone. Recently, this past year I am finding that large corporations are now creating or buying ethical brands and keeping them separated in order for them to be considered animal cruelty free. This wasn’t the case in the past. It takes extra operating dollars to keep lines of business separate to that degree. Apparently switching lines as we do has made an impact and they are listening. With that, I still try not to buy cosmetics from a company whose parent company still sells makeup with animal testing. Now, this stance is not practiced with my food choices, but cosmetics cost a lot of money and the impact is felt, even by a few hundred. If they can make that change, then they can leave an ethical company or create one to operate fully independently off of their books as a venture capitalist. Changes in the cosmetics industry have the biggest impact and the largest rate of return. Because of today’s culture, it’s a top-selling industry. We all have a part to play and either choice we make has an impact. Trust me, they are looking at the numbers and they analyze deeply.”


@ecochicvegan underlines the importance of the issue of cruelty-free beauty, as it is such a large industry generating huge revenues year upon year. Perhaps cruelty-free make-up is also such a key issue in the fight for animal rights because we can make more impact as an individual by choosing other beauty brands, simply due to the high cost of make-up products, and the tendency for consumers to buy continuously and repeatedly throughout the year.


The variety of products that are cruelty-free is growing, but admittedly only a portion of what’s available to buy in the shops. Then the percentage of those products that are vegan is even smaller, as make-up that is not tested on animals may still contain animal products. Within this small percentage, the amount of vegan and cruelty-free make-up brands that have shades for people of colour is even smaller. As @cosmostoomuch points out, to add on another requirement of the brand also not being owned by a non-cruelty-free parent company makes it even more difficult:

“I absolutely buy from cruelty free and vegan companies owned by not cruelty free parent companies. It so happens that most of my products are from all vegan cruelty free companies but as a POC finding my shade is hard enough without being forced to buy from small vegan companies that can’t seem to afford to make products for people without white skin. Boycotting because of parent companies just makes veganism that much less accessible and more elitist.”


@cosmostoomuch makes a salient point about accessibility here. The importance of making veganism accessible to everyone is surely a key way to make the movement more widespread and in turn protect more animals from harm. We can all only do what we can with the resources we have to make choices that avoid animal products and animal testing, and the less absolute ethical perfection is sought after, the more people may embrace the vegan lifestyle.


The commercial success of cruelty-free brands may lead to unethical parent companies employing ethical practices quite by accident, in the continual hunt for profit, as discusses:

“I think its all about profits right. So when they see that cruelty-free brands and businesses are generating more revenue, they will make sure to focus on those business ideas. Inadvertently, making them into ethical conscious business people. They will see that the trend in business is leading towards 3BL, and because of money they will follow. If they learnt business right, they should know that they need to be innovative or die. And sustainability in business is the new trend in innovation. When the trend of globalisation started, many businesses died because they didn’t want to move towards that trend. So we support ethical businesses and make this trend happen.”

For those who were unaware, 3BL is the triple bottom line, an accounting framework comprising of the social, the environmental and the financial. Success in the business world requires perpetual innovation and brands need to stay alert to the principles, tastes and preferences of potential consumers. If parent companies can see that adopting cruelty-free practices is a strong consumer preference, then businesses will be forced to accommodate this in order to survive.


One phenomenon to stay aware of is that of big brands simply adopting the appearance of being ethical, without necessarily backing it up by being committed to ethical practices, as @rinatomak notes:

“I always try to buy vegan, sustainable and ethically produced goods. I spend a lot of time researching the market and chose companies that follow ethical agenda 100%. I am prepared to pay more to support such companies rather than pay less for not as green as marketed brands! Recently a lot of companies have jumped on a green cruelty-free wagon by buying cruelty-free brands and marketing themselves as ethical! It’s a ploy designed to mislead customers. I don’t support such endeavours since they clearly demonstrate lack of commitment and are driven by profit not ethical principles.”


This practice of jumping on the band wagon, known as “greenwashing”, has been seen in a number of big corporations, who seem to be trying to compete with more ethical and sustainable independent brands. Perhaps it is simply a cynical exercise in telling the consumer what they want to hear whilst still selling in China, rather than implementing new policies and ensuring the entirety of the business complies. It certainly seems wise to research which brands suit your values before purchasing, rather than relying on what could be misleading labelling.


Many replied to our question of to buy or not to buy with an unequivocal “not”. The idea of giving money to a company that tests on animals seems to be an obvious incongruity when leading a vegan lifestyle. However, after reading some of the thoughtful, detailed and nuanced perspectives from our commenters, it seems clear that this issue is very complex. We all agree to the extent that we want to live in a world free from animal testing and animal cruelty in any form. Deciphering the best way to get there is part of this process, and perhaps the best thing we can do about this issue is to keep discussing it and making more people aware of the plight of animals who still undergo testing for cosmetics across the world. To that end, please do sign and share Cruelty Free International’s petition to the UN for a global ban on animal testing everywhere and forever.

We’d like to say a massive thank you to @becoming_crueltyfree, @barbie_engineer, @vivienne_wonderland, @ecochicvegan, @cosmostoomuch, and @rinatomak for their contributions to the topic of parent companies, and for their permission to be included in this blog. Keep your eyes peeled for the next Vegan Dialogues next week, about the ethics of replica materials such as faux fur, faux snakeskin and faux meat, and whether they eclipse the demand for the animal alternative, or simply reinforce the use of animal materials.


What do you think about buying from a cruelty-free make-up brand if they are owned by a parent company who do test on animals? Will boycotting these brands send the message to the parent companies to stop animal testing entirely? Or would buying from these brands convince the parent companies to stop animal testing, because they will profit from it? We would be interested to hear any more points of view in the comments below. We hope that The Vegan Dialogues encourages a courteous, polite and respectful discussion of the issues that are closest to our hearts, so all perspectives are welcome. Join the discussion below! Beyond Skin are a self-funded small brand, so if you’re looking for ethical vegan shoes and boots, it starts and ends with us.


If you’re interested in discovering what others think about the key issues facing veganism in 2018, we recommend reading our discussion about whether we would eat lab grown meat, and how to talk about veganism to those who eat meat.

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