Every so often, the question of whether or not it is ethically acceptable to buy from cruelty-free brands who are owned by parent companies who test on animals comes up in the community, causing a little chatter as we all try to define and articulate our views on the subject. It has come up most recently following beloved cruelty-free brand Too Faced’s acquisition by notorious baddies, Estée Lauder. I’ve really been intrigued reading everyone’s opinions on this complex issue and, while it’s far from being a hot take, I thought I’d add my own voice to the mix.
My initial reaction, whenever I hear that an independent cruelty-free brand has been bought by a parent company who shamelessly values profits over animal welfare, is disappointment. In an ideal world, all of my favourite cruelty-free cosmetics companies would be fully independent; none would be owned by companies like Estée Lauder or L’Oréal, who can wax lyrical about wanting to change the system from within until they’re blue in the face and still fail to convince me. Naturally, I was disappointed when I heard that Too Faced had been bought; I only own one of their products and don’t depend on them for any staples, but it has been sad to see a brand with such a loyal customer base within the vegan and cruelty-free space do, according to many, the unthinkable.
My timeline was ablaze with people expressing their upset, with many announcing that they’d be boycotting Too Faced. This heated reaction was tempered by others who confirmed that they’d continue supporting the brand, given that this acquisition does not mean that Too Faced themselves will begin testing their products on animals. I tell you, it was pretty confusing territory to navigate.
| The supermarket argument
A popular point in favour of shopping from parent-owned cruelty-free businesses is that we are doing this already: by buying vegan products in supermarkets that sell meat, like Tesco. When I first heard this argument, it was like a lightbulb went on in my head and suddenly I felt totally OK with the idea of buying that Urban Decay eyeshadow palette or NYX liquid lipstick. However, the more I’ve mulled this over, the more I’ve realised that the comparison is not quite as solid as I previously thought – mainly because of the factor of choice.
I do not feel I have much of a choice where I buy food from, if I’m honest. Of course, I can choose from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Co Op, et al, but they all sell animal products. I don’t know what sort of wage you need to be on to be able to afford to do all of your food shopping at the health store, but I certainly am not on it. Even when I occasionally visit my local health store (and come out having spent a small fortune on Vego bars and random smoothie powders, much to my boyfriend’s bemusement), I am met with the plethora of animal products they stock…fancy cheeses and (sigh) sustainable tinned fish. So how much better is that as an option, really? Even bloody Superdrug is parent-owned; in the near future I’ll be cutting down on what I purchase from there (#zerowaste, yeah!) but at the moment it’s far superior to Boots from an ethical standpoint.
With makeup, I feel we have a choice. By this I do not mean we can decide whether or not to wear it; makeup is a very complex subject with several nuances and I understand that for some people it is much more than a trivial luxury. However, for many of us, I feel we have the option to choose to try out a different brand if one we frequently buy from is sold to a parent company whose morals do not match up with our own. There are so many wonderful independent brands out there of similar quality to support, where there is no chance that, ultimately, our money is funding companies who have no intention of ever effecting change.
| Boycotting vs Change from the inside
I don’t know nearly enough about business to tell you whether or not boycotting is very effective, but I do it regardless. I boycott companies with extremely shady records when it comes to humanitarian issues – like Nestle, obviously, and Inditex (Zara) for less obvious but nonetheless well-documented reasons. In fact, I avoid the fast fashion industry because it sucks big time. Boycotting the majority of the high street is something I find extremely difficult – miles tougher than being vegan – but I’ve stuck to it as best as I can because I think the impact that it is having on people working in the textiles industry, not to mention the environment, is unforgivable. But, despite all my efforts, Primark, H&M and the like continue to thrive. So what’s the point?
Personally, it makes me feel better in myself to avoid certain companies, but I am not all that convinced that there’s power in it. Perhaps if absolute droves of people all started actively shunning a company and voicing their reasons for doing so, a dent might be made. But I feel like for every customer a brand might lose, they’ll gain at least one more (if that’s not armchair economics for you, I don’t know what is, but you see my point). Besides, it’s nigh on impossible to avoid every unethical company (I have an iPhone, and an Amazon Prime subscription, for god’s sake); as I like to remind myself, living in a capitalist society which places huge amounts of financial and consumerist pressure on us makes it hard to be a shiny ethical snowflake.
As such, maintaining support for cruelty-free brands even after they’ve been bought by a gross parent company – to, with some hope, effect change from within – is an attractive alternative. It keeps everyone happy: the consumer, who gets to continue buying from their beloved brand; the brand, who gets to stay in business; and the parent company, who have bought their own chunk of trend to chew on.
| So where do I stand?
When I first started going cruelty-free with my cosmetics, parent-owned brands like The Body Shop, Urban Decay and Liz Earle were really good to have on my radar. These brands are pretty vocal about the fact they don’t test on animals, and feel like safe options when you are getting started with cruelty-free beauty. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a common experience for people when they’re first making the switch: these brands are visible, easily accessible and mean that you can start to transition with little impact or effort.
It was only after I’d been buying cruelty-free cosmetics for a good few months that I started to question whether or not I should be purchasing from brands owned by parent companies who test. I decided to stop; I saw cutting out parent-owned companies as a sort of step up in the world of cruelty-free consuming, which makes me sound totally snobbish, although I wasn’t seeing it in those terms at all. Then, when I went vegan, it became much easier to stick to independent brands; even more so as I’ve started to look out for locally manufactured and green cosmetics companies.
At the moment, I mostly buy from independent brands, but will occasionally purchase from brands, like Nars, who are not independently owned, if I see a product that really appeals to me.
Ultimately, I truly believe that, within the cruelty-free community, we all want the same thing. None of us want any animals to experience suffering for the sake of a lipstick or foundation. None of us want our money to ultimately fund this violence. I personally advocate moving in a direction away from parent-owned companies as and when you see fit to; it may take a long time, but slowly I hope that supporting independent brands will pay off for everyone. There will likely always be demand for parent-owned brands like Urban Decay and Too Faced, but if we can also spend our money on fledgling indie brands, we may be able to help to shape the future of cosmetics, for the good of the animals we so dearly want to protect.
What are your thoughts on this divisive subject? Let me know in the comments!