Organic Monitor debates ethical labels proliferation

Organic Monitor’s Sustainable Cosmetics Summit Europe takes place at the Paris Marriott Champs-Elysées from 21 to 23 OctoberThe number of ethical labelling schemes is multiplying in the cosmetics industry. Growing consumer demand for eco-labelled products is behind this trend; however Organic Monitor questions the long-term implications.

Most label developments have been in the natural and organic cosmetics market. There are now over 30 symbols and labels that represent natural and organic standards for cosmetics. Ecocert and NaTrue have gained the most international traction, with the Ecocert logo now present on over 12 000 cosmetics.

Global tendencies

Adoption rates of natural and organic standards for cosmetics vary considerably between regions. Western Europe has the highest adoption rate where almost three per cent of all cosmetics are now certified. Certification is also gaining popularity in North America; however the market share remains below one per cent in all other regions. Adoption rates are especially low in Asia, where mostly imported products are certified.

Proliferation is occurring as eco-labels cross over from the food to the cosmetics industry. Fairtrade, the second largest eco-label for food products, is becoming popular in parts of Europe. The Vegan Society and vegetarian labels are also migrating from food products to cosmetics. The Rainforest Alliance seal – highly evident on food commodities – is now also approved for use on cosmetics packaging.

Other labels represent some environmental or ethical aspects. In Scandinavia, the Nordic Swan and EU Eco-flower are well-established, representing cosmetics with low environmental impacts. Cruelty-free logos, such as the Leaping Bunny, are also commonly used by ethical cosmetic brands.

The Halal label is possibly the most prospective. Unlike other labels, it appeals to religious beliefs – and not environmental or ethical concerns – of consumers. With 1.5 billion Muslim consumers, it is getting interest from exporters in the west, as well as Asian and Middle-Eastern brands. Halal certified cosmetics contain no ‘forbidden’ ingredients.

Addressing the issues

Organic Monitor’s Sustainable Cosmetics Summit Europe, taking place at the Paris Marriott Champs-Elysées from 21 to 23 October will reveal the concerns about the ramifications of this proliferation in labels. First, most labels are adopted on a national basis, with few having a significant regional presence. Second, there is little harmonisation between the growing myriad of standards.

As a consequence, multiple logos and symbols are appearing on cosmetics, which can lead to consumer confusion. While standards assure consumers that certified products meet some ethical requirements, the plethora of symbols and logos has a counter effect. How many ‘badges of honour’ does a truly ethical product need? The future direction of ethical labels will be discussed in the upcoming Sustainable Cosmetics Summit.

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