The rumors about Burt's Bees entering the Chinese market are sadly true.
Today, I received a confirmation from the company stating that they're selling some of their cosmetics in mainland China, where animal testing is required by law.
This comes as a surprise, since Burt's Bees has always marketed itself as an "earth-friendly" company with "sustainable" practices, and has steered clear from animal testing for the past 32 years. This is even after being purchased by Clorox in 2007.
However in the past year alone, Burt's Bees expanded its market and can now be found in 40 countries including mainland China.
Thank you for contacting Burt's Bees.
We are happy to shed light on this matter for you. Currently, we are selling a limited number of our products in mainland China. The formulas for these products, classified as "non-special use cosmetics," are currently made in our US facilities, using only ingredients listed on the Inventory of Existing Cosmetic Ingredients in China (IECIC), and then the products are packaged in China. For more information on individual ingredients, visit our guide here. Please know that we are proceeding only in the instances where we can maintain adherence to our no animal testing policy.
Again, thank you for contacting us.
Burt's Bees Consumer Services
What Does This Mean?
There's the possibility that Burt's Bees will no longer be considered cruelty-free.
While they're claiming to be working really hard on using loopholes to avoid animal testing, the possibility of an American company maintaining its cruelty-free status after entering the Chinese market is very slim, to say the least.
Burt's Bees is doing everything to avoid pre-market animal testing in China, which is wonderful and something we can applaud. Based on their e-mail, they successfully circumvented pre-market animal testing, which means that their products didn't require to be tested on animals in order to be sold in China.
The unfortunate part is that China also requires post-market animal testing. Any cosmetics, even those that are manufactured within China and are considered "non-special-use cosmetics", may be taken off the shelves and tested on animals.
Post-market testing is documented by Humane Society International. It's also the reason why The Body Shop pulled out of China after they tried evading the pre-maket testing laws by only selling in Chinese airports.
A Misleading Policy?
Even after entering the Chinese market, Burt's Bees still claims to be a cruelty-free company. The following is their official policy from their website, as of September 23, 2016:
Burt’s Bees does not test its products on animals nor do we ask others to do so on our behalf. You’ll see the Leaping Bunny seal on our packaging to reinforce our commitment. Please know we are absolutely committed to our no animal testing policy.
Is this misleading, considering the possibility of post-market animal testing?
Burt's Bees is using the updated animal testing law of June 2014 to (supposedly) avoid pre-market testing. That change in the law made it possible for non-special-use cosmetics that are manufactured in China using safe ingredients to avoid animal testing.
Unfortunately, that law didn't have any impact of the post-market animal testing law, which still applies to any company, Chinese or foreign. This include Burt's bees.
Megan Fang, Chinese law expert, claimed in this article:
"Chinese authorities have indicated that they intend to increase the level of post-market testing following the 30 June policy change for domestically manufactured non-special-use cosmetics, to ensure a consistent level of consumer protection. "
Leaping Bunny Certification
Burt's Bees hasn't officially lost its cruelty-free status. They're still on Leaping Bunny's list as well as PETA's caring consumer list.
I e-mailed Leaping Bunny today and I'm waiting for the outcome.
Edit: Leaping Bunny has been looking into this issue and is in correspondence with Burt’s Bees about it but needs more information from them to make a determination on whether or not they will remain on their list.
I also asked Burt's Bees for clarifications on whether or not their products might be tested on animals in China post-market, and this is the (empty) response I received:
We are happy to clarify this for you. Burt's Bees does not test its products on animals nor do we ask others to do so on our behalf. You'll see the Leaping Bunny seal on our packaging to reinforce our commitment.
At this very moment, it's my understanding that any products that Burt's Bees is selling in mainland China can be pulled from the shelves and tested on animals in compliance with post-market animal testing law.
In my view, this means that Burt's Bees is no longer a cruelty-free brand, and I've removed them from my list.
I'm still waiting on responses from Humane Society International, Leaping Bunny, and the company itself for more clarification.
What's your take on Burt's Bees' cruelty-free status?