The Parent Company Trap
I recently found out that cleaning brands Ecover and Method have both been acquired by SC Johnson earlier this year, a large multinational organisation that openly admits to testing its products on animals. My heart sank when I heard this news as I thought to myself “there goes another great brand down the drain of hypocrisy”. Ecover and Method, collectively known as People Against Dirty, have never tested on animals and have always used non-toxic or naturally sourced ingredients and Method don’t use any animal by-products (Ecover supposedly do but I couldn’t find information on which ingredients or products this includes). They had the lead in the cruelty-free household product category – so why risk it all for the money?
Its cases like this that make me very wary of all brands, the thought that someday they could all just sell out for the cash. It’s probably why vegans have got more trust issues than Drake. People Against Dirty are just the latest company to buckle to this type of takeover, so I find myself asking the question; how do you avoid getting caught in the parent company trap?
Other examples of ethical brands being taken over by large multinational (not-so-ethical) companies include The Body Shop, who was taken over by L’Oreal in 2006, Pukka Herbs, who were bought by Unilever in 2017 and Seeds of Change (organic food manufacturer) was sold to Mars in 1998. It’s really disappointing, as a vegan and ethical consumer, when you find out a brand you felt happy about purchasing has been bought out by another company that you were intentionally staying clear of! Most of the time the ethical brands state that these buy-outs don’t affect their ethics or commitments to their core values, however, it does leave you with an uneasy feeling when their parent company is known for animal testing, use of animal-derived products and toxic ingredients. But should you judge a company based on their values or the values of the company that owns them?
It also brings up the question; should you boycott these ethical brands because of their business decisions? It’s a tricky one. Technically the products are still the same, the ingredients are still the same and the company’s continued efforts for sustainability and environmentalism remain intact. It all depends on how deep down the vegan rabbit hole you want to go. You can look at a product for what it is, what it’s made of and how it was made, that’s the basic starting point. You can then go further and look at who made that product, what else do they make and do you want to support (i.e. give your money to) this company? Then you can look at who the company is owned by (if applicable), who they support (campaigns, politicians, political parties, etc.) and get a complete 411 on the entire network stemming from that one product. However, this takes time, effort and willpower, and when you’re stood in Superdrug looking down at the shampoo bottle in your hand it’s near impossible to know all of this information at once.
I say go as deep as you are willing to go. If you’re happy with just picking up vegan cruelty-free products and not interested in the rest, you are still consciously consuming on a small scale and, with growing numbers of people shopping in similar ways, this will have a huge impact on the market. So give yourself a pat on the back for just reading the ingredient list.
However, if you crave more information than this there are some helpful tools and resources available to help you make your ethical decisions. In my last blog post, I talked about the Leaping Bunny app that is great for knowing if the product you’re looking at is cruelty-free and/or vegan, download it and see if it helps you find out the information you’re after. For clothing I always recommend the Good on You app, it tells you all you need to know about the company and how they operate. A great resource I came across while researching for this blog post is the Ethical Consumer website, it’s got helpful tips and tools to help you find out more about what ethical brands are up to and how it may affect your decisions – be aware you can lose up to 5+ hours on this site getting lost in ethical detective work!
Let me know your thoughts on parent companies and whether or not it would affect your decision-making?