how Urban Decay’s cruelty-free statements have changed

I had a vague recollection of having previously copy-pasted UD’s policy statement on here at some point. I wasn’t imagining things. Here’s how thing have changed. Sophisticated high diplomacy, playing the long game, subversive change from within a closed system that’s been infiltrated? Or plain hypocrisy and greed? Only time will tell. Oh, and more immediately, your own moral stand-point and approach to means-ends ethics.

2012-03-02 (current eyesperiments post); all the bold and the bit in red are my own highlights, and make for iiiinteresting reading alongside the fresh UD volte face statement copy-pasted here two posts back. In the one remaining paragraph ( = last paragraph in original statement), there’s been one change, which is in orange:

Beauty with an edge

Urban Decay is, and always has been, a cruelty-free company. You’ll notice that every box bears our cruelty-free credo: “We don’t do animal testing. How could anyone?” We insist on producing beautiful, irreverent, high-end cosmetics without conducting animal testing. Some of our animal rights allies provide symbols to companies they trust to make cruelty-free products easy to identify, purchase, and support. You can read about each symbol below, including a new one of our own! Urban Decay now has a “Marley Approved” symbol to identify vegan products on our website! Have fun shopping!

The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) consists of seven national animal protection groups banded together to help make shopping for animal-friendly cosmetics easier and more trustworthy. If a customer sees the internationally recognized “leaping bunny” logo on a cosmetic or a website, they know that the company has committed to The Corporate Standard of Compassion for Animals, a voluntary pledge that companies make not to test on animals during any stage of product development. The company’s ingredient suppliers make the same pledge and the result is a cosmetic guaranteed to be 100% free of animal testing. Urban Decay has made this commitment. To find out more about our friends at the CCIC, visit www.leapingbunny.org.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the largest animal rights organization in the world, with more than one million members and supporters, is dedicated to establishing and protecting the rights of all animals. Companies that have joined PETA’s Caring Consumer Project have pledged—in writing—that they and their suppliers do not conduct or commission animal tests on ingredients, formulations, or finished products, and that they will not do so in the future. Urban Decay displays PETA’s cruelty-free bunny logo to assure our customers that we do not use or condone animal tests. We believe that you can have a killer look without killing or harming animals. For more information, please visit www.CaringConsumer.com.

If you see Marley’s purple paw print next to a cosmetic, Urban Decay certifies that it is a vegan cosmetic, and does not contain any animal-derived ingredients. Although we are a cruelty-free company, and not a vegan company, we love vegans and want to make your shopping experience as pleasurable and informative as possible! Our first step in making UrbanDecay.com vegan-friendly was to identify these cosmetics and make it easy to shop. Currently, we are working with our laboratories to find out which of our non-vegan cosmetics can be converted. In many situations, there is a plant-derived or synthetic alternative to an animal-derived ingredient. For cosmetics where we do not feel our quality will be compromised, and we can deliver the same rich color and texture you desire, we will convert the cosmetic to 100% vegan ingredients. Be on the lookout for new additions to our vegan cosmetics, and thank you for supporting Urban Decay!

Here’s how that same page currently (2012-06-07) reads (URL: http://www.urbandecay.com/Cruelty-Free-Vegan/vegan-marley-approved,default,pg.html in case, say, someone is doing an analysis of archived webpages… ):

If you see Marley’s purple paw print next to a product, Urban Decay certifies that it is a vegan cosmetic, and does not contain any animal-derived ingredients. Although we are a cruelty-free company, and not a vegan company, we love vegans and want to make your shopping experience as pleasurable and informative as possible. Our first step in making UrbanDecay.com vegan-friendly was to identify these cosmetics and make it easy to shop. We regularly work with our laboratories to find out which of our non-vegan cosmetics can be converted. In many situations, there is a plant-derived or synthetic alternative to an animal-derived ingredient. For cosmetics where we do not feel our quality will be compromised, and we can deliver the same rich color and texture you desire, we will convert the cosmetic to 100% vegan ingredients. Be on the lookout for new additions to our vegan cosmetics, and thank you for supporting Urban Decay.

So: the edit on that page removed the preceding three paragraphs (presumably after UD was lost the approval of both the CCIC and PETA, and thus the right to use their symbols and all reference to them). Which, admittedly, was done fully and immediately. Unlike (see elsewhere on this blog, again) Estee Lauder, especially Aveda; though references to winning PETA awards in the past are still on both the UD and Aveda sites (which is perfectly legitimate: they won those awards fair and square, and satisfied the criteria for so doing at the time). But the edit on that page didn’t just mean excising three paragraphs. Some editing (see the orange above) was done within the remaining paragraph.

Someone somewhere thought it was worth the effort, and presumably the time and thought—I’m presuming that given that time and thought have clearly gone into the new URBAN DECAY & CHINA page—to change “currently” to “regularly” and change the continuous/progressive present “we are working” to the simple present “we work.” Now, that -ing form has a sense of right now, i.e. currently: so it could be argued that the previous formulation was either redundant, or emphatic on the continuity all the time and at any given time of its action. Though the shorter simple form produces a rhetorical effect that affects its perceived sense: it’s shorter and snappier so it seems like its semantic content, the action being performed, actually is being performed in a snappier, more active, more dynamic way. The reformulation has two effects, the first of which disguises (or, to the grammatically ept, merely thinly veils) the second:
(1) the illusion that “[our] work with our laboratories to find out which of our non-vegan cosmetics can be converted […] to being vegan ingredients” is more active and dynamic;
(2) but it’s no longer being done continuously and constantly, all the time; it’s now just regular.

A subtle difference.

So why didn’t anyone remove something much less subtle, that’s a matter of fact and as plain as the nose on your face? I refer to this clause, which has remained unchanged in the current formulation:

we are a cruelty-free company

Assuming again that Urban Decay are smart people with smart, careful, thoughtful copy-editors: my only interpretation of that absence of editing is that the meaning of “to be cruelty-free” has itself changed. It was previously defined by the preceding three paragraphs, and all that they said about what it means to be cruelty-free (see emboldened content in the March 2012 formulation). It now stands alone, defined by Urban Decay themselves. They don’t count as being cruelty-free any longer by CCIC and PETA standards. This means two things:

(1) the obvious: they have been declared “no cruelty-free,” as we’ve seen on here and as others have seen elsewhere (including PETA in their press release)

(2) the less obvious but more clever: they count themselves as cruelty-free, by their own standards: making it look (in combination with the URBAN DECAY & CHINA page) like it’s not a matter of having been thrown out of the cruelty-free club (therefore: = not cruelty-free), to whom there is no longer any reference. UD don’t define themselves as cruelty-free with reference to the cruelty-free-ness authorities. They’ve started up their own new way of being cruelty-free, as a radical new move; a radical change as cruelty-free itself has to change so that the idea and its expression (the sense of words through continuing accurate reflection of the real world, and through usage) are compatible with how the world has changed, so ” being cruelty-free” has changed to being-(cruelty-free-)in-the-world-inc.-China (therefore, by this new definition: = cruelty-free). UD have set themselves up as a new standard and definition in being cruelty-free, as well as redefining the term.

Clever, insidious, implications galore. Sophistication or a neat example of the dangers and very real power of sophistry?

You’ll find all that stuff above by going to the UD site, going to the foot of the page, and clicking on CONTACT US, CUSTOMER SERVICE; you’ll see a vertical menu down the left-hand side; part-way down you’ll see this:

What we’re looking at here is the VEGAN PRODUCTS page. The other page, URBAN DECAY & CHINA, has been covered on here two posts back…

We’ve covered greenwashing aplenty on this blog; and seen similar phenomena around being organic, “natural,” plant-based, and the fearmongering abusive silliness of “safe,” “not chemical,” and “non-toxic.” And the grammatically-aberrant variations that never fail to crack me up like “toxin free.” Tsk.

This UD business borders on being an unfortunate case of ethicwashing—a term mainly used in French up till now—from a company that used to be ethical. Borderline cos ethicwashing, like greenwashing, is usually more properly used for a company that uses ethics as part of its USP branding identity image package, but that wasn’t ethical to start with. What we’re seeing here with UD is more a case of ethical regression.

In business terms, there’s a serious risk of losing brand identity and unique selling-point: that is, BEING A (hip, trendy, “irreverent,” indie-values and) CRUELTY-FREE COMPANY.

For greenwashing parallels, here are two sets of standard examples:

  • Greenwashed brands and lines from ungreen companies:
    L’Oréal Everpure hair care, Garnier Pure Clean (L’Oréal)
    Aveeno (everything post-takeover), Johnson’s Natural, Neutrogena Naturals (Johnson & Johnson)
    Dove (Unilever): add femwashing to their list of crimes. With apologies to makers of feminine hygiene products: on the other hand, guys, sensible women know about your sorts of “intimate washes” and we’re well experienced in how you sell them and the idea of a need for them: guys, you’re douchebags.
  • Green and green-ish brands bought by ungreen companies, used by the parent company to make them look greener / green up their image, brand-portfolio, and stable overall:
    The Body Shop (L’Oréal)
    Tom’s of Maine, Burt’s Bees (Clorox)
    Simple, St Ives, Suave (Unilever)

In theory, this could work for the good. If the “greener” products sell better, a company might make more of them and less of the ungreen ones. A company might use green brands’ cruelty-free testing methods, environmentally-friendlier production methods, plant-based formulating, and other manufacturing innovations elsewhere in their brand portfolio. Maybe even across the whole company. This was part of the (bold brave) thinking behind the sale of The Body Shop to L’Ucifer: reform from within.

Has it worked in practice? Well, baby steps, and every little helps. There’s more “greener” stuff on supermarket shelves. More people can afford at least some more plant-based products. Animal testing’s on the way out—and in the EU, mostly de jure and de facto out (see elsewhere on this blog…). Ethical is in process of becoming normal, mainstream, and democratic. Not an exclusive exotic rare expensive priviledge for chichi yoga-bunny “my body is a temple and I’m a unique special flower” yummy mummies. The same is true of food. Though people still do persist in eating shit, and said crap remains cheap. Then there’s environmental and other ethical issues (ex. fair trade and human rights) around food costs, production methods, and transportation: you can’t make good be overabundant and dirt cheap. We’re a long way off from even a pale shadow of Ecotopia. And that’s talking here in Vancouver; not more benighted parts of world, say, large tracts of the American midwest and south; or those vast swathes of the planet whose inhabitants are simply trying to stay alive from one day to the next.

But reform from within via “greening up” has also meant that smaller brands do well, get bought by bigger ones (thus ensuring better distribution, marketing, and sales), then suffer for their success as their customers stop buying them and stay with independents. Depending on the circumstances of a take-over, a small brand could be swallowed up in a megacorp and risk extermination if it doesn’t do well enough for the company’s bottom line, producing a return for share-holders and investors: well enough compared to the other brands in that stable. It’s like any other business, from publishing and gaming to banking and horse-racing.

Message to Urban Decay and their parallel situation, which is an even bigger and bolder and braver version: infiltrating and changing not a company, or even an industry, but a whole country and its ethical stance with respect to animals. If, of course—and this is a big if—they are to be taken at their word and this isn’t just a case of jumping in to make money in an emerging market.

Dear UD: look to the lessons of history. Of ethical-business history, in this case. Think. Think hard. Think again. Keep thinking. Do not commit yourself to anything that you can’t get out of: that’s another side to change, that no decision is irreversible.

Like any other right-thinking person, I’d like to believe in change, in the possibility of change, in the infinite perfectibility of human nature. But I also live in the real world, work in a field that involves dealing with history, and am a pragmatist and a sceptic.

Meanwhile, like I’ve said before, I’ll be watching this space intently and with great interest. Over the next decade or so…

If you would like to see UD change their decision, sign this petition.

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