How important is it to know where your products are made - in which factories and by which people? What about knowing how much workers are being paid or if they’re treated fairly?
In today’s blog, we’re sharing the unfortunate conditions and realities in some factories in China and around the world. When we know better and open our eyes to the truth, change can begin.
UNETHICAL WORKING CONDITIONS
As an ethical clean beauty brand, we’ll never support any practice that does harm – to you, the beautiful wearer of our products, or to anyone involved with our brand, including the people manufacturing our products.
The average factory worker in China makes $300 per month, and in less urban areas, wages are as low as US $145 per month. That works out to about $2.00/hour for the highest-paid workers.
In many factories, it’s not uncommon to work 12 – 16 hours a day with very minimal breaks. And the inhumane working conditions would shock anyone to see. Things that we take for granted (like worker’s compensation insurance) don’t even exist in these factories. If a worker gets hurt or sick on the job, they’re simply out of work without pay.
We cannot support this exploitation in any way. Everyone deserves respect - to be treated ethically with fair pay and safe, humane working conditions.
You may have heard about the recent lead and asbestos outbreaks in beauty products at Claire’s and Justice. While this was shocking news to many, it’s more common than you would think.
Ingredients like talc, mica, and cosmetic colorants are extracted from the earth and can be contaminated with toxic heavy metals. Testing for heavy metal contamination is not required and it's an extra cost for brands. Since many brands producing overseas are very cost-conscious, they often skip contamination testing.
As a result, beauty products from select factories in China have been tested by the FDA to contain mercury, mold, cyanide, lead, formaldehyde, arsenic, human urine, and rat droppings.
Is this contamination common? The FDA only inspects about 0.3% of imported cosmetics, so there's no way to know the true number. Of this 0.3% however, the FDA reported “adverse findings” in 15% of all the products they tested.
We always test our formulas for heavy metal contamination and are well below the recommended safety limits set by the FDA. We meticulously vet every ingredient, banning over 1500 ingredients from our formulas, and choosing only clean, non-toxic, and organic & fair-trade ingredients wherever possible.
QUALITY & CONSISTENCY
A common scenario: manufacturers substitute a brand’s ingredients for lower-quality, lower-cost ingredients without consulting the brand. So, the product a brand thinks they’re selling has been altered in ways they aren’t even aware of.
When products are produced overseas, brands have little or no visibility into their production. While they can provide specifications on ingredients and production methods, they can't be sure these guidelines are being followed.
At ĀTHR Beauty, our products are formulated in the US, Canada, and Europe at high-quality, reputable facilities we trust. We visit the facilities regularly, meet the people producing our products, see our products at every stage of production, and personally check the quality on a regular basis.
BRIBERY & CORRUPTION
In corrupt factories, it’s common for manufacturers to bribe Quality Control Inspectors to ignore any quality issues they find. Inspectors are often very low-paid also, so the offer of extra income can be tempting. As a result, flawed, toxic, or low-quality products sometimes aren’t reported and end up being sold to consumers despite their issues.
Factories may also bribe officials and regulators to look the other way on labor standards, facility cleanliness, and production standards.
This all probably sounds hard to believe, we know, but sadly it’s a reality in certain factories in China and many other countries around the world.
When you produce overseas, you trust the manufacturer's word that they’re following all your specifications and that the finished product will be safe, effective, and what they’ve promised. But in areas where corruption levels are high, this is a hard promise to trust.
What often happens: brands search far and wide for an overseas manufacturer they feel comfortable with. After agreeing to produce their product, the manufacturer outsources production to a different manufacturer without telling the brand.
Why does this happen? A manufacturer will give a brand an extremely low price to produce their products, a price they can’t actually meet at their facility. So, they outsource to a much less expensive factory and make a small profit. This is all done without the brand's knowledge. In this case, the brand now has no idea who’s producing their product (and how it’s being produced).
Six of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China. And although China is making efforts to improve their historically very lax pollution laws, they’re not there yet. Chinese factories are still contributing to extreme levels of water, soil, and air pollution. A recent inspection of Chinese businesses showed that 70% are violating environmental standards.
And what’s more: corruption is a big problem in environmental regulation. Recently, seven Chinese officials were prosecuted for tampering with pollution data to show a cleaner result.
Beyond chemical run-off and air pollution, we have to consider the environmental impact of shipping products across the globe. This is a huge amount of emissions entering the air and the oceans on a regular basis.
Everyone knows about counterfeit designer purses, but have you heard about the multi-billion-dollar knock-off cosmetics industry?
Just like with handbags, these knock-offs try to replicate the look of a product but are created with low-quality, inexpensive, often toxin-filled ingredients. While fashion knock-offs are relatively harmless, the risks for cosmetic and skincare products are much higher – it means risking our health with potentially dangerous, contaminated ingredients.
China is the knock-off capital of the world. Last year, 87% of all counterfeit products entering the US came from Hong Kong and Mainland China. And the likelihood of counterfeiting is much higher when a product is produced by corrupt local factories.
While this knock-off trade used to be limited to street-side vendors, it has now spread to many sites online. The products often look identical at a glance and shoppers can’t tell the difference. We never want to risk this possibility for our customers.
SO, WHY DO BRANDS PRODUCE THEIR PRODUCTS IN THESE FACTORIES?
The main reason: cost. It’s much cheaper to produce products in cheap overseas factories. When workers are paid very little, manufacturers can charge less for production.
Something to think about: when cost is the main priority, that means other aspects like safety, quality, and ethics take a backseat. If savings can be found by choosing lower quality ingredients or producing under unethical conditions, then so be it.
As a Certified Benefit Corp, we always value purpose over profit. Cost comes after ethical sourcing, non-toxic, vegan, cruelty-free ingredients, and gorgeously high-performing formulas. We vow to always #donnoharm to any other being, or to this planet.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
China and other countries are making progress towards environmental and human rights laws but there’s still a long way to go. There are still many factories and manufacturers with all of the above problems. The best way to combat this: learn who is truly making your products (and how they are being made).
We as consumers need to expect more from brands – that they learn their supply chain inside and out. That they know how workers are treated and how their products are being made. Brands can no longer take a hands-off approach. Reach out to your favorite brands and ask the hard questions – slowly we can move towards more transparent, ethical production for the products we love.
Thanks for tuning into our blog and for supporting ethical clean beauty! We'd love to hear your questions or comments down below <3
- ĀTHR Beauty xo