Why I Buy Cruelty Free – The Parent company issue

The beauty industry is huge. Everywhere you look, there are brands and products, “must-haves” of the season and “the perfect” lip du jour – which looks suspiciously like that lipstick you bought two seasons ago with the packaging redesigned by some fabulous fashion icon and a brand spanking new fancy pants advertising campaign. 

The Supermarket Argument

I used to do my weekly shop at the farmers market, but since I stopped eating meat and dairy, there really isn’t much there for me. Yes, the “market” doesn’t really offer much in the way of vegetables. Ironic, right? The first time I heard the supermarket argument, I thought it made sense. I mean, I can’t avoid Sainsburys, Waitrose and Tesco when it comes to doing my grocery shop, and as they’re the three closest to my home, that’s where at least half of my food budget goes each week. It’s not practical to boycott them, regardless of how I feel about shopping in a store that also sells meat. Much as I’d love there to be, Edinburgh does NOT have a vegan grocery shop, and on a Friday evening after work when I’m starving and we’ve run out of everything? I’ve been known to buy my avocados at Co-op.

Beauty products aren’t an essential purchase, and also, I think the key here is that I don’t exactly buy them as often as I do broccoli and onions. I might go wild in Sephora twice a year when I’m in Toronto, but I still don’t come home with a foundation every week or an eyeliner every fortnight. Whilst it’s fairly easy for me to avoid buying cosmetics tested on animals by making a conscious effort to shop better, and buy from cruelty free and ethical companies, it’s fairly unavoidable for me to buy my groceries from a shop that also sells things like meat and cheese and eggs.

With makeup, I feel like there’s more choice. I’m fortunate enough to live in a city where there’s any number of independent retailers, salons, department stores and chemists that sell hundreds of brands of every lotion, potion, and glittery stick of potential out there. I can walk out my door and pick up a foundation from Hourglass, an eyeliner from Chantecaille and a handful of Barry M lipsticks, without even breaking a sweat. It’s fucking magic. So because it’s so easy for me, I feel like it would be amiss to not put an effort into it. I have friends who don’t live in a city, or even near a city, so I do get that it’s not quite as simple for everybody.

I’ve seen a few “what’s the point” blog posts, because living in the consumerist society we do, it’s rather difficult to live a 100% ethical life. I own an iPhone. I’m writing this on my Macbook, which I use for work and for blogging. I try to buy from independant retailers as much as possible, but sometimes I do cave and use Amazon.

Did Too Faced Sell out?

The question that’s been on a lot of lips recently is whether it’s ethically responsible (and acceptable) to buy cruelty free products from brands owned by parent companies that are not quite so cruelty free in their practices, whether it’s by testing on animals themselves, or selling to China where it is required by law. Just to show how naive I was only a few months ago, I used to think it was a necessary evil because “Chinese people should have access to beauty products too”. Yes, I’ll admit it, I didn’t realise this only applied to imported (mostly Western) companies. Cosmetics manufactured in China do not undergo mandatory testing. The fact that the Big Yins like L’Oréal, Estée Lauder, and Shisheido choose to sell in China, where their products are required by law to be tested in CFDA-approved labs, is a business choice. The issue is that though China is a huge consumer market, whilst these companies may not test in the UK, US, Canada or the EU, the very fact they choose to enter the Chinese market knowingly makes their ethics rather questionable. In my possibly slightly naive opinion, if even one or two of these parent companies refused to sell in China, it would put pressure on the Chinese government and the CFDA to amend these current regulations. Only they don’t.

The first time I properly looked into the parent company issue was when Estée Lauder purchased the previously independent and cruelty free Too Faced last year, which sparked debate amongst cruelty free beauty advocates and bloggers. It was a bit of a controversial move for Too Faced, who were strictly against animal testing and had never sold in China. From a financial perspective, it may make sense for a small independent cosmetics company to slot into a parent company’s existing roster, with more funding available for promotion and product development.. However, it also shows a distinct lack of concern for a loyal customer base. Brands such as Too Faced (Estée Lauder), Urban Decay (L’Oréal), NYX (Estée Lauder), MAC (Estée Lauder), Body Shop (L’Oréal), Nars (Shisheido) and Bobbi Brown (Estée Lauder) weren’t exactly in financial dire straits when they were purchased by parent companies, and with the exception of MAC, were never previously sold in China before acquisition. Body Shop, Too Faced and NYX in particular were previously considered to be strictly cruelty free brands. I have bought products from their ranges as recently as last year, because I was under the impression they were still cruelty free, and it makes me sad that they’ve now sold out. NYX was sold in 2014, Too Faced last year, and Body Shop in 2006. I’m actually more disappointed in Body Shop than any other, as it was one of the few genuinely cruelty free brands going in the 80s and 90s, and they were founded on a basis of ethical consumerism. What the fuck, Anita Roddick?

Valuing profit over ethics has never sat well with me, and I find it upsetting that companies who have essentially made their fortunes on the vegan and cruelty free beauty market would join ethically questionable parent companies. Yes, they may remain cruelty free themselves, and yes, they may not sell in China, but for me there isn’t really a grey area. As far as I’m concerned with companies such as Too Faced that were recent acquisitions, I’m happy to use up what products I have, but I wouldn’t promote them on my blog or social media. If I ever list what products I’ve used, which is rare as I’m not a beauty blogger, they won’t be on there – I’d just rather not chuck out and waste something I already own.

The Trojan Horse Phenomena

One argument that’s come up in support of continuing to buy from companies that are cruelty free but have been bought by a parent company that isn’t, is a variation on the Trojan Horse phenomena. Is it possible to influence a global corporation from within as a small fish in a huge ocean? In a manner of speaking, yes. There is a reason why the cosmetics giants want to buy independent, vegan and cruelty free companies. The past decade or so has seen a surge in consumers who want more than just a lipstick or eyeshadow in that colour they’ve been after. People have become more socially aware. They want more from their consumer goods, because there is so much more access to variety than there has ever been before. I can go into any drugstore or department store and find a huge array of cosmetics in every colour, formulation and texture you could think of. People are choosing cruelty free.

Anyone can do a quick google search and come up with hundreds of brands and thousands of products, almost all with worldwide shipping. You could choose an eyeliner online during your lunch break and have it in your hands the very next morning. Parent companies do not exist within a vacuum, and they do realise that the vegan and cruelty free markets make a whole lot of financial sense to tap into.

When the cruelty free issue first came onto my radar, I didn’t know much about parent companies. I still bought Liz Earle cleansers, Aveda shampoo and moisturiser from Kiehls. The first few months as I transitioned from beauty product junkie to cruelty free beauty product junkie, I was still smug in the knowledge that my faves didn’t test. They didn’t sell in China. I could continue to use them guilt free.

Personal Choice

As far as I’m concerned, as a cruelty free blogger, there is less margin for error. I don’t feel comfortable promoting unethical companies on my blog, which is why my beauty posts will always have products from independent companies that don’t test or sell in China. I stay away from the entire parent company grey area, because I feel this causes confusion. If I claim to be cruelty free and ethical, it personally makes me feel uncomfortable to be promoting a company that isn’t. If I didn’t call myself a cruelty free blogger, I wouldn’t set myself as strict of a rule. Again, this is a very personal choice, and I don’t want to come across as though I am implying other cruelty free bloggers need to define themselves by the rules I’ve set for myself. I know plenty of cruelty free influencers, vegans, and activists who will happily use products from ranges owned by L’Oréal or Estée Lauder, as long as the brand itself doesn’t test or sell in China.

I don’t mean to sound preachy, because I do feel that any step in an ethical direction is a positive one. I’m the type of vegan who is overjoyed when her best friend texts to say she’s having a vegan lunch out of choice, or her flatmate comments that their own diet is now mostly plant based since they moved in. When my steak-loving dad requests a vegan restaurant for lunch, he has to tell me to stop grinning, because I fully believe that every action counts.

What are your thoughts? Do you think parent companies are the big baddies? 


  1. Totally with you. If you were to pay a hitman, you’d still be the murderer. By finding these big chains, they are approving of their (lack of) ethics.

  2. FFS, I didn’t know NYX was owned by Estee Lauder. That’s so fucking annoying! As I’ve said to you before, there’s a Boots and a Superdrug near me, both the size of shoe boxes. I get my skincare from Soap & Glory, another “cruelty free” company that’s considered a bit iffy. I’ve started buying things like shampoo online when I know I’m going to run out and I’d been stocking up on makeup at NYX when I was in Aberdeen but that might have to stop now!

  3. I don’t buy make up (well I do, but I use them til they’re actually gone. I have one foundation, one mascara, one lipstick, one blusher and two eyeshadow sets and that’ll do me for another year no probs), but this applies equally to ethical clothing companies owned by bigger non-ethical ones. I tend to not buy from them, but again really more because I don’t buy many clothes as I want to make myself sew, than something I’ve thought about a lot. It really bothers me when companies call themselves ethical, and it’s just one tiny element in an otherwise unethical business model though. Tshirts made from fairtrade cotton but sewn together in non-fairtrade sweatshops are not fairtrade tshirts.

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