Perhaps you don’t know a lot about animal testing, or perhaps you do. Whichever way you swing, you’ve probably seen or heard the words “China” and “animal testing” strung together in what is most likely a very negative sentence at some point. Today, I’m going to give those words and sentences some meaning so that you can understand exactly why people like myself make a huge deal out of them.
China has one of the world’s largest and most desirable cosmetics markets, an over $26 billion market that is, making it attractive to most companies. Obviously, this means that companies like Estee Lauder (MAC, Estee Lauder, Bobbi Brown, Clinique, etc.), L’Oreal (Kiehl’s, Maybelline, L’Oreal, YSL, Garnier, etc.) and Shiseido (Avene, Dolce & Gabbana, NARS, Issey Miyake, etc.) make an absolute fortune. Unfortunately, this is at the expense of thousands and thousands of living, breathing animals.
The truth is: by law, China requires animal testing for all foreign cosmetics companies. This means that all cosmetic products manufactured outside of China (i.e. every other country in the world) must be tested on animals in order to be sold in China, whether or not they have already been proved to be safe by means of animal/non-animal testing. Makeup, nail products, hair products, perfume and skin products are just a few examples of products that are subject to mandatory animal testing. Estee Lauder Companies’ very own senior vice president of Research and Development said that the Chinese government requires you to get a hygiene permit to import your products, which requires animal testing.
According to the president of IIVS Labs, a plausible reason for China insisting on animal testing is money, as companies are required to pay for their own products to be tested on animals. She told Teen Vogue, “It is a revenue generator for them, absolutely“. That also means that those companies are 150% aware of the tests and, although they might not be testing in your country, it’s still your money funding these tests. Hopefully, that says enough about the kinds of people whose pockets you are lining (see this list of brands who DO test on animals).
Although no one really knows what goes on in government laboratories, Humane Society International confirms that some of the mandatory tests include eye irritancy tests (substance is applied onto the skin or into the eyes of a restrained, conscious animal for a period of time, usually performed on albino rabbits and sometimes dogs), acute skin irritation tests and repeat skin irritation tests (animal is usually shaved and a substance is applied to its skin for a few hours before assessing damage to the skin, usually performed on rabbits). Euthanization is inevitable for all animals in laboratories.
It is important to note that the animal testing law does not apply to cosmetics sold in Hong Kong, which is why you will see some well-known cruelty-free brands, such as LUSH, available there. In this case, China refers to mainland China (the People’s Republic of China). Taiwan has also banned animal testing. Another factor to consider is that the animal testing law only applies to cosmetic products physically sold in mainland China, which means that products do not have to be tested on animals if they are purchased from a foreign online shop.
The silver lining in all of this is that China is embracing the use of cruelty-free tests by working with the Institute for In Vitro Sciences (IIVS), a non-profit organisation researching and promoting the use of alternative methods of testing. In November 2017, PETA announced that “a provincial arm of the China Food and Drug Administration has opened a non-animal testing laboratory near Shanghai, thanks to the guidance of the nonprofit Institute for In Vitro Sciences (IIVS)“. This is a huge milestone, and China has confirmed that they will continue working with IIVS. Hopefully, they will put an end to animal testing very soon. However, for now, companies are still required to pay for tests on animals.
While non-profit organisations do their part in ending animal testing, it is important that we do our part too. After all, consumers are the most important piece of the puzzle if a business wants to achieve its ultimate goal: to make a profit. I urge you to boycott all cosmetic companies that have chosen to sell their products in China. When they try to shove “we do not test on animals” down your throat, remember that they are physically paying for tests on animals, which is ultimately the same thing. When they try to brainwash you with “we are proud to be working with IIVS“, trying to get the best of both worlds, remember that there are so many other companies and organisations that have chosen to work with IIVS without selling in China.
Give your money to companies who care about ethics, rather than profit, because they need to know that we appreciate them. Don’t be that person who sits and waits for others to finish the job in order to benefit from the result. Take responsibility.