Be-Cruelty Free Campaign: One giant leap for animal kind

Read about The Humane Society International/India’s Be-Cruelty Free Campaign (BCF) that played a key role in banning the import of animal tested cosmetics in India.

In October 2014, the Humane Society International India’s Be-Cruelty Free Campaign (BCF) played a key role in making India the first country in South Asia to ban the import of cosmetics tested on animals. This followed closely on the heels of a national ban on animal testing of cosmetics and beauty products. The Alternative spoke to Nuggehalli Jayasimha (Managing Director HSI India) and Alokparna Sengupta (Be-Cruelty Free Campaigns Manager) about the significance of these rulings not just for animals and animal activists but also for the cosmetics industry and for consumers.

Edited excerpts from the interview

The Be-Cruelty Free (BCF) campaign’s victory showcases India as a great example to others in the South Asian region. Can you tell us something about the campaign?

Until 2014, animal testing of cosmetics was not positively prohibited by the Indian government, allowing cosmetics manufacturers to choose whether to adopt it or not. Many companies, thus, resorted to animal testing to pre-empt any kind of legal trouble. So, HSI India chose to take the regulatory route by first approaching the Bureau of Indian Standards and got it to delete the requirement for animal testing from its standards. Then we went to the Drug Controller General and the Drug Technical Advisory Board to begin an explicit prohibition on animal testing in India that was enforced through the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules. Once we got that implemented, we realised that companies would just outsource their animal trials abroad to countries like China, where conditions are far worse. So, we began our quest to get a ban on the import of cosmetics tested on animals. Cosmetics tested prior to the notification can still be imported since a retrospective prohibition cannot be made. But, all cosmetics tested after the ruling November 2014 cannot be imported into the country if they have been tested on animals. (Read more about the ban here).

We chose to adopt the regulatory route because the major uptake of FMCG products in India is by a price sensitive,  upwardly mobile consumer segment that is still unaware of its right to safe products and access to complete product information. Therefore, we focused on pushing the regulation, helping consumers access safer and more ethical products.

How necessary is animal testing of cosmetics and do safer and more reliable alternatives to animal testing exist?

Animal testing in the pharmaceutical industry is often required to test newly discovered drugs or chemicals. But, cosmetics are mainly a mixture of various existing and already tested ingredients and there is no discovery process that will require new ingredients to be tested on animals. A vast majority of products that pass on animals fail on human beings

Moreover, animal testing of cosmetics has been shown, by multiple studies to be unnecessary. Besides being cruel and inhumane, animal trials are expensive, time consuming, and rarely indicative of how a chemical that has proven safe in a guinea pig will behave in humans. Various alternative that use genetics, molecular biology, bio-statistics, and computer modeling are safer and better because they are developed on humans and not based on an extrapolation to them. In fact, various manufacturers of personal care products, acknowledge the merits of these alternatives and have begun investing in researching and developing them. This move definitely signals progress in India’s safety science towards more modern and compassionate methods. (Read more about the alternatives to animal testing here.)

Rabbit in Research for Animal Testing

Countless rabbits, guinea pigs, and rats are put through trials in the name of cosmetics research. Source – flickr cc Understanding Animal Research

What makes a product cruelty free?

To demonstrate genuine cruelty free status, a company must satisfy that it neither conducts nor commissions animal testing of its products or ingredients. A cruelty free manufacturer does not purchase ingredients that undergo animal testing after a fixed cut off date, and does not sell its products in countries that legally require animal testing.


Does this ban mean that customers can be confident that the products they use will be free of animal testing?

The ban has been in existence since November 2014 meaning that no cosmetic was tested after the ban was imposed. It could have been tested in the past before the cut off date. However, Indian laws around product labeling are very weak and there is no robust third party audit system in India yet to certify products as genuinely cruelty free. So, if a customer wants to buy a product that, together with its component ingredients has never been tested on animals then they must look for third party audit symbols like the Leaping Bunny symbol. This is the surest sign that the product was never tested on animals and that the manufacturer went beyond their call of duty to ensure that even the ingredients in it were never tested on animals. Without an independent cruelty free certification, it is very difficult for consumers to know if any cruelty free claim is genuine or not, so phrases like ‘not tested on animals’ or ‘cruelty-free’ on a product can be genuinely meaningful or can be misleading. because it is hard to tell whether the product was not tested on animals or is its component ingredients were not tested or whether that particular batch of products was not tested.

Can we hope that in the future, all personal care products will carry the Leaping Bunny symbol?

The Leaping Bunny standard is a voluntary pledge that manufacturers of cosmetics and personal care products make to clear animal testing from all stages of product development and from its supply chain. In order to be eligible for the certification, a company must open itself up to independent audits. Not all products will carry the Leaping Bunny symbol because it is left to companies to decide if they want to apply for it and, in India, it is still part of a niche market. (Read more here).

How can consumers be more aware of the products they are buying and make more ethical choices?

As far as being ethical goes, there are a wide range of practices that companies adopt. Some brands do not conduct animal testing even if a country insists on it while others follow region-specific testing. Some brands even go to the extent of sourcing only cruelty-free ingredients. So, it is up to the customer to decide how far he/she wants to go to support cruelty free products. But, the Leaping Bunny standard is a good indication of a genuinely cruelty free product.

While the role of NGOs like HSI India and PETA has been invaluable in enforcing the ban, what can customers do to help further the cause and extend the regulation to include the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and household chemicals which use a huge number of animals for trials?

The power of the customer to affect change cannot be underestimated because a company’s bottom line is directly linked to consumer choices and preferences. By asking questions and demanding correct and complete information, consumers serve as a regulatory body that is more powerful than most third party audits, keeping manufacturers in check. Companies recognise this and are more receptive to consumers.

Here are some tips to ensure that more of your cosmetic and personal care products are genuinely cruelty free:

  1. If you are a loyalist to a particular brand, reach out to the brand asking for a full disclosure of whether its products not tested their after the November 2014 or if the product has never undergone animal testing at all.
  2. Use as many natural/organic products as possible which eliminate the need for animal testing.
  3. Reach out to producers – Since companies are not duty bound to disclose information about their products and processes, many companies do not declare such information unless asked. So, asking for information about the products you use is the best way to ensure that companies switch to more sustainable and compassionate practices.
  4. Give manufacturers feedback whenever possible.

Featured Image: flickr cc Cellular Immunity

The Natural Beauty and Wellness Hub is our journey into discovering ideas for personal care that are natural, free of harsh chemicals and over-processing, are non-polluting and fair to everyone involved in the process, just as much as it is an inquiry into the idea of beauty and wellness itself. All content on the hub is produced with 100% editorial independence by The Alternative. 


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