Johnson & Johnson Removes Harmful Chemicals From All ProductsBy Tara Nurin |
“No more tears.” The advertising slogan and patented formula that’s described Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo for 60 years still resonates so powerfully with the public that J & J ranked #1 in a Forbes magazine survey released last year that measured consumer perception of 100 top corporate brands.
Forbes concluded that “people have developed a trusted relationship with J&J — primarily through their baby products,” to which Scott Osman, global director of corporate social responsibility at the Landor creative services agency, one of the entities that sponsored the survey, responded, “That’s a very powerful emotional connection that’s hard to dislodge.”
It follows that the New Brunswick-based corporation could hardly afford to risk its reputation as calls from hundreds of consumer, environmental, and health groups grew louder for the ninth-largest global producer of personal care products to eliminate a selection of toxic chemicals and byproducts from its manufacturing chain.
So in August, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) coalition, along with tens of thousands of customers and concerned citizens, scored a victory of epic proportions when J&J announced it would follow up an earlier promise to remove carcinogens from its baby products by banning them from their adult consumer products, as well.
It was, as CSC spokesperson Janet Nudelman says, “one of most important announcements in terms of corporate commitment to move toward safer production that we’ve seen in the past decade.”
“Their recent announcement suggests they take their brand loyalty seriously,” she says. “You’ve gotta walk the walk.”
Making the pledge
The campaign, comprised of 175 nonprofits such as the Breast Cancer Fund, Environmental Working Group and National Environmental Trust, had been working with company executives for two years to elicit a commitment to remove a host of cancer-causing and other chemicals from baby products but they finally achieved its goal right before releasing the second of two reports on the issue in November.
The report, entitled, “Baby’s Tub is Still Toxic,” compelled company leaders to pledge to remove or limit formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, certain parabens, a compound called 1,4-dioxane that was found to cause cancer in animals when administered in high doses, as well as other toxins. Under continued pressure, the company then agreed to expand their moratorium to adult products by the end of 2015. It also launched a website to build transparency and assure customers its products are safe.
An excerpt reads, “All of our products worldwide and their ingredients meet the rigorous scientific standards of our five-level safety assurance process. They also meet or exceed government standards in the countries where they are sold, as well as U.S. and E.U. cosmetic ingredient safety guidelines, or whichever is stricter when they differ. If new scientific evidence raises legitimate questions about whether an ingredient is safe, we will innovate to find alternatives and, if necessary, we will reduce it or remove it from our products.”
Before making this pledge, however, J&J formulated its products differently in the 52 countries where it’s sold, and answered criticism over its ingredients by claiming the levels of the chemicals used were too low to cause harm to human health. Indeed, though FDA regulations are so weak that it can’t mandate recalls or require cosmetics companies to conduct safety assessments, the administration does say, in regard to 1,4-dioxane, “The levels we have seen in our monitoring of cosmetics do not present a hazard to consumers.”
But that wasn’t good enough for the coalition. Its members protested that J&J was already selling products without these chemicals in some of its international markets and asked its contacts within the company why it couldn’t be replicated worldwide. Those contacts — high-level executives who Nudelman says were always responsive and sympathetic, if non-committal, to their requests — replied that it would be nearly impossible to overhaul their entire international production system, which is designed to provide specific formulations to specific countries based on regulations, availability of ingredients and consumer preferences. Now convinced it can do it, J&J will spend more than 90 percent of its research and development budget over the next few years to figure out how to do it, according to Nudelman.
“This is a giant multinational company, so their commitment to reformulate is really no small task. It’s huge and it’s complicated and it’s really important,” she says.
Setting the bar higher
With this mission accomplished, the campaign is working to convince other corporations to follow suit — a project she says is rendered infinitely easier now that J&J has set the bar high.
“It’s a small global community when it comes to the giant personal-care product companies and they all watch each other. So the step that J&J took is not only important for J&J customers but important for the larger worldwide market,” she says.
And the bar set by J&J could influence the outcome of a House of Representatives bill that when introduced last year would have laid out legal standards for the cosmetics industry but has now been re-introduced with amendments by another member of congress who aims to weaken it by maintaining the current system that allows the $50 billion global industry to largely regulate itself. The current bill, introduced by New Jersey Republican Leonard Lance and called the Cosmetic Safety Amendments Act of 2012 is being considered by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Writer’s note: Johnson & Johnson representatives did not respond to requests for an interview.blog comments powered by Disqus