A month ago Urban Decay announced that they would begin selling their product in China. The significance of this announcement was that in order to sell in China, the product would require periodic testing on animals, not by Urban Decay, but by the Chinese government.
Immediately following the announcement, the Twitterverse erupted in a firestorm against the decision, with many bloggers and tweeters falsely accusing the company of changing their policy to include animal testing. Although Urban Decay was honest and made their intentions clear on their website, protesters began a campaign that included many falsehoods, as well as accusations that the almighty dollar was the reason for the move, for which they were willing to put animals in harm’s way. So what was their intention?
Sadly, the original announcement has been removed from their website. According to the announcement, however, the company intended to go into China and make long-term change by convincing Chinese consumers that animal testing should not be allowed. It must be presumed that the consumers of these products would then essentially vote with their dollars since they could not change Chinese governmental policy any other way. The idea being that if women were buying Urban Decay products rather than other manufacturers, the government would eventually get the message that animal tested products were undesirable.
However, as many tweeters pointed out, any sale of products within the Chinese mainland would mean that Urban Decay was instrumental in the torture and death of any animal used to test the product, even if the government was doing the actual testing. Urban Decay, did not deny this. They cried, ‘mea culpa’ and honestly stated that they felt this was a necessary evil, since, as they stated in the first announcement, if they didn’t go into China with the intention of making lasting change on behalf of the animals, other cosmetic companies without their cruelty-free policy would without the intention of making change. Okay, let’s give them that for the moment. We will come back to that.
First, we have to remember China is not a democracy, so, as happened with the milk scandal a couple of years ago, profound change very often must come from the outside. Once the world outside of China became aware of the tainted milk because of exported products, outside pressure caused internal change. But if we look at the policies of the Chinese government, more often than not there is little to no weight given to outside pressure. Human rights in China are still dismal, just as animal rights are. And no amount of coercion has changed that. Given this history, outside pressure would very likely fail in the fight to keep animals safe. Therefore, what would have to change is either the internal regulations set in place by a government arguing that animal testing is necessary to keep Chinese consumers safe from sub-standard products or consumer buying habits.
Change at the level of government regulation can only come from within. If the Chinese were to demand that all American cosmetics be tested on animals, we would ignore them. It’s safe to say they would do the same. Therefore, protesting would have to be done in China by Chinese nationals. Okay. So let’s say a large group of women protests animal testing and demands that Urban Decay products be allowed to forego the testing regulation. These women would face prison, torture and even death for the act of protesting. Such an action is not the same in China as it is in America and we cannot summarily dismiss it as if it were. The massacre at Tiananmen Square is evidence of the vast difference.
Since Urban Decay certainly can’t be asking women to face death in order to see cruelty-free products on the shelves, we must assume the company hoped for a change in consumer buying habits that would eventually lead to policy change. But if consumers buy Urban Decay cosmetics based on the fact that they are cruelty-free outside of China, what exactly are they buying? Chinese consumers would essentially be buying hope, hope that eventually the animal cruelty would stop, even if it were being performed on the cosmetics they were buying at that moment.
Unfortunately, numerous emails to Urban Decay between the first announcement and the one made today repealing their initial decision were answered only with the statement that a statement would soon be made, so details are unavailable as to whether they had a specific timeframe in mind within which such change should occur. Once in the Chinese marketplace, would they have withdrawn after a certain deadline had the government not changed their policies? Would they have instigated protest on behalf of their products? Would they have put their own people in jeopardy to affect change?
The greatest argument in favor of Urban Decay’s initial decision was that someone has to start the avalanche of change to end animal cruelty in China (and the rest of the world). Urban Decay set themselves up to be that someone. It is a little bewildering then that they chose to back down in the face of American protest. After all, if no one goes into China and tries to change it from within, and there is no someone, aren’t we essentially ignoring the plight of Chinese animals?
Photo credit: Urban Decay