19 July 2012

Urban Decay regains favor - but will you buy it?

Recently, Urban Decay announced that they would not be selling their products in China.  The announcement came after a month of stalling and refusing to answer questions by reporters and bloggers following their announcement that selling in China would be cruel to animals in the short term, but would eventually lead to a cruelty free marketplace in Asia’s largest consumer market.  During that silent month, the manufacturer of the fashion forward, and previously cruelty-free, cosmetics had received “numerous” complaints from once loyal customers, however, Urban Decay remains mum as to how many complaints they received or how much revenue was lost as a result of their initial announcement.

When reporting the announcement by Urban Decay, this reporter had been willing, even hopeful, that they had been acting prematurely or being thoughtless, rather than greedy.  But without meaningful reply from Urban Decay, I, like so many others, were left in the dark.  Greed may have been the original draw to China after all.  At least PETA, as well as many protesters, seem to think so, but as before, Urban Decay chooses not to reply to queries on the subject of motive.

PETA issued a statement of its own, announcing that the animal welfare watchdog would be bestowing the “Courage in Commerce Award” on Urban Decay for cancelling plans to enter the Chinese marketplace.

“Urban Decay” says PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk, “is a corporate champion in PETA’s book for refusing to pay for animals to be harmed and killed for the sake of overseas profits.  The company’s ethical decision also reveals the moral decay of other companies that have sold animals out for the sake of a market share in China.”  PETA sites Avon, Mary Kay, Revlon and Estee Lauder as members of the ranks of manufacturers who’ve agreed to pay the Chinese government to conduct tests on animals, stating that these companies “have decided their cruelty-free pledge means nothing compared with the profits they anticipate from selling their products in China.”

As shoppers around the world faithfully check the PETA and Leaping Bunny lists to make sure their consumption of goods doesn’t fall into the realm of animal cruelty by accident or omission, such decisions by major manufacturers can cause a lot of confusion, since other lists can take weeks or months to update.  However, the Leaping Bunny program stripped Urban Decay of its seal immediately upon hearing of the cosmetics’ manufacturer’s decision to move into China.  After all, to be cruelty free means to be so in all aspects of manufacture and sale, in all parts of the world.  What Urban Decay appears to have wanted was that the designation continues to apply to them, even if they only remained cruelty-free in the United States.  Their justification was that they would eventually be helping to make China cruelty free.  However, inquiries into how such a thing would be accomplished went unanswered.

In the face of mass protest, Leaping Bunny certification revocation and PETA’s negotiations, Urban Decay cancelled their plans to hold a live public chat where they planned to answer any and all consumer questions regarding the move, and made further announcements that China was no longer an option.  Leaping Bunny immediately restored their seal and PETA announced that the company would remain on the Caring Consumer list. 

While we all applaud Urban Decay on their decision not to move into a market where American companies have been secretly paying the Chinese government to test their products on animals, the company remains secretive in their own right.  It is true that they were honest in their acknowledgement that animal testing would be conducted, but they have been less than honest with regard to their motive.  Where I had been willing to take them at their word and believe that their premature action was a miscalculation of their potential influence on the Chinese government and people, the reality is that Urban Decay misjudged the American consumer of its products.  Women who become loyal to a product for its cruelty free stance (“We don’t test on animals-How could anyone?”) are hardly going to be willing to allow Chinese animals to be tortured and killed on their behalf in the misguided hope that someday it would get better.

Since PETA has been working long and hard to convince the Chinese government to allow non-animal tested products into their marketplace, and has funded scientists in China to forward that action, the proposed move by Urban Decay was more than premature; it was based on corporate greed.  Rather than wait out the certification process and allow PETA’s work to pave the way into China, the company decided to jump the gun and put animals at risk early, thereby adding to their profit margin sooner.

Once companies like Revlon and Avon went into China, compassionate consumers in America cut their losses and began buying brands like Urban Decay.  The question is, can Urban Decay win us back?  Does the fact that they changed their minds because we protested negate the fact that they were willing to forgo their cruelty-free image for money?  Can we forgive them?  It remains to be seen whether the American cosmetics consumer will follow PETA’s example and forgive them on the spot.  In the meantime, the company’s annual report should make very interesting reading, but somehow, not what Urban Decay expected. 

Fianna MacGregor | Blog | Blog | Twitter | Email
New York City Fianna has been vegan for 36 years. She is currently working on a second M.A. in Human Rights from NYU. When she isn’t veganizing every cookbook she can get her hands on, she’s working her urban farm in New York City. She also writes extensively on veganism, running and green living. Her newest project is to trace everything she buys to find out if it’s cruelty-free (both animal and human) and eco-friendly. Fianna and her fiancĂ© are animal rescuers of dogs, cats and birds.

Photo credit: Urban Decay