Ethical beauty: can you judge a brand by its owner?

Ethical beauty: can you judge a brand by its owner?

As Brazil’s Natura was announced as the future owner of The Body Shop, the response from commentators can pretty much be summed up as ‘that figures’ (as long as we’re talking corporate fit and not about the whopping €1 billion price tag, of course) – for these two companies are peas in a pod when it comes to ethical beauty. Natura, who ranks 19th on Corporate Knights 100 World’s Most Sustainable Companies list for 2017, appears to be a match made in acquisition heaven – certainly, a far more likely partnership than L’Oréal and The Body Shop were when they struck a deal back in 2006.

And despite the fact that the French beauty giant has transformed into a sustainability leader in the last 10-ish years, its ownership is still dragging the ethical beauty giant down on more than one front: first, there was that all-too-public spat over the decision to axe The Body Shop Foundation at the end of last year, then The Body Shop received a pitiful 3.5 out of 20 for its ethical credentials in Ethical Consumer’s recent make-up buying guide – thanks in large part to this affiliation. Ethical Consumer wasn’t happy with L’Oréal’s association with Nestle, its stance on microbeads or its compliance with Chinese legislation that requires animal testing for products sold in the country – even though The Body Shop continues to boycott the market.

Along with Urban Decay (a vegan, PETA-approved brand), The Body Shop did score a token 0.5 point above L’Oréal’s other marques, however, with L’Oréal Paris, Lancôme, Maybelline, NYX and Yves Saint Laurent all given just 3. And the French beauty giant wasn’t the only one to receive a drumming from Ethical Consumer – LVMH-owned Benefit picked up a mere 1.5, attributed to its owner’s failure to sign up to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, while Walgreens Boots Alliance-owned Sleek Makeup was ranked bottom, awarded a single point out of the 20 available – mainly due to the fact that the pharmacy giant’s suppliers continue to test on animals.

Meanwhile, The Estée Lauder Companies’ stable including Aveda, a brand famed for its whole-picture approach to sustainability, received middling scores of 6.5 across the board, while Revlon and its new buddy Elizabeth Arden picked up 5.5, tailed by the Coty portfolio (Bourjois, Cover Girl, Max Factor, Sally Hansen and Rimmel) on 5.

And who was up in the top half? Odylique topped the chart with 17.5, followed by Neal’s Yard, Green People and Dr Hauschka. Just missing out on a top 10 place was Lush, with 13 points.

Not surprisingly, the parent companies objected to the Ethical Consumer evaluation when contacted for comment by The Daily Mail. And, while we’re all for a bit of exposure on the green-washing front, we think they have a point. After all, we live in a world of consolidation. And when big companies buy small brands known for their values, it can work if the parent is savvy enough to realise that those core tenets must be respected when they are key to the brand’s success. You only have to look at Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever, or Coca Cola and Innocent to see that.

Whether Amazon and Whole Foods will work out, or even The Body Shop and Natura, depends entirely on the owners ability to absorb, reflect, understand and ultimately respect the values that make the brand they’ve just bought great.

Can we judge brands by their owners, especially where those owners allow an individual brand the freedom to do its thing? I say, give credit where credit is due. Aveda, Urban Decay and The Body Shop deserve more.