I was recently asked by a reader about my cruelty-free criteria.
I know it has been a while, since I talked about this topic. So I thought I would guide you through the process of contacting and reading a company’s response.
First I pay my dues and look up the information a company provides on their website. I look up the products, read through their FAQs, look for and over MSDS, if available.
Then for some companies, I have to search for an actual mail address, to contact them, because it would be just too easy to provide a direct link from costumer to company.
There are those, providing only contact information of their different distributors. If I cannot contact the company itself, I will have to bother the distributors.
I attach my information sheet to all my inquiries and ask the companies to refer to them / have a look at them.
In the past, I used to write back and forth with companies, over months and even years. And I decided to no longer do that. I no longer follow up multiple times on companies’ wording for a clear detailed information. If they choose not to specify their response, omit parts of information, the way they choose to word their statement, I do not go chasing information . I wasted too much time on it and it didn’t get anywhere in the end.
I did write to and fro with Too Markers Inc but I won’t be getting into my old habit. Imagine thinking you can share some great news with your readers, refining information, months pass, you yourself are hopeful about those new art materials, you think you have just a “tiny” bit of details left such as the raw material suppliers, and it all falters. No happy news for the readers, and yourself, and all you did was waste your and others (distributors’) time.
What I ask the companies comes in two parts. I firstly ask about the products and the manufacturing process. Is a product only free of animal derivatives in its end-form – the finished product – or does it apply to the production cycle as well.
The second part is the tough bit, many companies do not like to receive. The cruelty-free part. Many choose at this point to veer off and decline to reply. I usually mention in my inquiries that in case they are not interested in the topics mentioned, a short reply back would be appreciated. I only had two companies that did act on it, which was still great, because there was a definite response, and you don’t keep on pondering for months. Most of them opt to blank those inquiries – aka “declined to reply”.
To the big question. I ask about the companies cruelty-free status / their cruelty-free level.
It is very easy for a company to call themselves “cruelty-free” – like “vegan” , it is not a word that has a universally understood and set meaning. Most companies can state that they are “cruelty-free” because they do not test on animals. Testing – animal or not- gets outsourced. The statement “we don’t test on animals” does not mean there is no animal testing.
So we come to the next hurdle in defining the cruelty-free level. Not commissioning animal testing from other parties or using data gathered from such testing through other parties e.g. parent companies.
Then there is the “even the raw-material supplier…” level. Meaning, the raw-material supplier does not test on animals nor commissions such testing for the company and the materials the company sources from them. Unfortunately, there are such industry giants from which companies source their raw materials , that also have other fields of operation such as pharmaceutical industry. Those cannot be free of animal-testing. However the company does not commission from them to do such testing nor uses such gathered data, then it is up to you, to decide for yourself. I would also like to remind you at this stage, that it is a minority of companies that will share such detailed information with you about this topic. So you decide whether you will use their products or not, referring to the extra information others simply don’t give. This doesn’t make the company that shared less information with you more “cruelty-free” than the one, who gives yout the extra data.
I don’t even know whether there is such a thing as a holy grail of raw material suppliers completely devoid of animal testing in the last century.
The last bit of the cruelty-free hurdle to reach the platinum status of cruelty-free-ness: the Material Safety Data Sheets – the MSDS/SDS . Using MSDS which data was gathered in recent years (the last couple of decades) through animal testing. There are companies that share MSDS for their products on their websites for you to read through. This is going to be a walk through murky water, frustrating and confusing one further. Check for the date the MSDS was issued. Look for testing on… if animals are mentioned, e.g. substances being tested on their skin or in their eyes… there has been animal testing at one point. It doesn’t necessarily mean it was fairly recent, but the data was gathered in this manner at one point. You have to look at these results and consult a company’s statement.
Don’t get confused. Vegan does not mean free of animal testing /cruelty-free. In its simplest form it only means free of animal derived materials, applying to the finished product. And even this is not guaranteed. Some companies e.g. only think about the bristles of a brush being synthetic, and do not include for example the handle (e.g. lacquer, dyes on body and on the bristles…) or glue into their equation. Vegan and cruelty-free are not the same; again, both do not have a generalised universally accepted set meaning.
A product being labelled cruelty-free, does not automatically mean a company is. If no further information is given, it only applies to the finished product, which packaging is adorned with such regalia of wording. The guidelines the company states and bases their labelling on,are important to check. It is very easy and neat to make up your own seal and label your products, to make them more palatable to the concerned consumer.
Circling back to the language and phrasing of companies in their reply to my inquiries. I will not nor cannot interprete them for you. I cannot make assumption leaning in either way. If not enough or further information is given in their statment, I will alert you that no further information is given. I cannot give you information based on guessing and assuming whithout any factual evidence. That would be defamatory.
In my compendium and my blog posts I give you a summary of the statements given. What boxes those statements have to tick to meet your own guidelines, is up to you. Views of what is important vary from person to person.
Finally arriving at the end of this long saga. I will comment a bit on the response I get from companies. It is truly a mixed bunch of replies. Some feel quite attacked (for merely the inquiry) and will counter in a more than unkind manner. It ranges from aggression, being condescending and dismissive, to the “mild” harsh distinct wording and the mildest form the short and sharp micro sentence(s) – reply.
Many companies do like to strongly hint that you have asked them enough of questions at the end.
It is a funny thing, since this is a customer service matter; being allowed to ask questions about the products on offer and the manufacturer. It is 2023 and more and more people want to know about these topics – vegan and cruelty-free . If the information is freely offered, they would get a whole lot less of inquiries, so less people bothering them.
Now truly my last words of this very, very long blog entry ; I receive and read your mails with your questions. I generally don’t go past two weeks two reply; and you are a patient bunch. It might take a while for a response for different reasons, as e.g. waiting for statements from companies I contacted, not frequently accessing the interweb, not checking mails daily , being an agoraphobic hermit, (this being an unpaid task) … those kind of things.
I took much too long to carefully draft replies to requests, going through all my data, and then sending out very lengthy and detailed replies to all the poor souls, who wrote in. Then I realised, I should tell everyone else on here as well. I started following up with a wordy blog post. In the end, I came to the enlightening conclusion, to right a way give my reply on here instead. It only took me six and a half years to accomplish this thought .