I service cruelty-free businesses. This is what the term means to me.
Here’s a short lesson in branding and marketing. At the start of 2020, I launched my new brand as “The Vegan Copywriter” and said that my target businesses were “plant-based.” I’m glad I made the switch to “The Content Doctor” and focused on “cruelty-free” for a couple of reasons:
- I’m no longer just specializing in copywriting, but also editing and various services for authors.
- Some people thought that they had to be vegan in order to work with me, which would be awesome if that were true, but there just aren’t THAT many vegans in the world, yet. 🙂
- I switched my target business from plant-based to cruelty-free so that I wasn’t excluding service providers or any other products that weren’t made of plants.
While I’m not using the term “vegan business” overtly, my definition of a cruelty-free business is synonymous with the definition of vegan.
Annually, 500K animals are used for cosmetics testing. The list of them includes rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, dogs, and even people.
If you are inflicting cruelty on people, animals, or the environment to a lesser extent, you aren’t my target client.
How other industries define “cruelty-free”
Here’s Merriam-Webster’s definition: “developed or produced without inhumane testing on animals”
The beauty industry’s definition is similar, with the “inhumane” bit being optional. Regarding cosmetics and personal products, ingredients/components and the final product are supposed to have not been tested on animals. However, they could still contain non-vegan ingredients such as honey, beeswax, cholesterol, collagen, gelatin, lanolin (from wool), albumen (egg whites), or carmine (from insects).
I disagree with their definition because even though the animal-based ingredients are in such small quantities in these types of products, obtaining them may STILL cause harm to animals. So the right definition would be something like “partially cruel.” But that really wouldn’t sell, would it?
- In North America, there are no standard legal definitions for the terms “cruelty-free” or “not tested on animals,” so brands are free to use the language (or a random “no bunny” logo) without it meaning anything. Even though a cruelty-free designation might be technically true for a final product, most animal testing happens at the ingredient level. Many companies avoid the issue by getting their raw materials from third parties or outside labs who test on animals. (Interestingly, a bill to amend Canada’s Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act was put forth in our parliament twice to prohibit cosmetic animal testing and sale of cosmetics developed or manufactured using cosmetic animal testing, and to provide that no evidence from animal testing may be used to establish the safety of a cosmetic. The bill wasn’t successful.)
- The term could mean a company has relied on the results of past animal tests from other organizations, but have not conducted any tests themselves.
- Some may think that animal testing means safer for the consumer. However, there are now reliable alternatives to animal testing, and ingredients that are already known to be cosmetically safe. According to Cruelty Free International, alternative testing methods are often cheaper and more effective than animal testing.
- In mainland China, recent measures will allow for exemptions to animal testing for cosmetics, shampoos, and lotions, but companies will have to have Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification from their local governments (which are currently issued by associations or third-party institutions) and submit safety assessments. The Chinese government has not yet specified if overseas assessment reports or assessors will be accepted (more here).
Buying products certified by Leaping Bunny or PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies program will help you avoid buying products that might fall into the traps above. You can also ask the brand if its products or ingredients are tested on animals at any stage in the manufacturing process, or if they sell in China.
FYI: Neither vegan nor cruelty-free means safe.
While you should always look for vegan and/or cruelty-free certifications, neither means that an ingredient list is clean, safe, eco-friendly, or all-natural, so these are also things to be aware of. You can search brands and products on the EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, or look at my list of common harmful chemicals & toxins (under “keep it clean”).
In the video below, vlogger Rowan Ellis talks to two experts about the slavery and child labour aspects of common industries, which are also important factors to consider.
In my perfect world, every personal product would have a vegan certification and that would mean no animal or human testing was involved on either the ingredient or final product levels, but for now, look out for BOTH cruelty-free and vegan certifications.
No vegan logo? Check the ingredient list.
No Leaping Bunny or PETA logo? Check PETA’s database and/or demand answers from the brand. Being ghosted means something.
Finally, check for toxins.
This is a similar process I’d use to vet a client.
Is the person I’m working with vegan, or is their product free of animal byproducts or harm to people? Are they being transparent about this?
Are their products/services safe for people? Is the product free of ingredients that harm the environment or our health?
If they tick all the boxes or are on their way to becoming a vegan company, we can work together.
If you run a B2B business and that sounds like a tedious process to you, you’re probably not niching or screening your clients enough.
Investors are starting to pay attention.
Last year I learned about Cruelty Free Investing, a non-profit society that scours all the public companies in the US against evaluation criteria. They have two lists in alphabetical order of their stock symbol: Companies that exploit animals, and companies that don’t exploit animals. If you’re investing in US companies, you can see where your dollars are going.
Do you have any other thoughts about the “cruelty-free” vs. “vegan” terminology? Share with us in the comments.