So-called “natural” cosmetics were born in Germany in the 1920s with brands such as Weleda or Dr Hauschka, which were inspired by the principles of anthroposophy. In France, forerunners appeared in the 1970s with the development of organic farming and brands like Paltz or Phyt’s. Two rather different approaches to the concept of “naturalness” quickly stood out on the two main European markets, and the gap between them has grown even wider with the “boom” these products have been experiencing since the year 2000.

Natural and organic certifications

As for certification and labels, only national or private standards existed in Europe until very recently. In 2003, six European organisations (BDIH, AIAB, SOIL, EcoCert, Cosmebio, EcoGarantie) united to set up a harmonisation standard, the COSMOS standard. It entered into force in 2011 with two levels of certification: COSMOS NATURAL and COSMOS ORGANIC.

The first revision of the standard was published in March 2013 to rationalize and simplify the certification process, especially for raw materials, while ensuring the integrity of the standard. The criteria regarding packaging were clarified. The certification procedure for ingredients was simplified, and two signatures were introduced: COSMOS CERTIFIED, for organic ingredients, and COSMOS APPROVED, for approved ingredients. On top of that, the percentage of natural ingredients must now be displayed on finished products for more transparency.

At the beginning of 2014, over 840 raw materials were registered on the COSMOS website, and 618 were certified. As for products, 523 were organic-certified, and more than 104 were natural-certified.

There are also many standards outside Europe, whether in the USA, India or Korea, and each one has their own interpretation of what a natural or organic cosmetic product is. That is why, spurred on by Cosmetics Europe, the ISO technical committee in charge of cosmetics (TC 217) has been attempting to provide a common definition of these concepts since 2009. Various aspects are still being discussed, in particular regarding calculation methods for natural and organic indices. The public survey is being conducted, and will be closed on March 31: it is meant to be published by the end of 2014, when standard ISO 16128 should give the first universal definitions of an organic or natural cosmetic product. However, this standard will not deal with claims.

Fair trade certifications

Fair trade aims at establishing a more balanced commercial relationship between small producers – initially from underprivileged countries – and buyers in so-said developed countries.

On the international level, the global leader is a label managed by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO). The Max Havelaar label is a branch of the FLO association. In Europe, there are different labels for cosmetic products: EcoCert Equitable, Fair for Life, Fairtrade International (Max Havelaar), Forest Garden Products, Naturland Fair, and WFTO.

The current trend is to combine fair trade and organic farming in standard specifications. Moreover, several labels now offer to apply their fair trade procedures to small producers in industrialized countries. This corresponds to a market trend which aims to bring local and international solidarity initiatives closer.

In France, three different approaches have been developed for cosmetic products since 2008:

-  The Max Havelaar certification applied to cosmetics.
-  EcoCert’s “ESR - Équitable, Solidaire, Responsable” (Fair Trade, Solidarity, Responsibility). Cosmetic products must hold “natural or organic cosmetics” certification, and contain more than 5 % of ESR ingredients. Two categories are defined in the standard: “ESR fair trade cosmetics”, and cosmetics containing ingredients derived from the ESR fair trade supply chain.
-  Lastly, the Bioéquitable label is based on the compliance with EcoCert’s ESR and organic standards.

Sustainable development and biodiversity

In terms of sustainable development, various tools are here to help organisations highlight their efforts in this field. Companies can indeed get certified to standards ISO 14000 for environmental protection, and OHSAS 18001 regarding social issues. The ISO has also made a tool available to companies – standard ISO 26000 – in relation to corporate social responsibility.

There is no label specific to cosmetic products in this field. Therefore brands are quite free to communicate as they wish through the media or their website. Some of them emphasize their ecodesign approach to packaging, such as Pierre Fabre, and others like L’Oréal stress their commitment in social responsibility. A growing number of companies have been communicating for a few years on their undertakings regarding biodiversity, in particular through their adhesion to the UEBT, the Union for Ethical Bio Trade.

As for biodiversity, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) had not made it possible to implement the principle of Benefit-Sharing (ABS) – regarding benefits derived from the use of genetic resources – on a concrete basis because of the absence of specific rules. Negotiations on the matter resulted in 2010 in the Nagoya protocol, which should soon enter into force.

Now, the following labels related to biodiversity protection can be mentioned, although the list is not exhaustive:

-  Dr Ranil Senanayake’s approach: it has lain at the core of analog forestry since 1982, and materialized through the creation of the FOREST GARDEN PRODUCTS label and, in 1995, that of the IAFN (International Analog Forestry Network), a global movement rehabilitating ecosystems destroyed by pollution, single-crop farming, intensive farming, or deforestation. This label can also be found on cosmetic products developed by companies which are deeply committed in environmental protection, such as Guayapi.
-  In France, Ballot-Flurin set up a gentle beekeeping label to formalize their commitment in favour of bees and preserved pollen gathering places as soon as 1983.

The multiplication of certifications and labels goes hand in hand with that of initiatives aiming to adapt to the radical changes in customers’ expectations. People need to make meaningful commitments, and cosmetic ingredients represent a top priority.

Standards and labels are technical and visual solutions which help companies contribute to providing guarantees on technical and complex issues in a simple way. To me, these solutions are only meaningful if they are associated with responsible and ethical communication. A user guide on jobs in the field of communication has been available in standard ISO 26000 since June 2012. When can we expect the responsible communication label to be created?