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Responsible sourcing and cosmetics: innovation is the key to cope with pressure

According to Valérie Robillard, Manager in the Strategy Division of Utopies the leading French consulting firm and think tank specialized in sustainable development, the issue on ethical sourcing is becoming a key element in the strategy of cosmetic brands, faced with the pressure of consumers and NGOs. But she warns: The whole challenge will be to find “credible and efficient” alternatives.

Valérie Robillard

Valérie Robillard

Premium Beauty News - If we judge by the number of steps taken by the industrial sector, it seems that the issue on ethical sourcing has become particularly acute for cosmetic products. How do you explain this phenomenon?

Valérie Robillard - Like many other sectors, but with probably a higher intensity , due to the fact that products are in intimate contact with the body and applied to the skin, the permeability of which is now recognized, cosmetic brands must respond to a number of requests from consumers: On the absence of controversial ingredients in formulas, for “greener” products and more traceability.

It must always be kept in mind that a company, specially when its products benefit from an excellent reputation, is under close scrutiny from the part of the public and of grass-root organizations: There is a real risk of being caught red handed because of one’s own behaviour or the one of a suppliers environmentally or socially speaking (child labour, human rights, etc.).

And then there is market pressure, with a mushrooming of alternative offers. The French cosmetics market is currently worth about 350 million euros. And with the entry of private labels and of historical brands, it should continue to grow, albeit at a less sustained pace, to reach 500 million euros in 2015.

Premium Beauty News - In fact, pressures are increasing?

Valérie Robillard - Yes, specially when regulatory pressure must be also taken into account. I am refering in particular to REACH, or to the European directive on the ban of animal testing, but also to the Nagoya Protocol adopted in October 2011 on the access and sharing of benefit arising from the use of genetic resources.

I also believe that the movement towards the labelling/certification of ingredients and finished products also contributes to increase the pressure by imposing a certain level of performance.

Premium Beauty News - What are the solutions available to the industry in terms of responsible sourcing?

Valérie Robillard - They involve the implementation of consistent, comprehensive and well controlled supply chains. The whole challenge stands in finding credible and satisfactory alternatives. Credible concerning the precautionary principle, and from this point of view there is always a risk of replacing a controversial product by one or several products that are equally problematic, this can be seen with parabens or the replacement of palm oil by soybean oil, which although it contributes to reducing deforestation, has transferred the problem from Indonesia to Latin America. We cannot be satisfied with simply displacing the problem.

In addition to being credible, alternatives should also be satisfactory in terms of cost, availability and efficiency. This is indeed the problem with natural and organic products, which are often considered to be more expensive and less efficient by consumers who become used to textures, fragrances, a sensoriality and to galenics that natural products do not always manage to come to par with.

Implement more responsible supply chains must also be an opportunity to sustain and secure supplies. In particular, for raw materials that enter in competition with foodstuff (vanilla, cocoa, avocado, quinoa), by offering more attractive volumes to suppliers, or by protecting oneself against bad harvests, reduced productivity, disease affecting plants. Secured and durable chains, based on sustainable approaches (for example by using part of the plant which cannot be used by the food industry) and partnerships also facilitates the implementation of procedures and controls to ensure a sufficient level of quality.

We accompany and we help companies at this level. This implies a better understanding of the impacts of a purchasing strategy in particular on biodiversity, on resource availability, on local populations on the areas of production - it is possible to do a mapping of the company’s exposure to social or environmental risk, according to its purchasing strategy (nature of raw materials purchased, geographic origin, direct purchasing or through intermediaries, etc.); then through an analysis of deviations from objectives set up by labels and external standards (Ecocert, Nature et Progrès, BSCI, etc...), the identification of product or process alternatives and their integration in the strategy. More positively, beyond risk minimizing, a purchasing strategy can also be an opportunity to develop positive impacts by proactively integrating to one’s supply chain some social purpose enterprises - this is what L’Oréal does with its Solidarity Sourcing approach or BPCE with its PHARE approach on disabilities. Ready-made recipes do not exist, each case is different and this generally leads us – it is actually the goal – to co-create innovative solutions with stakeholders, this can take the form of dialogues or of partnerships with NGOs in the field, for example. However, we can rely on well structured existing tools, even if they are fairly generic, like the ISO 26000 standard on responsible purchasing.

Interview by Vincent Gallon

© 2012 - Premium Beauty News - www.premiumbeautynews.com
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