Why we use science, not animals
View a presentation from Dr Julia Fentem, Head of our Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre
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Four years ago, on 3 May 2018, the European Parliament called for a global ban on animal testing for cosmetics – a call we wholeheartedly support and one of the principles central to our Positive Beauty vision and strategy.
In September 2021, Members of the European Parliament went even further with a landmark vote showing their overwhelming support for a resolution to begin phasing out animal experiments. This would mean the end of animal testing in the EU for good.
Unfortunately, progress is now not just stalling, it’s also starting to take a backwards slide. Despite the European Parliament’s consistent leadership on this issue, separate regulations for cosmetics and chemicals in Europe are contradicting each other. The former bans animal testing, while the latter requires animal testing in many circumstances.
At the very centre of the issue is the EU chemicals legislation that determines how the safety of chemicals for people and the environment are assessed.
At Unilever, we don’t test on animals and we have been developing and using alternatives to animal testing to assure the safety of the products we make, and their ingredients, for more than 40 years. The next-generation, non-animal safety assessments that now exist provide significant benefits over animal-based approaches, some of which date from the first half of the last century.
Modern science enables us to predict how an ingredient, or a combination of ingredients, will interact with human biology in ways that tests on rabbits or rats simply can’t. Find out more in this short film about our next-generation risk assessments.
This leading-edge science also gives us ways to predict the impact a chemical could have when it makes its way into the environment, so we can stay well below harmful levels and help keep our planet, and the organisms living in it, safe without testing on animals.
To drive real change that leads to a global ban and an end to animal testing, our work goes further than the innovation of non-animal, next-generation risk assessments (NGRAs). We share our non-animal safety science openly on our website dedicated to this topic, and at scientific conferences and workshops, offering scientists around the world the opportunity to explore the approaches we are pioneering.
We focus on training others in how to use our approaches, and helping to make the science widely available. And we’ve championed its acceptance by policymakers and governments so they no longer require animal testing.
Building on all of our existing safety science, in October 2018, we announced that Unilever would join Humane Society International’s (HSI) global #BeCrueltyFree initiative, which leads legislative reform in key beauty markets to prohibit animal testing of cosmetics. As part of this, we united with HSI to launch a multi-year, open collaboration to develop capability across companies and regulatory authorities so safety decisions for cosmetics are based on non-animal approaches; and to build capability for the long term by investing in training future safety scientists in non-animal risk assessments. At the same time, Dove became the first Unilever brand to be certified by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
View a presentation from Dr Julia Fentem, Head of our Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre
It’s this model – an integrated framework of the non-animal safety science we share, more of our brands moving towards cruelty-free status, strong partnerships with NGOs, trade bodies, other companies and more, as well as advocacy among our stakeholders and withregulators – that is helping to bring about change on a global scale. It’s also why Unilever is one of just a handful of businesses recognised by PETA as a company working for regulatory change.
In 2013, the EU instigated a transformational change by moving to a full ban on animal testing for cosmetics. In line with this model, 41 countries around the world now prohibit animal testing for cosmetics.
But there’s a problem. While the EU Cosmetics Regulation forbids animal testing, the EU regulation which governs chemicals, known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), still requires animal testing under many circumstances. This means there is a mismatch between the two regulations and so, while animal testing for cosmetics is banned in the EU, animal testing continues to take place under REACH.
And the problem is getting worse. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is calling for new animal tests for ingredients with a long history of safe use, even for those solely used in cosmetics. This move is now destroying the EU’s 2013 ban on animal testing for cosmetics.
On this four-year anniversary of the European Parliament supporting a global ban on animal testing for cosmetics, we’re sharing the progress we’ve made through our commitment to champion its implementation, the challenges posed by the EU chemicals regulations, and what we’re doing about them.
Find more detail by expanding the section at the bottom of this page.
In August 2021, Unilever’s leading experts in safety science published a paper setting out the shift that’s needed. It calls for transformational change in the way that chemical safety is assessed for regulatory purposes – to close the gap between the EU Cosmetics Regulation and REACH, by creating a future-fit regulatory framework that embraces the benefits of modern, highly innovative, non-animal safety science. Read the paper, published in the Alternatives to Laboratory Animals journal, in full here.
Until policymakers accept the leading-edge application of new approach methodologies (tests that don’t use animals), we’ll continue to advocate strongly for the regulatory changes needed to uphold the EU’s legal requirement that non-animal approaches are used if available. And on behalf of consumers, Unilever and our 31 PETA-approved brands will continue to speak out.
You can help too. If you’re an EU citizen, you can sign the European Citizen’s Initiative calling on the European Commission to protect its ban on animal testing for cosmetics and transform the EU chemicals regulation so there are no more loopholes.
Sign to help save the EU’s ban on animal tests for cosmetics
The Initiative, which allows people within the EU to influence the European Commission, has already reached over half a million signatures. Please sign to help save cruelty-free cosmetics and make your voice heard.
Unilever announced support for a global ban on animal testing for cosmetics (#BeCrueltyFree) and initiated a five-year partnership with HSI – now the AFSA (Animal-Free Safety Assessment) Collaboration. This is focused on developing global capability in how to make safety decisions without animal testing, to facilitate regulatory change and the implementation of animal testing bans on cosmetics globally.
We took a public stand against calls for new animal testing of existing ingredients, challenging the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) administrative requests on scientific grounds. We continue to collaborate closely with animal protection organisations, The European Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing (EPAA), trade associations and other companies to advocate for changes in EU chemicals policy and regulations.
We helped to #SaveRalph by supporting HSI’s hard-hitting international campaign, which contributed to Mexico becoming the 41st country to ban animal testing for cosmetics. We continue to collaborate with animal protection organisations in support of legislative changes in Latin America, South East Asia and North America.
Marking ten years since Unilever began working with the Chinese authorities, government laboratories and leading academics to build non-animal safety science capability, China’s new cosmetics legislation came into force. It means most imported cosmetics no longer require animal testing. While celebrating this progress, we also spoke out against the threat to the EU’s long-standing ban in this film.
We published an Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA) paper, calling for the EU to close the gap between regulatory chemicals testing and modern safety science.
We published and presented case studies of our non-animal, next-generation risk assessment safety methods at the 11th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences to promote the wider use of animal-free safety science.
And our Dove brand united with The Body Shop and over 100 animal protection organisations to launch Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics – a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)campaign calling for the EU’s ban on animal testing for cosmetics to be upheld.
A further 27 PETA-approved Unilever brands added their support to the campaign, which has since been backed by other companies and brands, including Lush, Herbal Essences and Aesop.
Unilever’s input to the REACH public consultation requested flexibility to use alternatives to animal testing to address REACH information requirements.
First series of AFSA (Animal-Free Safety Assessment Collaboration) training webinars launched on Predictive Chemistry and Consumer Exposure.
The ECI urging the European Commission to protect and strengthen the EU’s ban on animal testing for cosmetics, transform chemicals regulation, and modernise science in the EU passed half a million signatures.