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reading food labels | cruelty free labels | reading textile labels


keywords: cosmetics & toiletries | animal testing | vivisection | animal welfare | alternative test | cruelty free | ‘Leaping Bunny’ label

cruelty free labels
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courtesy, MÉTA, UNESCO

goal: raising awareness on animal testing, the existing alternatives, and the key-role played by consumers (both as individuals – preferring fair certified products – and as part of the ‘cruelty-free’ movement). Here we focus on what we’ve called ‘the dark side of beauty’: what’s behind cosmetic & toiletry products we buy? Have they been tested on animals? Was it necessary? Some producers (COLIPA) claim that: “The actual number of animals used in cosmetic testing is very small”. So, is the issue ‘irrelevant’? Not yet. This classwork aims to stimulate students at first to correctly analyse the problem, then to take action.

risk: sophisticated alternatives to the use of animals in consumer product testing are readily available. However, some consumers still perceive ‘cruelty free’ products as ‘less safe’. Please provide students with a balanced approach. Present examples of existing alternatives but also provide a showcase of arguments questioning animal testing effectiveness in reducing health risks for humans.

YXC level: 3rd level (community at large)

YXC materials: respecting our bodies [Choose Cf Australia | Committed Beauty] - facts & figures/GENERAL DATA [Cosmetics | Big Pharma] - facts & figures/ENVIRONMENT [Dark Side Of Beauty | Furs] - dep’t store [Organic And Certified | Eco-Cert Cosmetics] – job opportunities [Ending Animal Testing] – test & play [Animal Or Beast?] – links [fashion & beautyCruelty Free | Vegan Fashion]

subject areas: Social studies | Science & tech. | Economics & biz | Health & well-being | Workshops

work planning: Phase 1, testing students’ knowledge/awareness of the issue; Phase 2, intro to the issue; Phase 3, creation of 2 teams; Phase 4, individual homework; Phase 5, discussion and reporting; Phase 6, designing & launching a ‘cruelty free’ campaign.

testing student knowledge (with key questions):

GENERAL and CRUELTY-FREE questions should be discussed in the form of class brainstorming before any subsequent introduction to the topic, to test students’ knowledge/awareness. If students’ awareness level is high, TAKING ACTION questions should be discussed here, otherwise we suggest postponing them to Phase 5.


bullet Which kind of cosmetic and toiletry products do you commonly use? a) industrial well-known brands, b) local-craft products, c) eco-friendly and/or ethically certified products, d) don’t care bullet Where do you buy them (supermarket, pharmacy, herbalist, etc.)? bullet Which of the following elements do you take into account the most while buying cosmetics & toiletries? (Please, list by importance): a) brand, b) price), c) ingredients, d) producer’s claims (on purposes/results), e) certifications (eco & ethical labels), f) health & safety warnings, g) expiration date, h) country of origin.


bullet Which animals are most commonly used to test product safety? bullet Which kind of tests are they exposed to? bullet Do you know if the products you buy have been tested on animals? bullet Do you believe animal testing is necessary to ensure consumers health protection? bullet Is there any alternative to animal testing? bullet Which personal care, non-pharmaceutical products are required by law to be tested on animals in your country? bullet Did your country/other countries ban animal testing for cosmetics? bullet Have you ever heard about ‘cruelty-free’ products? bullet In your opinion, why don't all companies become cruelty-free?


bullet Do you think that consumers’ pressure could make producers switching to cruelty-free policies? a) yes, it’s in their interest!, b) rarely, c) not at all, d) don’t know. bullet Do you know any animal rights association working in your city/region? bullet Have you already team up with them? bullet Do you know any animal rights campaign? bullet In your opinion, are this kind of campaigns effective in changing consumers habits? a) yes, for sure, b) sometimes, c) not at all, d) don’t know.

intro to the topic (background): in 1933, at least 17 American women were blinded by, and one eventually died of complications resulting from the use of a new mascara called Lash Lure. At that time, there were no laws or regulations governing the safety of consumer products. Manufacturers were free to market almost anything. As a result of this and several other tragic incidents related to untested products, the US Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, which required that food, drugs, and cosmetics be safe for human use before they could be sold.

Today almost all governments require manufacturers to ensure product safety. In some cases, law specifically requires animal tests. In other cases, only the ‘best available’ safety information is requested. Many regulatory agencies, however, still believe that traditional animal tests are the ‘best available’. Manufacturers test for both the immediate risk of exposure (through normal use, accidental contact with the eyes or skin, and accidental ingestion) and more long-term risks (such as potential to cause cancer or birth defects).

Increasing doubt about the need to use animals when testing products by the cosmetic industry has meant a marked increase in the use of ‘cruelty-free’ or ‘not tested on animals’ claims. In 1996, in the European Union only, the total number of animals used for experiments was 11.6 million and around 38,000 animals per year were estimated to be used and killed in developing cosmetics. Spurred by public outrage, in 1998 the European Union has voted to outlaw cosmetics testing on animals as well as the sale of animal-tested cosmetics by 2013.

bullet The EU's scientists are facing a challenge to think up ways of reducing the animal-testing element in the biggest piece of legislation to pass through Brussels in a decade. REACH (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals) proposes to register, label and authorise the 30,000 chemicals used by industry in the production of goods today, from children's clothing to mobile phones, television sets, etc. (1)

alternative tests: today, sophisticated alternatives to the use of animals in consumer product testing are readily available. Without exception, they allow the least tolerated substances to be eliminated and those that are best accepted to be identified for a specific use. Therefore they have helped to significantly decrease the number of animals used in the safety assessment process. Although relatively few alternative methods have obtained international recognition and validation, there is a wide range of non-animal alternative tests that are used to screen substances, or combinations of substances, that may have mutagenic, carcinogenic or severe irritant potential. The most common type of alternative methods are: in-vitro tests, computer software, databases of tests already done (to avoid duplication), and even human ‘clinical trial’ tests. Use of animal cells, organs, or tissue cultures is also deemed an alternative although, obviously, animal lives are sacrificed for the use of their parts.

In 1959, The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique was published in London defining the concept of animal testing alternatives as the ‘Three R's’: Refinement, Reduction, and Replacement. The only viable choice for a true animal rights' supporter is the *Replacement* of animals used in tests; Refinement and Reduction are still viewed as morally wrong.

Revlon Cosmetics was one of the first large companies to fund research for alternatives with a US$750,000 contribution to the Rockefeller University in 1979. Several organisations such as the John Hopkins Center for the Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT), the International Foundation for Ethical Research, the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association, and the Soap and Detergent Association followed suit and started their own programs to validate alternatives. Although very few companies continue to conduct animal testing on finished products, many companies still test ingredients on animals. Animal testing is still very much in existence, for example, at large corporations such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever (both claim being working hard to reduce as much as possible this practice).

taking action: against this background, several animal-rights groups have been campaigning to raise consumers’ awareness on the issue and to push the demand for 'cruelty free' (or ‘not tested on animals’) cosmetics. To address these concerns, some cosmetic companies or suppliers have devised their own 'cruelty free' criteria and labelling schemes. Moreover, 1997 saw the birth of a new international standard on 'Not Tested on Animals'. It was developed by a coalition of animal protection groups from across the European Union and North America - including the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments and the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics - in order to harmonise the previous diversity of standards. The standard provides an historic opportunity to work on pressing the cosmetic industry to stop causing animal suffering in the name of vanity.

At first glance, one might think that products labelled ‘cruelty-free’ or ‘not tested on animals’ would be good choices. Unfortunately, this is not always true. The problem is that in many countries ‘cruelty-free’ is not clearly defined by law, so it can be used to mean just about anything a manufacturer wants it to mean. Further complicating the issue is the fact that many personal care products not labelled ‘cruelty-free’ are tested for safety using non-animal methods, the same methods used by those companies marketing their products as ‘cruelty-free’.

providing evidence: to support your introduction to the topic, you could use the YXC statistical sheets on animal testing [ facts & figures/ENVIRONMENTDark Side Of Beauty], bring in class examples of products with internationally recognised ‘cruelty free’ certifications such as the Leaping Bunny [ job opportunitiesEnding Animal Testing], and display some examples of ‘cruelty free campaigns’ [respecting our bodiesChoose Cf Australia].

ethodological suggestions:to develop this activity students could be asked to work in 2 groups.

bullet gathering information…

a) …on companies’ claims: as homework, you may ask students to list, by type of products (see the list below), the most used brands at home, the correspondent companies claims (e. g. "we don't test our products on animals", "we support imposing a ban on animal testing when alternative tests are available", etc.) and discuss their concrete meaning with other students. Company statements on this controversial issue are often carefully worded, and may need to be carefully examined...

Cosmeticsshave cream | after shaves | skin care (body cream | face mask) | hair colours | perfumes | hand & nails care | make up | sun care
Toiletrytooth paste | shower/bath soap | shampoo | hair conditioner | deodorant

b) ...on students consumption habits: Group A could be asked to make a survey among schools colleagues to check: (1) which are the main used cosmetic and toiletry products, and the most bought brands; (2) students’ awareness degree on animal testing issue: how many students pay attention to the issue, are worried about it, buy (or would buy) cruelty-free products, think something should be done to change the situation? Questions such as ‘Are cruelty free products easy to find on your market place?’ ‘Is ‘cruelty free’ more expensive than ‘tested-on-animals’ products?’ might also be addressed to better understand students positioning (e. g. one could not be able to buy cruelty-free just because their are difficult to find in local shops). Goal: take the school temperature and measure the possible support for an ‘no-animal testing’ action (e. g. how many students would mobilise to address a letter to a local/national cosmetics producer?)

c) ...on producers attitudes: Group B could redact a list of the most known local or national cosmetics and toiletry producers, and address them a questionnaire concerning their attitude towards animal testing (are their products tested on animals? Are products' single ingredients tested?). Goal: test producers’ responsiveness to consumers’ information requests.

bullet “Fair Beauty” campaign: students groups should be then invited to share their conclusions in class. Surveys’ results will be essential in determining the actions being undertaken. Two main scenarios can be foreseen.

a) Scenario 1: awareness on animal testing in the whole school is quite low. Students should be asked to prepare and distribute informative materials, organise seminars - also with the help of local animal rights organisations -, produce slide-presentations, videos, etc. to raise awareness among less interested colleagues.

b) Scenario 2: in the school, there’s a good level of awareness and people find animal testing for cosmetics development unfair. In this case, students could (1) choose a producer/distributor and address them a letter (signed by as many students as possible) asking to stop testing on animals; (2) collect signatures to ask public authorities to foster political measure banning animal testing for cosmetics development.

results assessment: the success of this pedagogical module can be measured by the following results:

  • informative goals: students understand the consequences of cosmetic animal testing, know and appreciate the alternatives (cruelty-free certified products); they can make the difference between marketing, generic claims and official certifications.
  • networking goals: students get in touch with other students and/or neighbouring schools to strength their campaigning action; they join a local animal-rights organisation working for ending animal testing.
(1) According to the Brussels-based European Environmental Bureau, there is an unusual alliance between anti vivisectionists and industry to stop REACH (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals). Animal welfare groups such as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) think the legislation will kill up to 10 million animals in tests where the chemicals will be poured into animals’ eyes. While a BUAV spokesman admit off the record that they cannot stop animal testing as part of REACH, they have tabled amendments to reduce its effects, requiring animal test data to be shared between countries - to reduce duplication of effort and unnecessary dead animals. Source: Pelle Neroth Taylor, “EU puts squeeze on animal testing - Seeking alternatives”, The Register newsletter, Monday 16th May 2005.
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