Shareholders Want Avon
to Walk the Walk
Runs for the Cure, Walks for the Cure, Pink Ribbon Campaigns - many cosmetic companies are prominent in raising funds for breast cancer research. But often these same companies market cosmetic and body care products with ingredients which are known, probable or suspected carcinogens.
Breast Cancer Action (BCA), a nonprofit education and advocacy group in the US, is using shareholder activism to convince Avon to walk the walk, and eliminate phthalates and parabens from their products. BCA argues that these chemicals can contribute to breast cancer.
BCA members bought shares in Avon. Prior to the 2004 shareholders meeting, they filed a resolution that Avon study the feasability of removing parabens from its products. At the meeting in May 2004, 8.7% of shareholders voted in favour of the resolution. This means the issue can be reraised next year, and puts pressure on Avon to act.
One week prior to the meeting, Avon responded to a resolution filed in 2003 by shareholder members of Breast Cancer Action. The resolution asked that Avon study the feasibility of removing another chemical group, phthalates, from their products. Avon has now pledged to remove dibutyl phthalates (DBP), one of the phthalates of greatest concern, from their products.
Recent studies show that both parabens
and phthalates may be linked to cancer. Parabens are chemical preservatives
that have been identifies as estrogenic and which disrupt normal hormone
functioning. Estrogenic chemicals mimic the function of the naturally occurring
hormone estrogen. Exposure to external estrogens has been shown to increase
the risk of breast cancer. Evidence suggests that young females with
developing breast tissue are particularly vulnerable to the increased breast
cancer risk associated with exposure to external estrogens.
Avon is not the only company that supports breast cancer research while marketing products containing known, probable or suspected carcinogens. Revlon sponsors an annual 5K Run/Walk for Women that in part funds the Revlon/UCLA Women’s Cancer Research Program. Yet a recent study from the Environmental Working Group, Skin Deep (www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep) which rated products from 1-10 (10 indicating the highest amounts of hazardous ingredients), found over 80% of the Revlon products tested rated 7.2 or higher.
Mary Kay, whose web site proclaims that the company’s charitable foundation is ”committed to eliminating cancers affecting women,” does not make it easy for consumers to find out if its products contain potentially harmful ingredients. In 2004, Mary Kay was a vocal opponent of a bill in the California legislature which would have upheld the public's right to know about carcinogenic and reproductive toxins in cosmetics and personal care products.