Very Vegan Problems: The Parent Company Dilemma

What a lot of people tend to forget about veganism, is that it is not a diet - hell, it isn't even a lifestyle; it's simply a moral stance, the same as "child molestation is wrong" is an ethical stance. As such it is applied to all areas of a vegan's life. Veganism is simply the belief that it is morally corrupt to harm or exploit animals, unnecessarily, for human gain - and within that, vegans dismiss any form of speciesism (the notion that any one species is more important than another). 

So, not only do vegans seek not to eat any animal's flesh, blood, reproductive secretions or other parts of a creature, but they also attempt not to use them in other areas of their lives too. Unfortunately, because the use of animal products is the norm, it's almost impossible to avoid these products altogether. By using public transport for example, one steps inside a vehicle whose tyres contain parts of a cow. However, there are animal uses than can be easily avoided, in cosmetics and household products for example.

A vegan cosmetic product is one which contains no animal products what so ever, but that also has not been tested on animals, or party to any other form of animal exploitation. There are products out there that do not contain any animal ingredients, but are made by companies who test on animals. There are also products which are not tested on animals, but do contain animal products. Neither of these types of products would be suitable for a vegan. 
However, things get a lot more complicated when you begin to consider parent companies. The Body Shop, for example, are a brand that many recognise as cruelty free. They've always been outspoken about opposing animal testing, and sourcing fair-trade ingredients; and whilst some of their products do contain animal ingredients, such as honey, they do have an extensive list of vegan friendly items.

However, it isn't just the fact that their product inventory isn't 100% vegan that might put some off - The Body Shop are owned by L'Oreal - who themselves are part of the Nestle family, companies which are recognised as being essentially unethical in their practices. 

L'Oreal have a long history of involvement in barbaric animal testing, and still use Chinese governmental laboratories to test their products on animals. Nestle, as a huge parent company, are one of the greatest corporate violators of human rights on the planet. So, whilst The Body Shop continue not to test on animals, and to ethically source all non-animal ingredients, can they be considered a cruelty free brand when they're owned by companies who clearly contradict vegan philosophy?

The Body Shop is a common example, but there are many more. L'Oreal also own Urban Decay, who again, are very anti-animal testing, and go so far as to indicate on packaging all of their vegan products. Superdrug, who are celebrated by the vegan community for making all of their own-brand products vegan friendly and cruelty free, are in fact part of the A.S Watson Group, a Japanese owned health and beauty giant that allows for extensive Chinese testing on animal subjects.

It's a tough call. Vegans generally fall in to two camps on this subject;
  1. the smaller "cruelty-free" brands should be avoided because by purchasing their products you directly contribute to the parent companies and fund their unethical practices.
  2. the smaller "cruelty-free" brands should be supported, because by buying from them, we send a message to the larger parent companies that these brands are in demand.
Personally, I fall in to the second camp. I believe that every pound we spend can be considered a "vote" for the type of world we want to live in. Where possible I love to shop with 100% vegan companies, but they're really few and far between (though absolutely do exist). In the mean time though, I'll buy from The Body Shop and hope that Nestle are listening. I'll also buy vegan products from shops like LUSH, in the hope that they realise that vegan is in demand, and convert their non-vegan products to cruelty free alternatives. 

I think unless you're almost entirely self sufficient, growing all of your own vegetables, fruit and grain, textiles and so on, it's very difficult to live by the first of the two philosophies above. Every time I buy a block of tofu, I invariably walk in to a shop which sells meat. I buy my plant based milks from supermarkets which fund animal agriculture. I can't avoid these companies altogether, but I can show them that they need to continue to develop vegan lines because I intend to carry on buying them. That's where I stand anyway!

I think it's very important for all vegans to remember, but especially the "new" vegans taking part in this year's Veganuary "challenge", that it's almost impossible to live an entirely vegan existence, because of the cruel and rather corrupt world that you live in. There will always be one arsehole saying "yeah but they use cows to make tarmac so you can't leave your house if you're vegan", or something equally tiresome. Being vegan is about limiting suffering, across the globe, it's a compassionate movement that seeks to avoid harm - and any intelligent vegan knows that it's impossible to live a cruelty free existence in a cruel world. We can speak out against the cruelty though, and buying vegan products from non-vegan companies is just one way in which we can try to make our voices heard.

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