How are beauty companies responding to the refugee crisis?


Andrew Burnyeat and Paul Cochrane report

It would be no surprise if 2015 came to be remembered as the year of the migrant crisis, as the Syrian war moved millions to flee. As harrowing pictures and stories reached a crescendo in the summer, many consumers responded with charitable aid and donations, and the cosmetics industry has been playing an important role.

As of December 2015, the United Nations (UN) says 13.5 million people need humanitarian support inside Syria, including 5.6 million children. Also 4.3 million people have fled Syria to find asylum in Europe.

Companies large and small have helped in different ways, one being UK-based cosmetics company Lush. There, ‘Grantmaker’ Rebecca Lush (whose surname is not linked to the brand) has led the company to donate to dozens of refugee projects. “We have also made dozens of financial donations to charities and groups supporting refugees and migrants over many years, too,” she says. The company’s ‘Earth Care’ team, based at Lush’s factory in Poole, Dorset, has been organising pallet loads of product donations to groups that are taking aid over to Calais, France, where many refugees are in camps, under the guidance of Team Facilitator Suzy Hill.

Campaigns to benefit from the company’s Charity Pot fund include ‘A Village in Syria’, which primarily supports one village in northeast Syria, whose identity is kept confidential. Lush also supports dozens of UK-based support charities around the country; a protest march, Dignity for Asylum Seekers; an interpreter network for refugees, Intervoice; the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees; and a film project about migrants in Greece called Into the Fire.

In Australia, Lush’s chain of 25 stores donated the proceeds of sales of its Helping Hands hand lotion between 1-7 October to the Melbourne-based Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

C&T giants on board

Larger companies have also been active. Back in September, at the height of the crisis, L’Oréal announced support for the Red Cross initiative for refugees in France. The beauty company donated hygiene and skin care products such as gels, body creams, hair care products and wipes for children. In addition, the L’Oréal Foundation, the company’s charitable arm, picked five associations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to which company employees can donate personally. These were the French Red Cross, the UN International Children’s Fund, Médecins du Monde, humanitarian relief charity La Chaîne de l’Espoir and

the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – all help refugees and migrants in different ways. L’Oréal subsidiaries in other countries affected by the crisis have also donated hygiene products.

The Paris attacks of 13 November do not appear to have changed the attitude of the industry towards the crisis. Another global giant, US-based Johnson & Johnson, announced US$1.75m of help to support Save the Children’s efforts for Syrian refugees – four days after the attacks.

Alex Gorsky, Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, said in a communiqué: “The distressing images of families caught in the global refugee crisis highlight the importance of our ongoing commitment to Save the Children.”

The money will address immediate needs such as food, clean water, safe shelter, hygiene resources and winter clothing,

as well as longer term recovery, education, mental health support and community-building initiatives for displaced families. Joaquin Duato, Worldwide Chairman of Pharmaceuticals at Johnson & Johnson and a member of the Save the Children Board of Trustees, added: “We are fortunate to have strong partners like Save the Children to respond to the immediate challenges in Syria, as well as creating a sustainable and brighter future for those touched by this crisis.”

Save the Children’s President and CEO, Carolyn Miles, said the cosmetics industry had helped response teams in Greece, Italy, Serbia and Germany to offer supplies and shelter. Speaking about the Johnson & Johnson donation, she said it would “provide for the immediate needs of thousands of children on the run, as well as recovery programmes that can help them find hope again”.

The company does have a strong track record of helping refugees in and from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries over several years. Projects have included training for paediatricians and donations of blankets, hygiene products and trauma equipment. Only last year, the company donated $10m for a Save the Children programme of support to tackle infant mortality and other projects.

Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble has also been involved in helping Syrian refugees, supporting projects such as burgeoning German food recycling project Die Tafeln and established groups that help refugees elsewhere in Europe, such as Dons Solidaires in France; Foundation Ana and Vlade Divac in Serbia; the International Medical Corps in Greece and Turkey; and local Red Cross organisations elsewhere.

Procter & Gamble’s Corporate Communications Manager for Northern Europe, Holly Simpson, explains: “Employees and brands such as Pantene and Oral-B are committed to joining together to help where we can, to get our products to people who need them most.”

She adds: “We’ve been following the refugee disaster closely and are receiving on-the-ground updates from our partners, so we understand how best we can help. We are actively involved to support the relief efforts in Europe.” Simpson continues: “We are providing everyday essentials such as shampoos, razors, toothpaste nappies and pads, as well as helping support emergency health and psychological first aid.”

Lebanon & Jordan

Of course, the countries most affected by the conflict are Syria’s neighbours. Lebanon has taken in over more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, with around one million registered by the UNHCR in 2014 – all mixed into the general population. Jordan has 937,830 registered refugees, according to the UNHCR, many in organised camps. But this increase in population has not yielded reliable data increases in sales of cosmetics and toiletries, as retailers do not keep tabs on locals buying versus refugees. If sales have increased, it is of low-priced goods, reflecting refugees’ low purchasing power. Furthermore, aid agencies are providing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) kits to refugees, and these goods are often imported directly by these organisations.

“The influx of Syrians has not led to more sales, as they lack money,” says Fadi Sawaya, CEO of the Beirut-based Sawaya Group, a cosmetics distributor.

According to a member of French aid relief agency Agence d’Aide à la Coopération Technique et au Développement (ACTED), many aid agencies have started to move away over the past year from distributing WASH kits, and instead are giving cash directly so refugees can purchase what they want.

If this trend continues, it is likely to boost local toiletries sales.

For WASH kits, local purchasing is favoured, although it depends on budget allocation and pricing, says the ACTED member. Full hygiene kits contain a 750ml shampoo bottle, a 125ml tube of toothpaste, four adult and four children’s toothbrushes, five 125g bars of soap and a 150ml insect repellent, while replenishment kits contain a 1 litre bottle of shampoo, a 150ml tube of toothpaste, twelve 125g bars of soap and insect repellent. Infant hygiene kits contain four 100g containers of talcum powder, a 750ml bottle of baby shampoo and two 75ml bottles of nappy/diaper rash cream.