Asian cosmetic companies face sustainability issues

A “low priority” is being given to sustainability programmes, with companies choosing to focus on CSR and "some environmental issues" instead

Asian cosmetic and ingredient companies are falling behind their Western counterparts when it comes to sustainability, according to Organic Monitor.

The research company has concerns that, despite being an established source of cosmetic ingredients, Asian cosmetic and ingredients companies are still treating sustainability issues as a “low priority”, with low involvement in ethical sourcing programmes including those set up by Western companies. Asian companies are choosing to focus on CSR and "some environmental issues" instead. Today, the region has lost 95% of its primary, uncut forests, while individual countries have lost up to 90% of their natural habitats.

Specific concerns include the deforestation and draining of wetlands for agriculture for cosmetic raw materials, with the production of palm oil identified as directly responsible for the destruction of tropical rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as being a factor behind the critically endangered status of animals such as the orangutan and Sumatra tiger.

The sustainable supply of ingredients such as fragrances and natural actives, which are indigenous to the region, is also identified as a concern. Due to the high incidence of illegal logging, sandalwood is now mainly produced in Australia, despite being native to India and Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, ethical issues surround animal based ingredients used in cosmetic products such as shark liver oil, which is widely used by Asian companies.

Currently, the Asia-Pacific region accounts for almost half of global organic farmland, however, it contributes less than a 5% share of international organic product sales. Furthermore, over 90% of RSPO sustainable palm oil is produced in Asia, although Europe and North America represent the bulk of demand.

The issue of sustainability in Asia will be discussed in more detail at the third Asia-Pacific edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, which takes place in Hong Kong from 11-13 November.

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