Cosmetic companies and some alternatives to cruelty

There is a religion still practiced in India today known as Jainism that can, by some accounts, trace it’s roots back to 3000 BC and may be one of the oldest religions on our planet. It certainly pre-dates by many centuries the lives of Jesus Christ and Mohammed. At the core of Jainist belief is the concept of ahimsa, or non-violence towards all forms of life, whether in thought, word or deed. The most devout Jains will cover their mouths with a veil and sweep the ground before them as they walk in order to avoid harming or killing insects. Hospitals for animals are a prominent aspect of their benevolent activities. Jainism reflects a deep compassion for all facets of the living world.

While few of us in the west can imagine practicing the life of a Jain ascetic, we do seem to share a love of animals, at least those that we have managed to domesticate. Most of us would like to lock away anyone who is charged with the willful abuse of animals. If the subject turns to the abuse of animals in laboratories however, the conversation can get a bit strained. But can we separate the debate over the morality of experimenting on animals for critical medical research, from the (non) debate over the ethics of experimentation for cosmetic purposes?

Despite the international success attained by The Body Shop, founded 26 years ago by Anita Roddick, the cosmetics industry is still dominated by a few very large players – Procter and Gamble, Unilever, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, and Schering-Plough. What these five companies have in common is their refusal to abandon the testing of their products on animals. (For a complete listing of companies that do and don’t test, see www.peta.org/mall/cc.html). I considered listing some of the personal and household care products that are manufactured by this group but this space is not big enough and besides, I don’t want to make you feel too uncomfortable. Rather than harp on the negative, I’d prefer to accentuate the positive.

There are many companies in the cosmetics/personal care industry that have voluntarily withdrawn from testing their products on animals, and are indeed active in campaigning against this kind of cruelty. In addition to the aforementioned Body Shop, you may want to look into the products made by Aveda, Chanel, Clinique, Orly, Paul Mitchell, Estee Lauder, Mary Kay and Wella. You may also be interested in products supplied by a number of locally-based retailers and ‘cottage’ suppliers, however, as I am an investment advisor and this column is about ethical investing, I would like to highlight some publicly-traded companies that have a ‘do not test’ policy.

I am currently tracking a number of companies that to some extent provide an investment alternative to the big nasties. The most interesting of these is well known Avon (ticker symbol AVP on the New York Exchange). Avon is the sixth largest global beauty company, they have a consistent record of earnings growth, strong cash flow and credit ratings and a unique geographic diversity. At the end of November their stock was trading at US$52 per share, and returning a dividend of $0.80 to shareholders. They have easily outperformed the Standard and Poors 500 index of America’s largest companies over the last 10 years and more recently, while the S&P declined almost 40% in the last three miserable years for stocks, Avon has surged ahead by 60%. Interestingly, 86% of management positions at Avon are filled by women. They were one of the first companies in the cosmetics business to adopt a ‘no testing on animals’ policy.

Other widely known companies that are demonstrating a more compassionate approach towards animals are Revlon (ticker REV), Liz Claiborne (ticker LIZ), and Tommy Hilfiger (ticker TOM). All three of these companies have extensive lines of cosmetics and personal care products and all are listed on the New York stock exchange. The most successful in terms of rewarding shareholders has been Liz Claiborne. At the end of November, Liz Claiborne was trading at US$32 per share, an all time high for the stock. They also have a dividend of $0.24 a share. Revlon at US$3.85 and Tommy Hilfiger at US$8.10 are both trading at prices well below their previous highs. One company I haven’t quite figured out yet is L’Oreal. They claim to have stopped animal testing several years ago, yet other sources indicate differently. Their stock recently traded at US$14.30, about the same as where it was five years ago. Don’t be surprised if many of these companies, both good and bad, have found their way into your portfolio. Check your mutual fund company’s annual report to get a detailed breakdown of what your RRSP or non-registered account is supporting.

With the Christmas holiday nearly upon us, I hope we can all spare a thought or deed for the less fortunate among us, two-legged and four. Since we are the only species that is capable of caring for all the other species that share this earth, it seems that we are indeed meant to act as shepherds in one way or another. What a special privilege and responsibility!