Big Corporations – The 5TH Horseman Of The Apocalypse?
In many internet forums that discuss cosmetics, there is often a great deal of hostility towards “big corporations”. There is a strong tendency to attack them and accuse them of only being out to make obscene profits and not caring in the slightest about consumer safety; profit being the sole motivation. I have never yet seen anyone actually provide evidence for the lack of concern for consumer safety, but it certainly stands to reason that the big corporations try to make good profits. Unless you are a charity, it’s commercial suicide NOT to try to make a profit! Another angle for this attack is the level of profit these companies allegedly make. Given that the “big corporations” are extremely large, it follows that their profits are somewhat greater than the average-sized business, and enormously greater than any one-man business. The size of the profit is irrelevant when expressed in absolute terms without reference to the context (e.g. the turnover of the company, or the number of employees). The larger the company, the higher the turnover and (hopefully) profit, but the greater the overheads, and the greater the advertising spend, for example. Big companies can do many things that small companies cannot do, but this all costs money, of course. Another luxury that the big corporations can afford is their own group of toxicologists to evaluate the safety of all their products. I will come back to this point later!
Yet another accusation is that these companies use dangerous ingredients in order to further boost profits, because they are cheap. This is an illogical argument, as there is no connection whatsoever between the cost of an ingredient and its toxicity. Glycerine is fairly cheap, and extremely safe, for example. Basically, the rant against the “evil” big corporations is far more to do with politics than consumer safety, and the perceived “unfairness” of making a profit – ignoring the fact that these corporations provide employment to many hundreds of thousands of people, and produce goods that are extremely popular.
Do “big corporations” care? How do you evaluate this? The major decisions are usually taken at the highest levels of the corporate structure – those decision-makers are far removed from the cosmetic scientists who develop the actual products and who make the decision on which ingredients should be used. There may be 4 or 5 levels of management separating them, so the “evil” corporate bosses are not the ones making the critical decisions that affect the safety of the consumer, and nor are they likely to have much understanding of the toxicology of cosmetic ingredients. This is why cosmetic scientists and toxicologists are employed by the large corporations, because they DO have this understanding. The implication of those ranting against these corporations is that their employees are guilty, in effect, of murder or, at best manslaughter. Is it possible that all cosmetic scientists have no conscience? Corporations are staffed by real people, who have a conscience, and are unlikely to put themselves and their relatives and friends at risk by knowingly formulating potentially dangerous products.
As with any gross generalisation, it is wrong to claim that ALL large corporations are unethical, but it is equally wrong to claim that they are ALL ethical. However, in a recent Ethisphere Institute list of the world’s most ethical companies, the top ones listed included L’Oreal, Shiseido, Colgate-Palmolive, Kao, Kimberley-Clark and Henkel – all major personal care manufacturers. One can only wonder how these “evil corporations” managed to fool the staff at the Ethisphere Institute who compiled that list!
Attacking a company for being large has no place in a discussion on safety – size is DEFINITELY not important – and suggests that the attacker has no other argument to offer. This approach is intellectually redundant.
More about the author: Dene Godfrey has been involved with preservatives for cosmetics since 1981, from both technical and commercial angles and has a degree in chemistry. Read more from this author