Brazil's Natura Cosmetics may be the world's biggest B Corp -- but here's what they're not telling you

Natura cosmetics
Promo image Natura

Despite Natura's seemingly excellent and forward-thinking business model, their list of ingredients is surprisingly awful and toxic, which calls into question the B Corp certification standards.

The ‘benefit corporation,’ or B Corp, movement has a noble goal – to redefine success in business by including often-forgotten social and environment factors. It describes itself as being to business “what Fair Trade is to coffee or USDA organic certification is to milk,” where ethics, and not just profit, matter.

When companies of all shapes and sizes meet B Corp standards for transparency, accountability, and the ethical treatment of employees, they are able to use the ‘Certified B Corporations’ seal that appears on a growing number of commercially available products. Already there are 1,195 B Corps in 37 countries spanning 121 industries, which means you’ve probably already run into this seal on several occasions.

Earlier in December, B Corp welcomed its biggest addition yet – a publicly owned company called Natura that revenues around USD $3 billion per year and is Brazil’s second-largest cosmetics brand. The company gained B Corp certification because it conducts business in a refreshing and atypical fashion.

“Considering Brazil’s polarized political climate and conservative business community, Natura has accomplished much by going against the grain.”

Many of Natura’s products are based on indigenous Brazilian fruits and vegetables, such as the now-trendy açaí, maracujá (passion fruit), pitanga, etc. These are harvested by farmers in small communities, usually in the Amazon region, and 3 percent of company profits are invested back into the communities to improve education and infrastructure. Harvesting operations are designed to be sustainable.

Full-time employees receive private supplemental insurance, and over 75 percent of employees participate in the company’s profit-sharing program. More than 50 percent of Natura’s managers are women.

Natura produces an annual report that is reviewed and validated by a third party and is accessible to the public. It covers details on water use, power use, and waste production. The company uses renewable energy generated on-site and keeps track of its greenhouse gas emissions, with a goal toward becoming carbon-neutral. Its packaging is made from recycled materials.

“Considering Brazil’s polarized political climate and conservative business community, Natura has accomplished much by going against the grain,” Triple Pundit reported earlier this week.

I can attest to the fact that Natura is huge here in Brazil. It is a much sought-after brand, usually sold from a home catalogue that receives tremendous attention. Over the years, I have bought a few Natura products, particularly from its EKOS line. They are very nice products, but there’s one gaping hole in this entire discussion about environmental transparency that I am surprised did not inhibit Natura’s ability to get B Corp certification – and that is their list of ingredients.

But they are loaded with toxic chemicals.

The company clearly uses its indigenous, Amazonian, back-to-the-land persona to greenwash products that are, in fact, loaded with toxic chemicals such as parfum, carcinogenic PEG compounds, coal tar dyes (listed as CI followed by a 5-digit number), endocrine-disrupting BHT preservatives, and lauryl sulfate, among countless others. Natura’s list of ingredients reads more like David Suzuki’s list of “Dirty Dozen cosmetics chemicals to avoid” than a truly green, earthy company trying to produce as clean a product as possible.

I now avoid Natura products, mostly because of the ingredients, but also because I once had a terrible rash break out on my hand whenever I used their hydrating passion fruit lotion.

It would be nice if the B Corp certifying body demanded ingredient purity of cosmetics companies before granting certification, because that would go a long ways toward benefiting our planet and individual health. Until then, I have trouble taking the seal all that seriously.

Tags: Brazil | Corporate Responsibility | Cosmetics

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