Campaign For Safe Cosmetics Treats Compact Signers Unfairly [Video]

by Donna Maria on August 9, 2010 · View Comments

Today’s Indie Business Podcast featured Lauren Sheahan of LaurEss Cosmetics in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Lauren is a wife and mother who started her business in 2003. She rents a manufacturing facility in Green Bay and between her, her husband and one woman, she has three employees. Lauren became a signer of the Compact For Safe Cosmetics (CFSC) in 2005. On today’s podcast, she discussed the experience. The audio will be published in a day or two. In the meantime, I wanted to share some of the things Lauren told me on the show — things that are very disturbing to me. If you are a Compact signer, you may want to watch this video with an eye toward what questions you may want to try to ask CFSC in the conference call they have scheduled for later this week.

Here are some of the things I found particularly disturbing:

  1. Lauren gets no advance notice when her ingredients or products are “downgraded”. Lauren says she has to “babysit” the database because she gets no advance notice of when her ingredients or products are downgraded. She may log on one day and see a certain rating, then log on the next day and see another rating. She is not given any notice of changes to how her company is being represented to consumers, and when she asks for an explanation, she never gets one.

  2. Lauren cannot oppose the studies used to substantiate the database. Lauren says that EWG and Campaign For Safe Cosmetics do not allow her to oppose or provide any balancing commentary with regard to the studies used to rate her company in advance. She is not told of the criteria used to determine how specific studies are chosen as authoritative, how much weight they are given vis a vis other studies, who pays for the studies and what studies, if any, were considered but not included when creating ingredient and product ratings. She is not allowed to post any comments to the database so that consumers have a more balanced view of her company. She’s limited to what they say she can say, and is at their mercy with regard to how her business is portrayed.

  3. Lauren has been unable to get her company removed from the database. After trying many times, Lauren still can’t get her brand removed from the database. The database now says she’s not a Compact signer, but despite numerous written requests, she cannot get her brand name removed entirely.

    I think it’s It’s unfair, even despicable, that an organization saying it’s trying to be helpful to small companies would allow unchallenged information to remain in their database, especially when their own Compact signer is not given an opportunity to challenge, appeal or oppose the information published.

  4. Lauren got no advance notice from CFSC before introduction of H.R. 5786. As a Compact signer, you would think that Lauren and her colleagues would have been asked in advance for their thoughts and input on H.R. 5786. Believe it or not, they were not given any warning or information about what CFSC was doing behind their backs.

    Lauren said she learned of the new legislation via FaceBook. Of course, this week, CFSC is hosting a call so Compact signers can ask questions about the bill.

    How interesting to sponsor legislation affecting your own Compact signers, using information they provide to you for what they think are helpful reasons, and then ask them for their thoughts after the fact.

This lack of transparency is quite awful. This is not a situation where consumers share online input about the products they buy, as in the case of Yelp for example. This is a situation where special interest groups attracted small businesses to sign on to a cause we all agree with — safe cosmetics — and then proceeded to change the rules mid-game, and pull the rug out from under them. No notice. No opportunity to be heard. No chance to appeal.

And now, via H.R. 5786, they have convinced several lawmakers to introduce a bill that would give the federal government that same power.

Let me say that another way –

Imagine the United States government having this kind of unmitigated power over a private, family owned business which constitutes the only job a woman has to support herself and her children.

Just imagine.

What do you think?

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Teri Dourmashkin August 10, 2010 at 4:00 am

I am a compact signer and totally agree with what both you and Lauren say. I too have been surprised to go onto Skin Deep only to find that not only did some of the ingredients get upgraded, but that it changed two of my products from a 2 to a 3 hazard rating. That put it in the “moderate” hazard category from “low hazard.” It turns out that it was a mistake they made in their data base. I had supplied them with enough information for what constitutes the emulsifying wax that I use, but somehow their system missed it. They reversed it back to a “2″ rating within a few hours. So, they apparently do not contact us signers about anything. And I found it outrageous how they did not at least tell us that 5786 was coming down the pike.

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2 Marianne August 10, 2010 at 4:43 am

I was a compact signer and thank goodness I never submitted my products to their database. I have been leary of their approach for a while and have to spend time educating my clients about this the skin deep website and CFSC. I too think it is egregious how they have treated their signers, without any discussions or input. Is it going to take a lawsuit to get them to stop what they are doing to small businesses?

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3 Kristin Fraser Cotte August 10, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Truly sad this is a story so many small, innovative, natural companies have been telling through their own experiences. It took me 5 written requests, multiple blogs, public outings through social media and threatening legal action to finally get The Grapeseed Co. removed entirely from The campaign for Safe Cosmetics. This process was over the course of 9 months, with the last 3 written requests as soon as I got wind of The Safe Cosmetics Act. We cannot allow CFSC to continue to use our companies to support this poorly written bill. Holding companies hostage as signers on the compact against their will is dishonest, frustrating and despicable. I am glad to no longer be affiliated with The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Be strong, persistent, and do not settle until you receive confirmation you have been removed.

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4 Scandle Candle August 10, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Well, I'm so glad that we didn't submit any information to them about our ingredients! We're in their database as “non-compact” signers because I had asked them to remove us repeatedly when the first Act came about (which was an uphill battle). I can't believe this and it's very upsetting.

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5 LaurEss August 10, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I have been talking to some lawyers, just casually not in a formal sense, about this issue and there seems to be a consensus that this may be a case of slander, since they are stating our products are hazardous and are able to hurt our sales, despite the fact that we (and all their signers) use the safest ingredients available.

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6 Anonymous August 11, 2010 at 1:49 am

Interestingly, Stacy has written on some blogs that it is not correct to say that coffee and olive oil would be banned. I wonder if she personally plans to oversee every ingredient that is allowable. Because if carcinogens are banned, that means coffee is banned. If estrogens are banned that means olive oil is banned. Ask her if she has already been appointed to a position to determine which carcinogens and estrogens are allowable and which are prohibited.

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7 Kristin Fraser Cotte August 11, 2010 at 2:02 am

I saw that recently Cindy, and was wondering (yet again) where her science was behind that statement. She just made the blanket statement “coffee and olive oil wouldn’t be banned” and said the opposition was starting rumors or something of that sort.

Clearly proving, again, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics does not understand the science behind the language in the bill…

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8 Anonymous August 11, 2010 at 2:07 am

It also makes me very suspicious as to who exactly would be in control of that FDA list of what is and isn’t safe!

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9 Jennifer Hardaway August 11, 2010 at 3:09 am

Thanks for a great video Donna Maria! I have heard this story before, also. I’m getting ready to tell my customers what’s going on with this bill and how it will effect them. Thank you everyone for your comments and blog posts. I’ll be linking to them in my blog post!

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10 Sagescript August 10, 2010 at 10:51 pm

I think also that you should ask them to name just a few ingredients that are ok under this bill; ingredients that do not cause any reaction in 1 in a million people; ingredients that do not contain any level of any carcinogen or any level of any estrogenic compounds. I cannot think of any ingredients – at least not ones that I would want to use.

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11 Ann August 11, 2010 at 5:30 am

And how do you trust such people after all is said and done.

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12 Donna Maria Coles Johnson August 11, 2010 at 12:34 am

You are a pioneer in the business, Kristin. A true industry leader, and I am so excited at all you are accomplishing. It is regrettable indeed that CFSC is treats its own Compact signers with such disrespect. I'm glad you had the resources to take action with respect to your company, and inspire others to do the same. Congratulations on the media feature today, and on your store to open soon!

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13 Donna Maria Coles Johnson August 11, 2010 at 12:36 am

Teri: How awful that you had to take your time to get them to correct information they should have researched in advance, before putting it out to the public. It seems very much like their strategy is to shoot before they aim, knowing that most small companies don't have the time or expertise to really question their database positions. With all you have to do to produce safe cosmetics already, imagine having the federal government maintaining a database like this one — which is what CFSC is asking Congress to require. Can you just consider what it would be like to contend with the resources of the United States government on these types of issues?

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14 Donna Maria Coles Johnson August 11, 2010 at 12:37 am

That would be an interesting question. I hope some people see this comment and ask. My guess is that CFSC will tightly control this call, not make a recording or transcript of it, and make room only for questions they clear in advance. Seems they have changed things from the original plan and now, you have to ask your questions in advance. What a surprise …

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15 Donna Maria Coles Johnson August 11, 2010 at 12:39 am

Indeed it is upsetting, Christine. I'm glad you never took it to the next level. Others seem to have been totally duped by CFSC saying they had good intentions vis a vis Compact signers, when clearly, they did not. “Upsetting” is a nice way to put it. You are doing a fantastic job with your wonderful lotion candles, and I'm excited each time I go to a spa and see your products for sale in the retail area!

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16 Donna Maria Coles Johnson August 11, 2010 at 12:41 am

Lauren is not the only person who has asked me for an opinion on whether there may be a cause of action for slander. I don't know the answer, but I agree it is a good question and one that businesses must consider when a third party engages in conduct that wrecklessly causes and then disregards the adverse impact on others.

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17 Sagescript August 11, 2010 at 12:47 am

Oh my, I guess that doesn't surprise me though since they do not allow blog comments that contradict their opinions. I do hope too that some Indies will be in on that call.

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18 LaurEss August 11, 2010 at 1:04 am

Another interesting incident, a few months ago I got a request from a company to wholesale our products overseas. We like to really know our wholesalers so we had several discussions. In one of those talks it came out that they had originally talked to another company (no names were used) but found out that company was no longer a Compact signer. They felt the company had been kicked off the compact for using “bad” ingredients. Therefore, at least one company out there has lost out on big business because they are not a signer anymore. The saddest thing is they probably had to beg, plead, and grovel just to get their name off the list and here a potential business partner assumes they were kicked off! I can't for the life of me figure out why people give them (the EWG) so much credibility when there is no oversight of their claims!

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19 Donna Maria Coles Johnson August 11, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I’m so glad it’s helpful Jen. Please let me know when your post is done!

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20 Donna Maria Coles Johnson August 11, 2010 at 2:59 pm

It would be people who transplant themselves from CFSC and EWG right into the halls of government power. That seems most likely to me, and I think that’s what this is all about. Book sales, egos and power at the expense of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens — the men and women seeking to build a little bit of wealth and take care of their families. It’s not cancer from cosmetics that’s killing them; it’s lack of a chance to better their situations through small business ownership due to bills that eventually become law and strangle their potential.

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21 Gina Rafkind August 12, 2010 at 12:11 am

Wow, this is crazy. Thanks so much Donna Maria for all the information you are supplying us with and allowing us to understand what is going on in a way that is simplified and in a way that puts everything in plain English.
Thank you!

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22 Teri August 14, 2010 at 5:33 am

I was on the conference call for compact signers on Wednesday (I posted a piece on this on my blog at http://www.laviecelesteskincare.com. It is also on the La Vie Celeste Skin Care facebook page if anyone is interested). Lisa Archer of the CFSC stated that any ingredient classified as a carcinogen would be guilty until prooven innocent. Can you imagine the money that would be required to test for this? And who is going to pay for that? She did say that caffeine may not need to be prohibited. They also stated that it was very unlikely that we would need to test our finished products and that the massive data base would serve to avoid duplicate testing. At one point, a compact signer commented that lavender had as many as 200 constituents and to that Lisa replied, “I did not know that lavender had any constitutents.” It seems to me that this is something she should know given the amount of influence her organization has had on certain members of Congress.

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23 Teri August 14, 2010 at 5:35 am

Yes Donna Maria..it would be one scary mess. Thanks again for your tireless efforts regarding this issue.

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24 Kristin Fraser Cotte August 14, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Very insightful Teri, and proves that The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics does not understand the science behind the language in the bill. It seems quite ignorant to be pushing something so fiercely that they do not have a scientific grasp of…

As a former signer, it’s downright scary how many small business owners and entrepreneurs who literally helped build the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics will be affected by this. CSC would not be where they are today without all of our companies who signed their compact and put products in their database. I feel like I’ve had a knife put in my back.

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25 Donna Maria Coles Johnson August 14, 2010 at 4:53 pm

It is a little nuts, and wholly unfair.

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26 Teri August 15, 2010 at 3:01 am

I certainly understand how you feel about being betrayed by them, to put it diplomatically. And there have been numerous instances where they just don’t get their facts right. In “The Story of Cosmetics,” if I recall correctly, Annie Lenonard states that the FDA does not have labeling requirements which is completely untrue. I know first hand because I read pages of their legally enforceable requirements. After I wrote the copy for my packaging, I then hired a lawyer to go over everything to make sure I was compliant regarding product claims. So, either they are outright liars, or just lazy by not having done their homework. I just think it makes them look like fools. And if I were Lisa Archer, I never would have made that comment about not knowing that lavender has approximately 200 constituents. You would think that she would have been smart enough to realize how that would have come off..but I guess it just slipped out!

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