National Campaigns Manager
Online shopping is so much easier, isn’t it? But how to know which products are safe for me and my family? Well, Walmart recently announced a new initiative to reward companies it recognizes as Sustainability Leaders. Products made by these companies get to sport a nifty “made by Sustainability Leaders” eco-label on Walmart.com. I thought, hmm, maybe this is a good thing. Maybe Walmart is finally doing something to give consumers the information we need to make better choices for our health.
So I decided to try it out and look for a product I knew shouldn’t make the cut—Always feminine wipes made by Procter & Gamble. According to the ingredient label, Always wipes contain a bunch of different parabens, which are used as preservatives. Only problem—parabens have been linked to breast cancer! What else? Oh yeah, it also lists “fragrance”. Those of you who aren’t new to this game know that “fragrance” is just a catch-all term that could include dozens of different chemicals that companies aren’t legally required to tell us about. This is extremely problematic, since “fragrance” can include toxic chemicals like styrene (a carcinogen!), synthetic musks (hormone disruptors) and any number of fragrance allergens. P&G has stated that it allows any of these chemicals to be used in its fragranced products.
But guess what? According to Walmart.com, Always wipes deserves an eco-label. That can’t be right. I mean, all you have to do is look at the ingredient label to know this product is not the right choice for women’s health. So how did it meet Walmart’s standard?
Turns out, Walmart isn’t awarding eco-labels based on any review of the product’s impact to human health or the environment. If you’re as confused as I was, that’s understandable. Why would anyone start handing out eco-labels to products without first establishing any kind of standard that the product has to meet? Walmart’s answer to this question: The badge doesn’t actually indicate the sustainability of the product itself, but rather that the manufacturer is leading its industry in sustainability for a product category. Thus the “made by Sustainability Leaders” wording [emphasis added].
And Walmart doesn’t see anything wrong with this. The company’s website states, “This company and category level approach is a key element in helping customers reward companies that are leading in efforts to improve sustainability.”
Walmart is definitely right that consumers want to know which companies truly care about their health. But eco-seals on a product page on Walmart.com are misleading and confusing for consumers. When you’re shopping for feminine hygiene wipes on Walmart.com and you see the “made by Sustainability Leaders” eco-seal, are you looking for the fine print that says the product itself may not be safe? Probably not.
Walmart should keep in mind that consumers expect labels to really mean something. Consumers shouldn’t have to do extra research to determine if the products they’re buying are harmful to their health. It is the responsibility of product makers and retailers to convey clear and accurate information to their customers. We’re all for recognizing and rewarding companies truly moving the industry toward safer production, but Walmart’s Sustainability Leaders eco-label isn’t the right approach.
So my advice to you: if you’re shopping at Walmart.com, just ignore any eco-labels you see. Instead, as always, refer to our tips for avoiding toxic chemicals to keep yourself and your family safe from toxics.