The chemical industry and its customers are at odds in the way they view risk

Karen Harries-Rees/London, UK

The chemical industry and its customers are at odds in the way they view risk, delegates were told at the UK Chemical Industries Association (CIA) business issues conference in London, UK.

Paul Wilkes, head of regulatory affairs for The Body Shop International, told delegates that retailers, such as The Body Shop, focus on immediate hazards, while chemists and the chemical industry take a longer term risk-management approach.

The public is increasingly risk-averse, he said, and sales of the company’s cosmetics drop immediately following a media scare on chemicals. If there is an alternative chemical that can be used, the company will swap to it, he added.

For instance, some phthalates are banned in cosmetics. While phthalates are not added intentionally, said Wilkes, they can be found at parts per million concentrations in cosmetics. To a non-governmental organisation (NGO) this is indefensible, he said. ’They will say we haven’t got quality control in our factories. NGOs won’t listen to a risk-based approach.’

He also emphasised the need to communicate throughout the supply chain. ’Getting communication right is very time consuming but it is very important,’ he said. The Body Shop needs to meet both the legislative requirements in the countries where its cosmetics are sold and its customers’ expectations of the brand.

To do this, the information it needs from suppliers includes whether the raw material contains chemicals of concern, the outline of the synthesis process, and inputs and outputs to the environment.

Judith Hackitt, director general of the CIA, welcomed this information, saying ’the clearer you can be for industry on what you want, the better that is for the industry.’