Open Letter Calling on Unilever to be Toxic-Free

Media Contacts
Dev Gowda

July 8, 2016

Paul Polman, CEO
Unilever Plc
Unilever House
100 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0DY, United Kingdom

Dear Mr. Polman,

We are writing as a broad coalition of organizations—including consumer, public health, environmental, environmental justice, health care professionals’, and parents’ groups—that have joined together to improve public health by reducing exposure to toxic chemicals. We represent millions of people across the country who are concerned about the safety of chemicals in everyday products, including personal care products.

We are writing to ask you to join other industry-leading companies by putting in place a more protective, comprehensive, company-wide chemical ingredient policy that is fully disclosed to the public, and to disclose the specific mixture of ingredients in “fragrance” in each of your products.

We commend Unilever for phasing out phthalates,[1] triclosan,[2] and plastic microbeads[3] from your personal care products. These steps toward safer ingredient policies give consumers more confidence in the products they buy and use every day, and push the industry as a whole to be phase out chemicals of concern. However, there is still a long way to go toward safer products and greater transparency.

Many chemicals in personal care products are linked to negative health effects, like cancer,[4] developmental and reproductive problems,[5],[6] neurotoxicity,[7] hormone disruption,[8],[9] and more. As you know, people across every demographic use personal care products every day, and as a result, face daily, cumulative exposure to the chemicals in those products. Consumers deserve to know which ingredients they are being exposed to, and they are increasingly demanding to know what’s in their products.

Indeed, as consumers become more informed, they demand more products free of chemicals of concern. Companies that respond to these demands in meaningful ways will be the ones who win consumers’ trust. In fact, the marketplace has already begun to move away from toxic chemicals, contributing to the growth of an $11 billion safe cosmetics industry. The Honest Company, founded on principles of safety, sustainability, and integrity, skyrocketed to a valuation of $1.7 billion[10] just three years after its founding.

Large, multinational companies like Johnson & Johnson have also responded to consumer demand to remove some chemicals of concern from their products, and Johnson & Johnson has developed a website describing its ingredient policies for several chemicals of concern for its personal care and baby products, thus acknowledging customer demand for safer products. But even industry leaders have much more to do to ensure transparency and safety of all ingredients in their products, and there is room to lead the way among personal care product companies.

As a leading personal care products company, we believe Unilever has a major opportunity and responsibility to address this widespread public health threat, and the concerns of its customers. Our groups call on Unilever to make the following commitments:

1)    Adopt a comprehensive, company-wide chemical policy to identify and eliminate chemicals linked to adverse health effects from your products and replace them with safer alternatives. This policy should include known or suspected carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxicants (CMRs), neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, and persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances (PBTs).

2)    Create a timeline to promptly implement each element of that policy;

3)    Fully disclose the policy and timeline to the public, online and in corporate social responsibility reports;

4)    Disclose all ingredients in your personal care products, including product-specific constituent ingredients of fragrance and preservatives, on packaging where feasible, and in all cases, online.

We would welcome the opportunity to publicly praise Unilever for committing to these important changes.

We look forward to working together to protect public health, provide consumers with more information and safer products, and show that Unilever is an industry leader in chemical ingredient safety. If you have any questions, please contact Dev Gowda at 312-544-4433 x 210, or [email protected].

Thank you.


Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

Alaska Community Action on Toxics

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

Center for Health, Environment & Justice

Clean and Healthy New York

Coming Clean

Consumer Action

Environment America



Learning Disabilities Association of Maine

Made Safe

Moms Clean Air Force

Safer Chemicals Healthy Families

Sierra Club

U.S. Public Interest Research Group


cc: Tom Langan, External Affairs Director- North America


[4] For example, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found a number of carcinogens in your Unilever beauty products including: Formaldehyde-releasing preservative DMDM hydantoin in Suave shampoos and conditioners and Axe hair products; Sodium laureth sulfate, a chemical linked to 1,4-dioxane contamination, in Caress body washes and Dove shampoos and conditioners, and Clear shampoos and conditioners; and “Fragrance,” a catch-all term for a chemical mixture which can contain carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and environmental toxicants alike, in every Unilever brand researched. Available at

[5] Susan Duty et al, “Personal Care Product Use Predicts Urinary Concentrations of Some Phthalate Monoesters,” Environmental Health Perspectives 113: 1530-1535, doi:10.1289/ehp.8083, 18 July 2005.

[6] Sheela Sathyanarayana et al, “Baby Care Products: Possible Sources of Infant Phthalate Exposure,” Pediatrics 121: e260-e268, doi:10.1542/peds.2006-3766, 1 February 2008.

[7] ASTDR, Toxicologial Profile for Toluene, September 2000. Available at: Accessed April 4, 2016.

[8] Veldhoen N, Skirrow RC, Osachoff H, Wigmore H, Clapson DJ, Gunderson MP, Van Aggelen G, Helbing CC. 2007. The bactericidal agent triclosan modulates thyroid hormone-associated gene expression and disrupts postembryonic anuran development. Aquat Toxicol. 2006 Dec 1;80(3):217-27. Epub 2006 Sep 29.

[9] Routledge EJ, Parker J, Odum J, Ashby J, Sumpter JP, 1998. “Some alkyl hydroxy benzoate preservatives (parabens) are estrogenic.,” Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 1998 Nov;153(1):12-9.

[10] Fortune, Telling the truth pays: Jessica Alba’s Honest Company is worth $1.7 billion,, viewed February 15, 2016.