L'Occitane en Provence, commonly known as L'Occitane, is an international retailer of body, face, fragrances and home products based in Manosque, France. It sold in 90 countries around the world and listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2010, with L'Occitane Group retaining a 75% stake. L'Occitane bought Groupe M&A Development and its subsidiary, M&A Santé Beauté, which includes the organic cosmetic brand Melvita, in 2008. The company, which was founded in the Ardèche in 1983 by French biologist Bernard Chevilliat, commercialises ecological and organic cosmetics principally in France.
Products from L'Occitane are mainly made of over 200 botanical ingredients, a quarter of them organic certified. Besides the raw materials, L'Occitane also took the social responsibility to make the world better. In 2013, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) decided to recognise L'Occitane en Provence as an exemplary company within the framework of its 2013 "Growing Inclusive Markets" initiative. These show us that L'occitane did a good job among the industry with the perspective of sustainability.
Honestly speaking, L’Occitane is one of my favourite beauty brands so far. However, after I researched about the company and the production line, I saw some weakness in terms of sustainability. Although there are lots of comments showing that it did a good job at protecting the environment, it still cannot be seen as fully ethical, and these efforts are not enough. For example, I will talk about this company and the whole beauty industry in this review. Furthermore, we are looking forward to its further actions.
Let’s first look at what they did bad for the environment. This company uses plastic microbeads in some of its personal care products. These particles are not retained by wastewater treatment so they end up in the ocean where they contribute to ocean plastic pollution, and are hazardous to sea life. While the effects of microplastics on human health are not completely understood, there are concerns about plastic additives, such as phthalates, which are known endocrine disruptors which are shown to have harmful effects on life. This company also scores Ethical Consumer's worst rating for their use of palm oil, signifying they are using no or minimal certified palm products, and with no or minimal positive commitments.
However, we can also see some advantages that the products have. L’Occitane pays lots of effort on sustainable sourcing. Looking at the whole production line of their products, we can divide it into several parts to see if all parts of it are ethical and available. All of L'Occitane's products are developed and produced from its base in Manosque, where 1,000 employees work. The company sources the majority of its production from Provence and one of their main product l'Immortelle plants (Helichrysum italicum) from Corsica from producers who rely on traditional production methods. They also work directly with over 130 French farmers and 10.000 pickers - from the immortelle fields of Corsica to the lavender fields of Provence - to secure as much as possible high quality and sustainable ingredients. L'Occitane contributes to preserve traditional cultivation methods by:
L’Occitane en Provence is also one of the signatory companies of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme. In a bid to become more circular, L’Occitane is following its three R’s: Reduce, Recycle, React. The brand has pledged that, by 2025, 100% of its bottles will be made out of 100% recycled plastic, and 100% of its company owned stores will offer a recycling service. As early as 2014, the brand launched a partnership with TerraCycle, a company specialising in recycling hard-to-recycle waste. This partnership encourages consumers to recycle, upcycling empty beauty containers to avoid landfill or incineration. Currently, 48% of L’Occitane’s owned stores worldwide offer in-store recycling, and the goal is to expand that to 100% by 2025.
It also offers recycling services in countries where customers do not have access to recycling as well as the chance to recycle certain packaging that is not accepted at public facilities. A lot of companies also have that service to collect used products that can be recycled. For example, Lululemon has the services to collect old clothes and outsources to professional companies to recycle it. However, I think it is really necessary for theses company to think if these ways of recycling really work in reality and also work for the real environment. When people want to get rid of their old clothes, do they really think of going to the specified store and donating them for recycling? Also, does the commitment of giving back some coupons really matters for most consumers? What should they do to motivate people as consumers to recycle the old stuff? These are the questions that they really need to consider and solve instead of providing the service and just letting it go without the consideration of making these policies really work.
From the company’s 2021 ESG report, we can see that until 2021, it has reached 80% electricity from renewable resources, 45% of raw materials with plants traced back to country or origins, and 30% of carbon intensity. It is hard to say whether the data is calculated based on real situations, or if this beautiful data is calculated through certain policies in order to pretend it is good for sustainability development. However, I think at least they did something and kept improving. The energy consumption and the raw materials can still be more sustainable---it’s good for both environment and consumers as they provide beauty products.
Let’s now take a look at the whole progress of production. This company has a number of corporate responsibility claims on its website under the broad headings of sustainability; philanthropy; sourcing and manufacturing; policy statements; and commitments publications. Through the evaluation of finished products, they used 100% of formulas developed in rigorous skin tests. More than 10.000 batches of raw materials and packaging materials are checked before use. Also, depending on the product, 30 to 40 quality controls are carried out throughout the production process by the Production team and Quality laboratories.
On 22 January 2021 , L’Occitane opened its world’s first #Mega Sustainability Concept Store at Pacific Place, Hong Kong. It invites the local community to join forces in reducing plastic waste and support the local sustainable plastic economy. The #MEGA Sustainability Concept Store engages the public in environmental protection in a fun way with the #MEGA Sustainability Reward Program. Shoppers can earn rewards by achieving varied ‘green tasks’ – from dropping their beauty empties to the recycle bins in store and making a green commitment with the Tree of Wishes to completing a three-minute personal carbon footprint evaluation. Collaborating with different environmental NGOs, the store will regularly host pop-up eco-themed workshops, in order to inspire public participation in recycling. While the brand has never used plastic bags in its stores, the #MEGA Sustainability Concept Store goes one step further: no bags will be provided in-store to encourage customers to bring their own.
All these above actions seem really safe and sustainable. However, sometimes things are not always as good as they show to the public. To some degree, the company didn't take every commitment it made seriously. According to the company, it does not conduct animal testing, and no animal product or by-product, except for beehive products used in the manufacturing process. L’Occitane is fundamentally committed to the abolition of animal testing of beauty products worldwide. In China, where the products are retailed, the local Chinese authorities request testing on some cosmetic products sold on the Chinese market, as they view it as the best way to safeguard their consumers’ safety. They didn't publicly display their full animal testing policies and of course didn't take any significant actions to help them avoid or reduce this policy.
La Fondation d'Entreprise L'Occitane is a private organisation founded in 2006 by the company, with a budget of 4 million euros for 6 years, to support visually impaired people and help the economic emancipation of women. It supports associations for the visually impaired particularly in Burkina Faso with NGOs that are specialised in training professionals to reduce blindness. The L'Occitane Foundation has formed a partnership with Orbis, an organisation that fights against avoidable blindness in developing countries. To support economic emancipation of women, the L'Occitane Foundation partnered with the association Faa-I-tuora to improve the way of living of people in Dissin, in the South West region of Burkina Faso.
L'Occitane started to collaborate with the women shea butter producers of Burkina Faso in the 1980s. Since then, they've built up a joint development partnership and a close, supportive relationship. Now there are over 10,000 women workers. And since 2009, the shea butter supply chain has been 100% Fair Trade. Through their work in Burkina Faso, they've enabled the women who make the shea butter to gain more independence. Their Foundation has helped them to have access to microcredits, literacy programmes and education for their children. Every year, they sell fund-raising products to promote women's leadership.
For over 30 years, L'Occitane has closely supported the work of the Burkinabe women and worked with producers to encourage the leadership in women of Burkina Faso. To date, over 30,000 women have been given socio-economic freedom through this initiative. In 2018 L'Occitane created the RESIST programme; a 3 year, $2 million project to celebrate, empower and improve conditions for 10,000 additional Burkinabe women. Since the creation of the foundation in 2006, +30000 women have been supported by the foundation in Burkina Faso.
These are exciting programs, and I am glad to see that so many women have been supported through it. Usually companies have greater power than individuals—there is no doubt about that. So, this is why the society required them to take the social responsibility and make the world better. I can see that L’Occitane made efforts, and is confident of doing more for sustainability in the future, so I am looking forward to seeing more of their actions --- not only to reach those certifications, but also for society.