SC Johnson to Expand Skin Allergen Disclosures in Products

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By Stephen Joyce

A leading U.S. manufacturer of household cleaning products announced it will voluntarily disclose the presence of 368 potential skin allergens in its goods, illustrating an ongoing industry trend.

SC Johnson & Son Inc., a privately held company based in Racine, Wis., previously had decided to disclose 26 possible allergenic substances as required by a 1999 European Union opinion, but its May 25 decision expands the company’s disclosure regime to include hundreds of skin allergens present in its products. The disclosures will appear on a company website but not on any of its product labeling.

The announcement is part of an industry trend to enhance disclosure regimes despite no regulatory or statutory obligation to do so. No federal agency and only a few states have contemplated requiring such disclosures, but Kelly Semrau, SC Johnson’s senior vice president of corporate affairs, and others said companies manufacturing personal-care and household-cleaning products will continue to expand disclosure regimes to build trust and brand loyalty with consumers.

Other companies, including Unilever NV, have announced their own disclosure targets. Some, such as Unilever subsidiary Seventh Generation Inc., that tout products as containing natural ingredients may feel increasing pressure to increase their disclosures voluntarily.

Earning Consumer Trust

SC Johnson will disclose the presence of potential natural and synthetic allergens in its products when their concentration levels are at or above 0.01 percent, the same standard required by the European Union opinion. While that concentration likely won’t cause an allergic reaction in most rinse-off products, the company decided to adopt the standard as it tries to boost its transparency efforts, Semrau said.

“Ultimately, this is about earning the trust of all the people who buy our products,” Fisk Johnson, SC Johnson chairman and chief executive officer, told Bloomberg BNA. “Transparency is something we’ve been working on for quite some time, and we think being transparent about the ingredients that go into our products, the allergens that are in them, I think helps earn the trust of people.”

The company is planning to list the ingredients by individual product beginning in 2018, Semrau said.

Chemicals on the EU list of 26 allergens include benzyl alcohol, citronellol, farnesol, hydroxycitronellal, linalool, and oakmoss extract.

Government Action

Few state laws or regulations requiring the chemical disclosures in household consumer products have been enacted at the state level. In California, however, state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D) introduced a bill (SB-258) Feb. 8 that would require manufacturers of cleaning products produced or sold in California to disclose on its label each ingredient contained in the product. The state Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the legislation May 25.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) April 25 proposed regulations requiring manufacturers of cleaning products sold in New York to disclose the ingredients of their products. Comments on the proposal’s disclosure certification form are due June 14.

At the federal level, lawmakers considered adding chemical disclosure requirements to the Toxic Substances Control Act amendments of 2016 (Pub. L. No: 114-182), but ultimately they were not included in the final version.

Voluntary Push

The absence of state or federal mandates, however, will not slow down the push by companies to enhance their disclosure regimes, several people who follow the issue said.

“There is movement across different industries to increase transparency, not as much as cleaning products as we’ve seen in personal care perhaps,” Nneka Leiba, deputy director of research at the Environmental Working Group, told Bloomberg BNA.

Johnson said any resulting state or federal regulation probably won’t affect his company because it plans to continue pushing for voluntarily disclosures that will be well ahead of any regulatory or statutory development.

Leiba said the Environmental working Group’s “ultimate goal” is for the federal government to impose ingredient disclosure requirements on manufacturers, but until that happens some companies will likely continue to voluntarily disclose the ingredients..

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Joyce in Chicago at sjoyce@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com

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