Environmental group the Ecowaste Coalition has stated that of the 350 cosmetic products it has sampled in bargain shops from 2011-2013, nearly all contained unacceptably high levels of heavy metals.
In the meantime, the FDA has confirmed that it has detected around 50 brands of banned or illegal products in the country in 2013.
Most of these products contained lead or mercury, potent neurotoxins which can cause effects such as scarring, kidney damage, neurological problems and developmental issues in unborn babies.
The cosmetic products, which are believed to be either manufactured overseas or bought online, are passing into the country undetected by the corrupt and ineffective Philippines customs department.
Openly sold poison
The Ecowaste Coalition told CosmeticsDesign-Asia.com that they have been taking samples of cosmetic products and reporting their findings to the FDA since 2011.
All of their samples were purchased in bargain shops frequented by ordinary Filipinos. Of the 154 “mixed” products obtained during three major sampling operations from 2011-2013, 95 contained heavy metals “above levels of concern,” with the most not being approved by the FDA.
The group also claims to have found “outrageous” concentrations of mercury in most of the around 200 skin lightening products examined over the same period, with one containing levels over 60,000 times higher than the FDA’s limit of 1ppm.
An illegal trade
According to the FDA, most of the illegal products are either smuggled into the country or bought online, with the environmental group likewise pointing the finger at China, Hong Kong and Taiwan as their most likely place of origin.
The agency, which recently released a statement warning consumers to steer clear of discount stores and only to buy cosmetics products listed on their website, told CosmeticsDesign-Asia.com: “In my opinion, such violative products are either smuggled or bought online, which should be strictly controlled upon entering the country.”
The Ecowaste Coalition pointed to problems like weakness in preventing illegal shipments of banned cosmetics- a key role of the Bureau of Customs- insufficient co-ordination between the government, industry and consumers, and weak consumers’ rights as key causes of the problem.
The Philippine Bureau of Customs has long been accused of corruption and ineffectiveness, and has consistently failed to prevent the passage of illegal products and weapons into the country.
In July 2013, President Benigno Aquino singled the Bureau out in his State of the Nation address, saying that they: "are trying to outdo each other's incompetence" and threatening to hold them accountable for Brazil’s US$4.2bn smuggling problem.
Following the criticism, commissioner of customs Ruffy Biazon offered his resignation, which was not accepted.
In a statement published on his website, the commissioner confessed that he faced a “deeply rooted and long standing culture and system of corruption among the ranks.”