From local to regional: SEA group to take fight against harmful cosmetics across Asia

By Si Ying Thian

- Last updated on GMT

Joint efforts by Philippines and Thailand NGOs led to Thai FDA recalling cosmetics tainted with mercury in the market © EcoWaste Coalition
Joint efforts by Philippines and Thailand NGOs led to Thai FDA recalling cosmetics tainted with mercury in the market © EcoWaste Coalition

Related tags Advocacy Regulation Mercury safety Southeast asia

A Philippines-based environmental pressure group is taking its fights against adulterated and potentially harmful cosmetics across the region, after securing a number of notable victories in South East Asia.

EcoWaste Coalition recently joined forces with Thai NGOs in a campaign which led the Thai FDA to recall 13 whitening products containing mercury. Philippines FDA did the same and issued advisories to e-commerce platforms to take the products off their sites.

Aileen Lucero, national coordinator of EcoWaste Coalition (EWC), told CosmeticsDesign-Asia​ that it had been advocating against mercury-tainted cosmetics in the Philippines market since 2010, and persuading the local FDA to remove them from sale. However, there is still much to be done, she added.

We kept on seeing the same products, and there are additional ones now. So now we're reaching out to the country of origin. There should be control and restrictions on both sides,”​ Lucero said.

To tackle the problem at its root, EWC’s strategy centred around building partnerships with local NGOs who can provide support in terms of understanding the market and the language or dialect. 

For example, in the latest product recall by Thai FDA, EWC collaborated with multiple Thai NGOs on a joint letter addressed to FDA Thailand.

As production becomes globalized, where advocacy takes place also evolves with it.

More recently, EWC announced that they sent a letter to the Ministry of Climate Change of Pakistan to call for action against the illegal production and trade of 17 Pakistan-made cosmetics in the Philippines market, tested with mercury levels above 10,000 ppm.

We respectfully appeal to the Government of Pakistan to intensify current efforts to stop mercury use in the manufacture of cosmetics such as fairness or whitening creams, strengthen compliance monitoring, correct the misuse of ‘Pakistan Standards’ certification logo, and tighten customs checks to halt the export of mercury adulterated cosmetics to the Philippines and elsewhere,​” Lucero communicated in an official statement.

Lucero told us that Pakistan would be the first country outside South East Asia that EWC’s advocacy efforts would cover.

E-commerce platforms as an advocacy target

Beyond FDAs, EWC is eyeing e-commerce companies, such as Lazada, Shopee, and Facebook marketplace, in its advocacy efforts as illegal cosmetics increasingly make their way onto these platforms.

We are directly communicating with the online platforms so that it is not just the regulators who have a control. Just like the government agencies, [these e-commerce platforms] should have a monitoring of all those products that are being sold,​” Lucero said.

While receiving adequate responses from online firms remains a challenge, EWC emphasized the effectiveness of continuing to work with governments to bring cosmetics and e-commerce outfits into line.

FDA Philippines have crafted some guidelines and issued advisories of bad products to these [e-commerce] platforms. It is now for the online platforms to conduct posts, surveillance, and monitoring of all the products. As sellers have an agreement with these platforms, they should be the one to do that.”

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