Amazon plays catch-up in push to police chemicals in products

  • TECH
  • Tuesday, 14 Nov 2017

Attenddees walk inside of the Inc. office after the company's product reveal launch event in downtown Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. Amazon unveiled a smaller, cheaper version of its popular Alexa-powered Echo speaker that the e-commerce giant said has better sound. Photographer: Daniel Berman/Bloomberg Inc is developing a plan to regulate the chemicals used by suppliers, but it still lags Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Target Corp and other retailers in the push for greener products. 

That’s the assessment of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families – a Washington-based coalition that runs a programme called Mind the Store. Though Amazon is now developing chemicals procedures, the e-commerce giant fared badly in Mind the Store’s ranking, which tracks how well companies reduce the toxic chemicals in the products they sell and disclose their presence. 

As Amazon’s share of retail sales grows, its corporate stewardship is coming under greater scrutiny. That’s raised pressure to evaluate its products – especially as rivals take a stand on the issue. 

“Companies are seeing there’s a market advantage to demonstrating that they’re increasing the transparency of products and taking meaningful action to getting the worst of the worst chemicals out,” said Mike Schade, co-author of the report and Mind the Store’s campaign director.  

For now, Amazon’s efforts to police the ingredients in its products are limited. It shuns certain “chemicals of concern” in some of its private-brand products, such as its Elements baby wipes, according to the report. Ty Rogers, a spokesman for the Seattle-based company, declined to comment. 

Corporate grades 

Apple Inc received an A grade, putting it in the top spot among 30 retailers ranked for their chemical-disclosure policies by the Mind the Store campaign. It was followed by Wal-Mart (A-), while CVS Health Corp, Ikea, Whole Foods and Target earned B-pluses. Amazon, meanwhile, got a D and a rank of 14th, still better than last year’s failing grade. Toys “R” Us Inc, Trader Joe’s and Dollar General Corp were among the nine retailers with an F.  

Wal-Mart and Target have introduced and expanded programs to significantly reduce the presence certain chemicals in their products, acknowledging consumer demand for greener products and more information about what they buy. Other retailers are also responding, Schade said. 

“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of progress among the retailers we ranked last year,” Schade said in a phone interview. Seven retailers have added or expanded chemical policies in the past year, he said. 

Work in progress 

Two-thirds of those surveyed, however, aren’t implementing such programmes. Amazon doesn’t have a public safer chemicals policy, according to the report, but the company is “in the process of developing and evaluating a chemicals policy.” 

The report scored companies on a 135-point scale that examined 14 metrics, including whether they got full ingredient disclosure from suppliers and have policies to cut the presence of so-called chemicals of high concern to minimal levels. Schade co-wrote the report with Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Centre, with contributions from other groups. 

The report commended Apple for requiring that suppliers provide safety assessments of materials swapped in to replace chemicals of concern. CVS, meanwhile, eliminated substances including parabens and phthlates from almost 600 private-label beauty and personal-care products, while Albertsons removed BPA from more than 80% of its own-brand canned foods. 

Sephora and other retailers, meanwhile, have developed or are developing lists of substances banned from their private-label products. — Bloomberg

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