Newspaper article International New York Times

Hygiene Product Label Grows under Pressure

Newspaper article International New York Times

Hygiene Product Label Grows under Pressure

Article excerpt

Some women have been protesting the use of chemicals in tampons and other products.

Dressed as a box of Tampax tampons, Stephanie Phillips, a 30- year-old vegan chef, danced on the sidewalk outside Procter & Gamble's headquarters in Cincinnati.

Ms. Phillips and a small group of demonstrators were protesting the company's use of chemicals in its feminine care products, much to the chagrin of the investors who were filing into the annual shareholder meeting.

"I think it's really messed up that Procter & Gamble's putting chemicals in feminine products and not letting anyone know about it," Ms. Phillips said.

Consumer products companies may have been able to ignore these kinds of displays in the not-so-distant past. Now, however, health advocates can use social media platforms and other tools to galvanize public support -- not just from demonstrators like Ms. Phillips, but from customers who can boycott a company's products.

The increased pressure to respond to public concern has yielded some results.

Within the last few weeks, P.&G. and its rival Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Kotex pads and tampons, began posting online the ingredients in their feminine hygiene products. While both companies list tampon ingredients on their packages, neither lists the ingredients for their pads on the packaging. P.&G. expanded the information it offered about the inclusion of synthetic materials, while Kimberly-Clark disclosed ingredients in its tampon applicators.

P.&G. also agreed to meet with Women's Voices for the Earth after the group's protest outside the shareholder meeting on Oct. 13.

The group had come armed with more than just costumes and banners: 35,000 people had signed a petition demanding that P.&.G. disclose feminine care ingredients and remove certain chemicals. The group had also created a spoof video as part of its campaign that has garnered more than 60,000 views online, according to its executive director, Erin Switalski.

"We had been trying to get a meeting with the company for a couple of years and they hadn't been responding to our requests," Ms. Switalski said. "If we aren't able to get a dialogue, then we have to use some of these public pressure tactics to get these meetings to take place."

Blogs, Facebook and Twitter have helped advocates like Ms. Switalski spread the word about their concerns. But manufacturers often grumble that public criticism of individual ingredients is not always justified, and forces them to make costly and time-consuming changes.

P.&G. and Kimberly-Clark say that their products are safe, and undergo rigorous scientific testing before they reach store shelves. And both companies say that transparency is a priority.

"Everything we do starts with the consumer," a P.&G. spokesman, Damon Jones, said in an email. …

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