Today’s protest at the Procter & Gamble Headquarters ended in a major victory. Starting at 7am this morning, I joined a coalition of women from different organizations at the #detoxthebox rally at Procter & Gamble’s headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was organized by Women’s Voices for the Earth, a non-profit organization that has spent the past twenty years protecting women from toxic chemicals. Our mission today was to demand that Procter & Gamble disclose all of the ingredients in their Always pads and Tampax tampons. The public did not have access to this information. The materials used to make these products were not available on the boxes themselves, online, or anywhere. Women’s Voices for the Earth recently asked P&G to provide a list of the ingredients for good measure, and in turn received a document with all the ingredients greyed out. Furthermore, they conducted tests via a third-party lab to find if always pads contained carcinogenic materials, and they tested positive. We had reason to be concerned.
At the end of the protest, however, we received the incredible news that our efforts had caused a step in the right direction – within 24 hours, Procter & Gamble responded by posting the major ingredients in their tampon and pad products on their website.
Preparing for action was intense. Last night we gathered together at an AirBnB house we rented to strategize, eat, and create signs and banners for today’s rally. When we all drove to downtown Cincinnati together at 7am, P&G was waiting for us, along with several police officers. We started holding up our signs around 8 am, just as people were going to work, and we were met with only support – people would honk, take fliers, ask questions and engage. By 8:30am, we started speaking aloud on the loudspeaker. Since everyone in attendance had a diverse perspective, we were each able to highlight a different reason as to why this matters.
When I got on the loudspeaker, I spoke about the corporate advantages for being proactive about an issue like this. I also talked about the underlying problem—that this topic is so difficult to talk about largely because talking about anything related to women’s reproductive organs is still so awkward. We have to keep quiet about issues relating to women’s bodies, so we all end up assuming that products like tampons and pads are clean, instead of feeling safe to openly question their ingredients and a corporation’s motivations in keeping this information private.
We assume, if this really was a problem, wouldn’t it have been addressed already? We assume women just need something to cause trouble about, that this isn’t a real issue. We assume P&G probably has a moral or strategic reason as to why they don’t publish their ingredients. We assume, “Well if I haven’t experienced any problems using these products today, this must not be a real issue.”
These assumptions keep us in the dark. These assumptions prevent women’s bodies from being protected, women’s voices from feeling valued and real change from being made.
In my mind, the many issues surrounding menstrual health today represent a symbol of the larger issues I am fighting for. I don’t like that in our society, it matters whose voice is saying what. I don’t like that if women get together for a meeting with P&G to express concern about materials in what should just be a cotton pad they are seen as rowdy. If the people who the product actually affects have something to say about it, it’s considered less valuable or valid than if someone who doesn’t experience the problem has something to say about it. Why is that?
This is a feminist issue, a business issue, a health issue, a human issue. I stand firm in my belief that my generation will make the world a better place for women today. The future is female. #Detoxthebox.
Why does this matter?
- Consumers have a right to know the ingredients they put inside of their bodies.
- Women give birth. To the world. Chemicals in our bodies mean chemicals in the bodies of future humans to come. Male and female.
- Tampons and pads are used in the most absorptive part of a woman’s body. Unlike the skin, the internal mucus membrane ingests these chemicals far more than external contact does.
- We have seen rates of cervical cancer, endometriosis and early onset menopause increase in the past 50 years, coinciding with the timeline of increased use of tampons. No direct correlation has been proven, but given that there are few other products that come in contact with women’s reproductive organs as frequently, there is reason to believe that tampons and pads on the mainstream market today are harmful.
- Women have historically been silenced – they have been told for generations that they are crazy and that their bodies are a burden to others. When large and reputable companies once again ignore the requests of their female consumers, it reaffirms this history of oppression, instead of seizing a business opportunity and paving the way forward.
The business case:
- As competitors in the market like Lola and Conscious Period emerge to provide women with non-toxic, all natural options for tampons and pads, the consumer population will become more educated about their choices. They will become concerned that P&G and other leaders in the market actively choose not to list the ingredients in their products. If they are clean and safe for women to use, why is it that P&G has refused to publish ingredients for years? P&G has a reason to be proactive instead of waiting to lose market share and then trying to compete later on.
- Time and time again we have seen companies sit back and wait for waves of consumers to get sick from certain ingredients before acting. Instead of waiting for generations to go by who can trace the cause of various health problems back to the regular use of Always pads and Tampax tampons, P&G could be a market leader, produce cleaner products, and re-educate the market about their own purchasing power.
- This is also a rebranding opportunity. P&G has long been American innovators, but new innovators will come. P&G has the opportunity to build upon its incredible Always “Unstoppable” ad campaign by continuing to support women, and very publicly promote the fact that they are publishing the ingredients in order to show love and safety to its female consumers.
Here is the Letter that Beauty, Lies Truth & I wrote to Alan Lafley in His Last 2 Weeks As CEO of P&G
We are writing to you because we believe you are one of the most influential businessmen in the world. As two young women at Harvard Business School, we have every reason to believe that you are one of the business school’s most powerful graduates. You are powerful because you have the power to change industries overnight. And in your last two weeks as CEO of Procter and Gamble, we have a question for you:
Will you set new standards to improve the safety of our feminine products?
We have reason to be concerned. Two years ago, Women’s Voices For The Earth commissioned laboratory testing of Always brand pads and found that the products emit potential carcinogens, reproductive and developmental toxins. Feminine products are considered “medical devices” and as a result, ingredients do not have to be listed on the label or disclosed by the manufacturers. Millions of women like us use these products every month, and we demand to know the undisclosed chemicals entering the most absorptive parts of our bodies.
More specifically, we are asking you to share the full list of ingredients and materials used to make Tampax tampons and Always pads. P&G promises leadership, ownership, integrity and trust, yet Tampax and Always brands refuse to disclose the ingredient lists of their products. As a result, women all over the world are unknowingly exposing their bodies to unidentified compounds that may be harmful to our health. As P&G customers, we have the right to assess your products based on our own standards of health and safety.
In business school we learn that every problem is an opportunity for improvement and innovation. As you prepare to leave P&G, we ask that you consider our plea as an opportunity to create new standards for the safety of our products.
Here are two strategic benefits to taking action now:
- As competitors in the market like Lola and Conscious Period emerge to provide women with non-toxic, all natural alternatives, the consumer population will become more educated about their range of choices. They will become increasingly concerned that P&G and other market leaders actively choose not to list the ingredients in their products. P&G has a reason to be proactive instead of waiting to lose market share to take action. Your company could be a market leader, produce cleaner products, and re-educate consumers about their own purchasing power, which will drive long-term customer loyalty.
- This is a rebranding opportunity. P&G has a longstanding reputation as American innovators and now the company has the opportunity to build upon its incredible Always “Unstoppable” ad campaign by continuing to support women.
As P&G customers, we should not have to choose between your products and our health. Please consider our perspective, as we represent thousands of likeminded women who want to believe P&G’s commitment to sustainability and social responsibility. But first, take action to protect the health of women globally and #detoxthebox.
Links to press from this event: