The Duke and Duchess of Sussex face questions over their partnership with an American cosmetics firm that makes tens of millions of pounds a year selling ‘racist’ skin-whitening creams.
Meghan and Harry last week announced their Archewell Foundation had signed a ‘global partnership’ with US multi-national Procter & Gamble (P&G) to ‘build more compassionate communities’.
But the deal has thrown a spotlight on P&G’s hugely controversial sale in Asia and Africa of skin-lightening creams, which reduce the concentration or production of melanin – the natural pigment that gives human skin its colour.
Campaigners have demanded that P&G and other major firms stop selling such creams.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex face questions over their partnership with an American cosmetics firm
They say the products fuel a ‘toxic belief’ that ‘a person’s worth is measured by the colour of their skin’ and that light skin is better than dark.
An investigation by The Mail on Sunday has found that Olay – a major P&G skincare brand – sells White Radiance moisturiser in India, Malaysia and Singapore.
In India, the product is said to lighten skin tone and deliver ‘radiant and brighter skin’.
In the Philippines, P&G sells Olay White Radiance Light Perfecting Essence, which ‘inhibits melanin formation in the deepest layer of skin’. In Lagos, Nigeria, an MoS reporter last week bought Olay Natural White cream, which promises ‘pinkish fairness’.
Alex Malouf, a former P&G executive, said Meghan and Harry will come under pressure to say whether they support the sale of such products.
‘Meghan has talked a lot about the issue of race and racism, so this does stick out like a sore thumb,’ Mr Malouf said.
It comes as:
- Harry and Meghan faced calls to scrap their deal with P&G because one of its biggest suppliers of palm oil – FGV Holdings – has been accused of exploiting and abusing workers in Malaysia;
- P&G was also lambasted for its role in the destruction of large swathes of virgin forest in Canada to make loo roll. It is claimed the company buys an estimated 490,000 tons of wood pulp a year from Canada’s boreal forest;
- A study by a major US environmental organisation found that suppliers of wood pulp from the forest were cutting down the habitat of the woodland caribou, an ‘at-risk’ species of reindeer.
Prince Harry has been outspoken on environmental and wildlife issues. Worth an estimated £6 billion a year, the skin-lightening industry is booming thanks to growing demand in Asia and Africa.
But cosmetic firms have faced mounting pressure amid the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement and claims that the use of such products is deeply rooted in colonial history.
Last year, following an investigation by the website Buzzfeed, Johnson & Johnson said it was dropping its Fine Fairness line, which was available in Asia and the Middle East.
The L’Oreal Group announced plans to remove ‘white/whitening’, ‘fair/fairness’ and ‘light/lightening’ from the names of its products, while Unilever announced plans to rename Fair & Lovely – a popular brand in India.
But P&G has continued to sell the popular White Radiance and Natural White products via its Olay brand. Olay has defended such products by comparing them to tanners or make-up.
One woman who runs a beauty shop in Lagos, sold the reporter two jars of Olay Natural White on Friday afternoon. The packaging said the product had been made in Thailand and it promised ‘an extraordinary pinkish fairness’.
An investigation found that Olay – a major P&G skincare brand – sells White Radiance moisturiser in India, Malaysia and Singapore. Pictured: Two of the whitening products sold by Procter and Gamble
‘This cream protects you against the sun, lightens your skin,’ she said. ‘It will reduce spots and give you a lovely skin tone.’ In India, P&G sells Olay Natural White 7 in one glowing fairness cream.
Olay’s website says the cream brightens skin tone and contains niacinamide, a skin lightening compound.
Nina Davuluri, 32, the first Indian-American to win Miss America, said skin-whitening products sell a ‘racist’ ideology ‘that you need white skin to be beautiful, you need white skin to be successful’.
She has been fighting so-called ‘colourism’ – discrimination based on skin colour – since she saw a headline in an Indian newspaper which asked, ‘Is Miss America too dark to be Miss India’ after she won the title in 2014.
Miss Davuluri last year launched an online petition urging P&G, Unilever, L’Oreal and Johnson & Johnson to stop selling whitening creams.
The petition states: ‘They are sending the message that people are ‘less than’ because they are dark. That they are not enough because of the colour of their skin. That they are not seen, valued, or heard. This is racism.’
She said last night she was shocked that P&G had not done more to address the issue.
Campaigner Kavitha Emmanuel said she founded India’s Dark Is Beautiful campaign in 2009 to ‘address the toxic belief that a person’s worth is measured by the colour of their skin’.
She added: ‘That is the toxic belief that these brands, through their advertisements seem to be propagating.’
Joanne Rondilla, a professor at San Jose State University who has researched skin-lightening in the Philippines, said Harry and Meghan had a ‘responsibility’ to voice concerns about these products with P&G.
‘Like everyone else around the world, I saw that interview with Oprah that Meghan did,’ she added. ‘It was important for her to bring up these issues of colourism. I don’t think this partnership advances that conversation.’
Robin Averbeck, of the Rainforest Action Network, a US environment organisation, called on the Duke and Duchess to end their relationship with P&G because of the firm’s links with FGV Holdings.
‘The fact that P&G has continued to be complicit in human rights abuses, in environmental devastation, is reason enough why this partnership shouldn’t be formed or shouldn’t continue. It showed that full due diligence on the company was not done.’
The Archewell Foundation has said its partnership with P&G will focus on ‘gender equality, more inclusive online spaces, and resilience and impact through sport’.
P&G did not respond to questions about its skin-whitening creams, the US ban on imports from FGV Holdings or its use of wood pulp from Canada.
But in a statement, it said: ‘At P&G, we are committed to doing the right thing across all aspects of our business – without exception. Doing more and doing better is important for us all – for our company, in our communities and for our planet.’