Retailers remain on the frontlines of consumer discontent with product safety and hazardous chemicals in everyday household products and food packaging. During the past year, more than a dozen of Noth America’s largest retailers have taken significant steps to address harmful chemicals such as PFAS in products, packaging, and global supply chains, driving the development of safer solutions.
However, far too many U.S. retailers have failed to demonstrate meaningful progress on chemical safety, with 14 out of 43 retailers evaluated in this 2019 report card receiving failing grades.
The financial and regulatory risks that can be associated with toxic chemicals are substantial. Retailer reputation and customer loyalty are also in jeopardy, especially when the EPA and other agencies are rolling back regulations intended to safeguard public health from dangerous chemicals. Retailers cannot afford to wait for slow-paced government regulation to catch up with the backlog of thousands of chemicals that remain untested for safety or are already known to be hazardous to public health and the environment. Relying on self-policing by the chemical industry and product manufacturers will not satisfy the concerns of millions of consumers who are voting with their dollars, demanding greater transparency and safer products.
It’s time for retailers to “mind the store” by requiring safer chemicals and safer products to protect the health of our families, communities, workers, and environment.
Based on our findings, we recommend that every major retailer in North America should:
- 1:Policy: Publish a written safer chemicals policy, with senior management-level engagement and accountability for suppliers, that measures and publicly reports on continuous improvement toward reducing, eliminating and safely substituting toxic chemicals in products, packaging, and global supply chains;
- 2:Goals and Metrics: Set clear public goals with timelines and quantifiable metrics to measure success in eliminating both individual and classes of chemicals of high concern and reducing retailers’ chemical footprint;
- 3:Transparency: Embrace “radical transparency” to meet rising consumer demand for: full public disclosure of chemical ingredients in products and packaging including fragrance and other generic ingredients; public safer chemicals policies; and disclosure of both progress and challenges in eliminating harmful chemicals;
- 4:Avoid regrettable substitution: Develop mechanisms to evaluate the hazards of alternatives to ensure informed substitution; and
- 5:Foresight: Anticipate being graded in the future on progress made on chemical safety in products and packaging sold at retail, whether or not your company was included in the Who’s Minding the Store? 2019 retailer report card.