Colgate received a best rating for its approach to toxic chemicals in cosmetics, because it bans harmful chemicals including parabens and phthalates, but aside from this is lost marks in all our environmental ratings.
In 2022, Colgate-Palmolive claimed that it was the first multinational company in its sector to have its climate targets approved by the Science Based Targets initiative. It received Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for Carbon Management and Reporting.
Colgate-Palmolive also aims to "eliminate one-third of… new (virgin) plastics and achieve recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025". However, when it comes to plastic, it’s faced criticism from Greenpeace, for its key role in driving the global demand for single-use plastic. In light of how much it produces, its target of eliminating one-third isn’t bold enough.
When it comes to microplastics, its ‘Policy on Ingredient Safety' was hit and miss, with Colgate banning microbeads but not covering other types of harmful microplastics.
Palm oil and deforestation
Colgate-Palmolive uses palm oil, palm kernel oil and derivatives in soap products, toothpaste, antiperspirants, deodorants and house cleaners. It’s a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), so we looked at their communications with the RSPO.
To score highly in our palm oil rating, a large company needs to at least have all of its palm oil and derivatives RSPO certified. Colgate-Palmolive has a certification level of 70.89%. It said, "We continue working with our palm derivatives suppliers to increase the usage of RSPO physically certified materials… We have a 2025 goal for all tier 1 and derivative volumes to be 100% physically certified palm oil".
It scored Ethical Consumer’s worst rating in our Palm Oil category.
Despite having a ‘no deforestation’ policy, Colgate-Palmolive has been criticised by Greenpeace for still using palm oil from producers that destroy rainforests.
Despite having a page called “Our commitment to animal welfare”, Colgate-Palmolive got our worst rating for animal testing and factory farming.
We couldn’t find an animal welfare policy for its animal-based pet food range, called ‘Hill’s Science Plan’, which used animal-derived ingredients including chicken, turkey, tuna, beef, and lamb. None of these was labelled organic or free range.
For cosmetics, it said “We are committed to work toward the elimination of laboratory safety testing using animals. When we conduct safety assessments of our products internally, we primarily use available databases and non-animal alternatives”.
Colgate is on PETA’s list of Companies Working for Regulatory Change, which shows that it is working towards replacing animals with non-animal methods of ingredient and product testing.
However, its commitment didn’t apply across the board for its range of products so it ultimately scored our worst rating for Animal Testing Policy.
Colgate-Palmolive consistently scores badly in our Human Rights and Workers’ Rights categories.
Its modern slavery statement and code of conduct had policies covering child labour, forced labour, discrimination, and freedom of association, as well as a commitment to carrying out labour standards audits.
However it published no standards for working hours and wages and no information about the outcomes of supply chain audits. There was no clear mechanism workers could use to make anonymous complaints and raise issues.
The company has operations in China, Egypt, Mexico, Philippines, Russia, Turkey and Venezuela, which Ethical Consumer considers to be governed by some of the most oppressive regimes in the world.
Colgate-Palmolive paid one director a whopping $14,462,406 in 2022.
In 2022 the company spent $85,000 on lobbying and $36,293 in political donations.
It also had suspicious tax structures with high risk company types for likely tax avoidance, in countries including the Netherlands and Switzerland, which are considered to be tax havens. We couldn’t find any company-wide tax strategy in order to verify that its operations there weren’t set up to facilitate tax avoidance.
Subscribe to see the full detailed stories about Colgate-Palmolive.
The text above was written in August 2023.