In March 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed Kao Corporation's website and downloaded it Sustainability Data Book 2019. The report talked about reducing its carbon emissions through looking at the life cycle of its products. It also talked about environmental issues such waste; CO2 emissions of manufacuring sites; reducing electricity used including switching to LED light bulbs; using renewable energy and CO2 emissions of transportation. It also included chapters on packaging and biodiversity in relation to materials used and chemicals released into the environment.
However the company did not appear to include any discussions about toxic chemicals found in cosmetics and therefore was not considered to have demostrated a reasonable understanding of its environmental impacts.
Its report included future dated and quantified environmental reduction targets for water use and decarbonisations. It also provided detailed updates on the progress towards the following targets:
certified paper products
traceability to small oil palm farm
absolute full lifecycle co2 emissions
absolute scope 1 & 2 emissions
zero waste
water use
disclosure of air and water pollution emissions
responsible chemicals mangement

The report was independently verified by KPMG.
Overall the Kao Corporation received Ethical Consumer's middle rating for Environmental Reporting and lost half a mark in this category.

Reference:

Sustainability Data Book 2019 (4 March 2020)

In March 2020 Ethical Consumer searched Kao's corporate website, for the company's policy on the use of the hazardous chemicals parabens, triclosan and phthalates.
Some forms or uses of these chemicals were banned or restricted in the EU or the USA.
Triclosan is an antibacterial and a suspected endocrine disruptor. Parabens are also endocrine disruptors and have been linked to breast cancer. They are used as preservatives. Phthalates, usually DEP or DBP, are used in fragrances and are endocrine disruptors.
A page was found - https://www.kao.com/emea/en/sustainability/transparency which stated that the company used parabens but there was no mention of triclosan or phthalates.
A strong policy on toxics would be no use of these chemicals or clear, dated targets for ending their use.
The company appeared to have no policies on the use of toxic chemicals in household and personal care products, therefore it lost a whole mark under Ethical Consumer's Pollution and Toxics category.

Reference:

http://www.kao.com (February 2020)

In March 2020, Ethical Consumer searched Kao Group’s website for the company's policy on the use of microplastics and non-biodegradable liquid polymers. In the section on microplastics on its sustainability page, the company stated that it none of its products had contained plastic microbeads since 2016. No other information was found about other microplastics or non-biodegradable liquid polymers.

According to Beat the Microbead, there are more than 500 known microplastics ingredients that can be found in our personal care products such as toothpastes, face washes, scrubs and shower gels. They are tiny plastic particles that are added for their exfoliating properties, but sometimes purely for aesthetic purposes only.

A recent report by Code Check found that non-biodegradable liquid polymers were also prevalent across a wide range of cosmetic products. Like microplastics, these materials degrade with a similar difficulty in the environment and may cause similar harm.

In 2018, the UK government banned the use of microbeads in toothpastes, shower gels and facial scrubs. However, some products classified as “leave on” were not subject to the ban, this would include lotions, sun cream and makeup, as well as abrasive cleaning products. This ban did not extend to non-biodegradable liquid polymers.

Given that the company’s did not have a clear policy on the use of all microplastics in its products, nor did it address the issue of non-biodegradable liquid polymers, the company lost half a mark under Pollution & Toxics.

Reference:

http://www.kao.com (February 2020)

Forest 500, ‘the world’s first rainforest rating agency’, is a project of the Global Canopy Programme. In 2019, it published its fifth annual rating. It ranks 350 of the biggest companies in forest-risk supply chains and the 150 biggest investors in these companies.

Tropical rainforests cover 7% of the earth, but contain 50% of global biodiversity. Their ecosystems regulate global water systems and the climate, and they directly support the livelihoods of over a billion people. The social and economic benefits of these services are estimated to be in the trillions.

Over two thirds of tropical deforestation is driven by the production of a handful of commodities including; palm oil, soya, timber, paper and pulp, beef, and leather. These commodities are in products we use every day and are present in more than 50% of the packaged products in our
supermarkets.

Companies and financial institutions had been assessed and ranked in respect to their policies addressing potential deforestation embedded in forest-risk commodity supply chains. The 2018 report stated that "the Forest 500 methodology was updated in 2018 to better distinguish between companies who have set commitments, and those that have taken the next step towards implementation. This new methodology has meant that many companies have received lower scores this year." A document on the 2019 methodology stated that had been updated again to better align with the guidance of the Accountability Framework, a set of norms and guidance on ethical supply chains developed by a coalition of civil society partners. Three new indicators were added and two indicators were updated.

The Forest 500 ranking and analysis will be repeated annually until 2020, to help inform, enable and track progress towards deforestation free supply chains.

Each company was rated from 0-5, across five categories:

Kao Corporation was one of the 350 companies rated in the 2019 report.

It received an overall score of 4. Its scores in each category were as follows:
Overall Approach 3 out of 5

Commodity Score (palm, paper & pulp) 4 out of 5

Commitment Strength 5 out of 5

Reporting and implementation 4 out of 5

Social Considerations 4 out of 5

The company had signed up to the following collective commitments:

New York Declaration on Forests signatory
Consumer Goods Forum member

As it had scored 4 overall, this reference is for information only.

Reference:

Forest 500 - 2019 ranking (2019)

In March 2020 Ethical Consumer searched the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) ACOP’s website and found a submission from Kao for 2018.
23% of the total palm oil, palm kernel oil and palm oil derivatives used by the company was reported to be certified by the RSPO but none of this was through a segregated mechanism. The company picked up additional marks for disclosing volumes and having a group wide commitment.
"By the end of 2020, Kao will purchase 100 % of certified Palm oil, Palm kernel oil and their derivatives for manufacturing our products for consumer."
Additional information was found in its Sustainability Data Book 2019: "We will not purchase palm oil that contributes to the development of any high conservation value (HCV) forests, high carbon stock (HCS) forests or peatlands, regardless of the depth." Additionally by 2018 it had 98% completed tracing its palm oil products to the mill.

It received Ethical Consumer's middle rating for its palm oil policy and practice and lost half a mark under this category.

Reference:

Sustainability Data Book 2019 (4 March 2020)

In March 2015 the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) published a report called 'Fries, Face Wash, Forests:
Scoring America’s Top Brands on Their Palm Oil Commitments.' The report was an updated version of its 2014 report ‘Donuts, Deoderants, Deforestation: Scoring America’s Top Brands on Their Palm Oil Commitments.’

The report noted that palm oil production had contributed to climate change through the destruction of carbon-rich tropical forests and peatlands. It also highlighted exploitation within the industry, particularly child labour, poverty wages and dangerous working conditions, and the violation of indigenous land rights.

The report evaluated the same 30 firms across three sectors (packaged food, personal care, and fast food), scoring them on the extent of their global commitments to use palm oil that is deforestation-free, peat-free, and traceably and transparently sourced. In addition it had added a new sector, scoring the top ten largest supermarket, pharmacy, and discount companies based on their sourcing commitments for their storebrand products, bringing the total to 40 companies examined.

Companies scoring more than 60 overall were deemed to have a ‘strong commitment’, those scoring 36-59 were classed as having ‘some commitment’, those with 35 or less were described as having ‘little commitment’ and those scoring 0 were considered to have ‘no commitment’.

Kao received a score of 54.8 and was considered by UCS to have some commitments to sourcing palm oil sustainably. As the company was also rated under Ethical Consumer's Palm Oil rating, this reference is for information only

Reference:

Fries, Face Wash, Forests: Scoring America’s Top Brands on Their Palm Oil Commitments (March 2015)