In March 2020 Ethical Consumer sent Reckitt Benckiser a questionnaire, asking for details of the company's enviornmental management. The company replied with some details, and linked to its website and its RB Sustainability Insights 2018 report.

These included several dated and quantified future environmental targets.
- GHG products - 1/3 reduction in CO2 footprint by 2020 using 2012 as a baseline
- GHG manufacturing - 40% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 using 2012 as a baseline
- Water products - 1/3 reduction in water impact by 2020 using 2012 as a baseline
- Water manufacturing - 35% reduction in water consumption by 2020 using 2012 as a baseline
- Waste - 2020 target to 20% reduction over 2012 baseline

The company had discussions on its Greenhouse Gas emissions broken down into products and manufacturing; it did the same for its water usage; waste, transportation and natural resources. It was considered to have a reasonable understanding of its main environmental impacts, except that it had received a worst rating for toxics.

The report included an assurance report from Ernst & Young LLP.

As the company got our worst rating for its toxic chemicals policy, it was not able to receive a best rating for Environmental Reporting. Overall Reckitt Benckiser received Ethical Consumer's middle rating for environmental reporting.

Reference:

Questionnaire response March 2020 (30 March 2020)

In March 2020 Ethical Consumer sent Reckitt Benckiser a questionnaire, asking for details of the company's policy on toxics chemicals. In particular Ethical Consumer expected companies to have removed or have clear targets to remove from their supply chains the following chemicals: parabens, triclosan and phthalates.

The company replied, although it did not provide much detail, so its website and reports were also searched.

It had the following policies:

Triclosan: In its 2009 Corporate Social Responsibility Report it stated "We also have a policy for the use of Triclosan in our products. Reckitt Benckiser voluntarily restricts Triclosan use to licensed medicinal, over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceutical, cosmetic and toiletry products where it is necessary for specific therapeutic activity and provides a clear and demonstrable benefit to the consumer." No further or more up to date information could be found regarding its policy on the use of triclosan.

Parabens: In its 2017 Sustainability report it stated "In 2015, we completed a project to remove isoparabens from our cosmetic portfolio globally and have also restricted the use of propyl and butyl parabens. Parabens are a family of chemical preservatives used across many types of consumer goods, especially in cosmetics. Whilst the preservation of our products is an important function to ensure they are safe to use, recent research has linked the use of parabens to potential health risks. Our aim is to maintain pace with new scientific research or advance research in specific areas and make ingredient decisions that will always be safe for our consumers." As there was no company-wide ban on the ingredient, Ethical Consumer assumed the company was still using it.

No information on phthalates could be found.

As the company did not ban any of the three chemicals it received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for toxic chemicals policy and lost a full mark under Pollution & Toxics.

Reference:

Questionnaire response March 2020 (30 March 2020)

In May 2016 Time Inc reported in an article entitled "Hundreds of South Korean Victims of Toxic Disinfectant File Lawsuit" that a lawsuit had been filed in South Korea for the victims of a toxic disinfectant for humidifiers sold by Oxy, a subsidiary of Reckitt Benckiser.

The Korea Times reports that the plaintiffs included 235 people who suffered lung damage and relatives of 51 people who died after coming into contact with the product. The lawsuit was seeking $9 million in compensation from the manufacturer of the product, distributors and the government.

It was believed more people were killed or suffered ill effects from the popular product, which was targeted at families with children using humidifiers in South Korea’s dry climate. It was taken off the market after South Korea’s Center for Disease Control identified a link with lung damage in 2011. Prosecutors charged four executives at Oxy with skipping necessary toxicity tests before the product was launched in 2001.

The suit demands compensation — including $45,000 for each of the deceased, and smaller sums for those suffering continuing effects — from a total of 22 companies involved in making and selling the disinfectant, and the authorities.

“Without any grounds, the manufacturers and sellers of the humidifier disinfectants indicated on the labels of their products that the ingredients were safe,” a lawyer told the Korea Times. “The government, which failed to properly conduct safety tests and approve the products through tightly enforced safety regulations, must also take responsibility.”

Reckitt Benckiser announced in 2016 the establishment of a compensation fund for those affected in South Korea. The company says it accepts “full responsibility for the role that this product played in these health issues, including deaths,” and that it has improved its product-safety processes.

Subsequent news reports added that in 2017 the former head of Reckitt Benckister’s Korean subsidiary, Oxy Reckit Benickster, was found guilty of accidental homicide and received the maximum sentence of seven years of imprisonment.

The company lost a whole mark under Irresponsible Marketing, and Pollution & Toxics.

Reference:

Hundreds of South Korean Victims of Toxic Disinfectant File Lawsuit (17 May 2016)

In March 2020, Ethical Consumer searched Reckitt Benckiser’s website for the company's policy on the use of microplastics and non-biodegradable liquid polymers. The company's webpage on this topic was found. Ethical Consumer also received a completed company questionnaire in February 2020 which detailed the company's approach to, and policies around, microplastics and non-biodegradable liquid polymers.

The company's questionnaire stated: "At RB we are fully committed to protecting the environment from the potential impact of ingredients used in our products, including microplastics & microbeads (microplastic beads)." This suggested that the company still used microplastics in its products to some degree.

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.

According to 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 policy did not cover the use of all microplastics in all of the company’s products, or the issue of non-biodegradable liquid polymers, the company lost half a mark under Pollution & Toxics.

Reference:

Questionnaire response March 2020 (30 March 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 ranking. 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:

Reckitt Benckiser was one of the 350 companies rated in the 2019 report.

It received an overall score of 3. Its scores in each category were as follows:
Overall Approach 2 out of 5

Commodity Score (palm, paper & pulp) 3 out of 5

Commitment Strength 4 out of 5

Reporting and implementation 2 out of 5

Social Considerations 4 out of 5

The company had not signed up to the following collective commitments:

New York Declaration on Forests signatory
Consumer Goods Forum member

As it had scored under 4 overall, it lost half a mark under Habitats and Resources.

Reference:

Forest 500 - 2019 ranking (2019)

In April 2015, Sum of Us released a report and started a campaign targetting high profile retailers, over their stocking of omega 3 supplements which contained krill oil, including the MegaRed brand. The report claimed that krill are vacuumed in vast quantities from the Southern Ocean and pumped into omega-3 supplements.
Krill prop up the food chain as the source of food for hundreds of marine creatures in the Antarctic. The report showed that krill numbers are crashing, and this is endangering the survival of hundreds of marine creatures like whales, penguins, and seals.
Krill populations have already dropped 80 percent since the 1970s. Antarctic penguin populations have dropped a staggering 50 percent in the last 30 years.
MegaRed is supplied by Aker Biomarine, a Norwegian fishery and biotech company, and the biggest supplier of krill oil.
The campaign demanded that sustainable retailers:

1. Stop selling all Antarctic krill oil products

2. Adopt a corporate policy against the sales of all Antarctic krill oil products

Reference:

Vacuuming Antarctica for Krill, PLUNDERING THE EARTH’S LAST FRONTIER (30 April 2015)

In March 2020 Ethical Consumer sent Reckitt Benckister a questionnaire, asking for details of the company's use of palm oil, palm kernel oil and derivatives. The company replied with some detail. Ethical Consumer also viewed the company's latest ACOP, which was for 2018.

Reckitt Benckister stated that had used 126562 tonnes of crude palm oil in the last year, 28106 tonnes of palm kernel oil, and 17760 tonnes of palm derivatives. None of this appeared to be certified by the RSPO. In its 2018 ACOP, only a small proportion of what it stated it had used was certified.

The company sent Ethical Consumer a list of all of its palm oil suppliers. It also listed a number of positive initiatives it was involved in, including the Earthworm Foundation "using real-time satellite technology to monitor recently deforested areas that might be turned into palm oil plantations…Earthworm's Rurality programme works to develop better agricultural practices and diversify farmers' incomes to improve rural livelihoods and reduce pressure to cut down forests to grow crops". It also stated that it was involved with the NGO BSR to support the implementation of a Child Protection Policy in its upstream palm oil supply chain.

However, as none of its palm oil appeared to be RSPO certified, overall RB received a worst Ethical Consumer rating for its palm oil policy and lost a whole mark under Palm Oil.

Reference:

Questionnaire response March 2020 (30 March 2020)

In March 2018 Greenpeace International released its report called “Moment of truth time for brands to come clean about their links to forest destruction for palm oil”.

The report was based on the fact that in 2010 members of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF)
pledged to do their bit to protect forests and limit climate change, with a clear commitment to clean up global commodity supply chains by 2020.

However Greenpeace stated “with less than two years to go until 2020, deforestation to produce commodities such as palm oil shows no sign of slowing down. Corporate commitments and policies have proliferated, but companies have largely failed to implement them. As a result, consumer brands, including those with ‘no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation’ (NDPE) policies, still use palm oil from producers that destroy rainforests, drain carbon-rich peatland and violate the human rights of workers and local communities – making their customers complicit in forest destruction, climate change and human rights abuses.”

At the start of 2018, Greenpeace International challenged 16 leading members of the CGF to demonstrate their progress towards a clean palm oil supply chain. It called on them to disclose publicly the mills that produced their palm oil, and the names of the producer groups that controlled those mills. Eight of the global brands responded to Greenpeace’s challenge and published data revealing where and from whom they ultimately buy palm oil. It said “Transparency and accountability – including the publication of explicit details about who produces the palm oil that companies use – create the conditions for sectoral reform.”

Reckitt Benckiser was one of the eight companies which had responded to Greenpeace’s challenge and had provided data on its traders / suppliers and the names of the mills and producers.

Yet in 2017, Greenpeace assessed the actions palm oil traders were taking to ensure that they were not buying from producers that were destroying rainforests, draining peatlands or exploiting workers and local communities. It said “Although most traders had published NDPE policies, there were serious problems with their implementation: inconsistent standards, questionable enforcement and non-existent deadlines. Not only was the palm oil industry not working to the 2020 deadline set by brands, it did not even have a common timeline for delivering a palm oil supply free from deforestation and other social and environmental harms.”

Reckitt Benckiser lost half a mark under Ethical Consumer's palm oil category due to the fact Greenpeace concluded “none of the major traders can yet be relied upon to supply brands with palm oil that meets their NDPE standards; indeed, they are all known to source from forest destroyers... It follows that by sourcing from these traders brands are buying palm oil contaminated by forest destruction.”

Reference:

Moment of truth time for brands to come clean about their links to forest destruction for palm oil (

On 30th November 2016 Amnesty International released a report called “The Great Palm Oil Scandal: Labour Abuses Behind Big Brands Names.” The report investigated labour exploitation on plantations in Indonesia that provide palm oil to Wilmar, one of the world’s largest processor and merchandiser of palm and lauric (palm kernel) oils
and controls over 43% of the global palm oil trade. The report also traced the palm oil produced in Indonesia for Wilmar to a range of consumer goods
companies that use palm oil in their products.

Amnesty International found serious human rights abuses on the plantations of Wilmar and its suppliers. These included forced labour and child labour, gender discrimination, as well as exploitative and dangerous working practices that put the health of workers at risk. The abuses identified were not isolated incidents but due to systemic business practices by Wilmar’s subsidiaries and suppliers, in particular the low level of wages, the use of targets and ‘piece rates’ (where workers are paid based on tasks completed rather than hours worked), and the use of a complex system of financial and other penalties. Workers, especially women, are employed under casual work arrangements, which make them vulnerable to abuses.

Amnesty stated “All of these are obvious and predictable areas of concern and risk. However, none of the companies that buy palm oil from Wilmar could demonstrate to Amnesty International that they had identified and addressed the actual abuses documented by Amnesty International.”

Reckitt Benckiser confirmed that it received palm oil or palm-related derivatives from one or more of the refineries identifed by Amnesty International as being linked to plantations where labour abuses occur. The company referred to how it supported or relied on the Aggregator Refinery Transformation Plan (ART). It stated that it had made efforts, along with Wilmar and The Forest Trust (TFT), to trace
palm oil back to mills to identify those that are high priority (known as its Mill Prioritisation Process). While the ART approach may be useful for engaging suppliers, Amnesty stated that it was extremely limited in scope. "The criteria used for selection of mills are not based on an adequate pre-assessment of the risk of labour rights abuses." Therefore, engaging in the ART plan alone was consider insufficient by Amnesty to identify labour risks and abuses linked to palm oil plantations. A review of the mill prioritisation document also showed that the assessment was heavily based on environmental rather than labour criteria.

Reference:

The Great Palm Oil Scandal: Labour Abuses Behind Big Brands Names (30 November 2016)