On 26th April 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed the Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC website for the company's environmental policy or report.

Ethical Consumer also sent a questionnaire to the company in April 2021 but no response was received.

An environmental policy was deemed necessary to report on a company's environmental performance and set targets for reducing its impacts in the future. A strong policy would include two future, quantified environmental targets, demonstration by the company that it had a reasonable understanding of its main environmental impacts, be dated within two years and have its environmental data independently verified.
The company's latest sustainability report dated 2020 was viewed.

The company discussed several areas of environmental impact such as chemical use, ingredients, plastics, packaging, climate change, water use and waste. However, it received a worst rating for Pollution & Toxics and so was not considered to have a reasonable understanding of its main impacts.

The company's most recent report was dated within two years.
Two or more quantified future targets were found which included:
- Cutting Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions by 65% by 2030, compared to 2015
- Cutting Scope 3 GHG emissions by 50% by 2030, compared to 2015
- Sourcing 100% renewable electricity by 2030, compared to 5% in 2015.
- Reduce water in its operations by 30% by 2025 versus 2015.

The data in the report was independently verified by ERM. The report stated "Reckitt Benckiser Group plc (Reckitt) engaged ERM Certification and Verification Services (ERM CVS) to provide limited assurance in relation to specified information in Reckitt Sustainability Insights 2020 (the Reports)". This assurance covered a significant amount of the report's environmental data. ERM stated "Based on our activities, nothing has come to our attention to indicate that the 2020 data and reported progress, as listed in “Scope of our assurance engagement” above and marked † in Reckitt’s ‘Sustainability Insights 2020’ for year ended 31 December 2020, are not fairly presented, in all material respects, with the reporting criteria."

Overall, Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC received middle Ethical Consumer rating for Environmental Reporting and lost half a mark in this category.

Reference:

Sustainability Report 2021 (26 April 2021)

On 26 April 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed the website of Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC, looking for information on what the company was doing to tackle climate change.

Ethical Consumer was looking for the company to satisfy the following criteria in its public statements and reports:

1.a For the company to discuss its areas of climate impact, and to discuss plausible ways it has cut them in the past, and ways that it will cut them in the future.

1.b For the company to have relevant sector-specific policies in place.

1.c For the company to not be involved in any particularly damaging projects like tar sands, oil or aviation, to not be subject to damning secondary criticism regarding it’s climate actions, and to have a policy to avoid investing in fossil fuels.

2. For the company to report annually on its scope 1&2 greenhouse gas emissions (direct emissions by the company).

3. For the company to go some way towards reporting its scope 3 emissions (emissions from the supply chain, investments and sold products).

4. For the company to have a target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with international agreements (counted as the equivalent of at least 2.5% cut per year in scope 1&2 emissions), and to not count offsetting towards this target.

1.a
The company stated its main areas of carbon impact. It stated that consumer use accounted for 75% of its carbon impact; raw materials 9%; packaging 7%; logistics and retail 6%; end of life 2%; and manufacturing 1%.

It listed ways it had reduced emissions in the past: It stated that it had reduced its GHG from manufacturing by 40% since 2012. The company's 2020 Climate Change report stated "Since 2012, we have reduced our energy consumption per unit of production by 21.9% [...] In 2019 our scope 2 emissions were reduced by -19 % versus 2018 (in absolute terms) due to our use and purchase of renewable energy and continued focus on energy efficiency. In 2019, we switched more of our supply in areas such as South East Asia and India either to renewable electricity contracts, direct renewable power purchase agreements (PPA) or by investing in on-site renewables."

It listed ways it would cut emissions in the future: It listed continuing to develop energy-efficiency innovations and renewables as a method it would take to reduce emissions (it had committed to sourcing 100% renewable electricity by 2030).

This was considered to constitute an adequate discussion of its climate impacts.

1.b The company did not appear to have any sector-specific policies.

1.c The company was not found to be involved in particularly damaging projects.

2. The company reported its annual scope 1 and 2 emissions to be: 10177137 metric tonnes CO2e.

3. The company reported on some scope 3 emissions as follows: 9844000 metric tonnes co2e.

4. The company had a target in line with international agreements. It stated that its target "has been approved as science-based by the Science-Based Targets initiative".

Overall, Reckitt Benckiser received Ethical Consumer's best rating for carbon management and reporting and lost no marks in the Climate Change category.

Reference:

Sustainability Report 2021 (26 April 2021)

In April 2021 Ethical Consumer sent Reckitt Benckiser Group a questionnaire, requesting information about the company’s approach to the use of the chemicals parabens, triclosan and phthalates. No response was received. Ethical Consumer therefore searched the company’s website for publicly available information.

Triclosan is an antibacterial and is a suspected endocrine disruptor. Parabens are also endocrine disruptors and have been linked to breast cancer and are used as preservatives. Phthalates, usually DEP or DBP, are used in fragrances and are endocrine disruptors. Some forms or uses of these chemicals are banned or restricted in the EU or the USA.

A strong policy on toxics would be no use of these chemicals or clear, dated targets for ending their use.

Parabens: in the company's Sustainability Report 2020 under a heading 'Ingredient to remove' the following was listed: "Parabens (butyl, propyl, isoparabens). It appeared that this had been completed in 2015. As it only listed three parabens, this was not considered a clear policy against the use of all parabens. It stated that the removal of the ingredient did not include "medically licensed products".

Triclosan: no policy was found. 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.

Phthalates: no information on phthalates could be found.

As the company did not clearly 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:

Sustainability Report 2021 (26 April 2021)

In April 2021 Ethical Consumer searched for an update on the scandal involving the toxic humidifiers produced by Oxy Reckitt Benckiser. An article titled 'More than 14,000 people may have been killed in South Korea's toxic humidifiers scandal, ten times more than previously thought' dated 28 July 2020 on the Telegraph website was viewed.

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 Ethical Consumer's Irresponsible Marketing, Human Rights and Pollution & Toxics categories.

Reference:

More than 14,000 people may have been killed in South Korea's toxic humidifiers scandal, ten times m

In April 2021 Ethical Consumer searched the Reckitt Benckiser website for the company's policy on the use of microplastics and 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.

A page titled Plastics and Packaging was found which stated: "The presence of microplastics in the environment is an increasing concern, due to their potential to harm organisms and enter the food chain. Recognising this, we have taken steps to stop using microplastic beads since 2016."

"A number of microplastics have been added to our restricted substances list and we are collaborating with industry partners to minimise the release of microplastic particles into the environment. We are supporting research initiatives on detection, risk assessment and degradation of microplastic particles in the environment."

A site search was conducted for the following common polymers: Acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, Acrylates copolymer, Carbome, Cyclohexasiloxane, Cyclopentasiloxane, Polyquaternium-7, Sodium polyacrylate). No use of these was identified, however for a large company operating in the chemicals industry a clear policy against the use of microplastics and non-biodegradable liquid polymers was expected.

Given that the company’s policy did not cover the use of all microplastics 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 May 2021 Ethical Consumer searched for information on Reckitt Benckiser’s use of palm ingredients. Ethical Consumer also sent Reckitt Benckister a questionnaire, asking for details of the company's use of palm oil, palm kernel oil and derivatives. No response was received.

The mass production of palm oil has relied on the destruction of rainforests, which has wide ranging impacts including contributing to climate change, as well as loss of biodiversity and human rights.

The company stated in its ACOP 2019 that it had used 126,562 tonnes of crude and refined palm oil in the last year, 28,106 tonnes of palm kernel oil, and 17,760 tonnes of palm derivatives. It appeared that only 12,700 tonnes had been certified in total.

The company achieved a worst rating and lost a whole mark in this category as it was a large sized (over £100m turnover) company that did not meet the following criteria:
with all palm ingredients including derivatives being certified RSPO, AND lists all mills and producer groups/parent companies (refiners) and none were on the chainreactionresearch.com list of refiners without effective NDPE implementation.

Reference:

Generic www.rspo.org 2021 (2021)

In April 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed an article on The Guardian website dated 17 January 2021, titled 'Biggest food brands 'failing goals to banish palm oil deforestation'.

This stated that according to reports by WWF and Rainforest Action Network, Reckitt Benckiser ranked low in a table comparing company approaches to palm oil for either performing poorly or missing targets. The reports were said to demonstrate how "Some of the world’s biggest brands are failing in their commitments to banish deforestation from their supply chains through their use of palm oil, despite making public claims to environmental sustainability".

Reckitt Benckiser has previously been criticised for its approach to palm sourcing. 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.”

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.”

Due to multiple external criticisms related to palm oil supply, the company lost half a mark under the Palm Oil category.

Reference:

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