LOS ANGELES (CN) - Five women say in a federal class action that Estee Lauder, Avon and Mary Kay resumed animal testing of cosmetics for the Chinese market while falsely claiming in the United States that their products are "cruelty free."
Lead plaintiff Marina Beltran demands $100 million in class damages from Estee Lauder, Avon Products and Mary Kay cosmetics companies.
"For years, defendants marketed and advertised their companies and their cosmetic products as not being tested on animals, when in fact defendants were testing their cosmetic products on animals so that they could sell products in China and other foreign countries, thereby reaping hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. Defendants later purported to disclose, at least on their websites, that they in fact were animal testing, but the disclosures were wholly inadequate and deceptive," the complaint states.
According to the 18-page complaint: "As a result of the aforementioned representations, defendants, for over two decades, achieved placement in the 'People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) - Do Not Test' list, a list of, among others, cosmetic companies that do not test products on live animals. Defendants were, until a matter of weeks ago, among the largest mainstream corporations to be included on PETA's cruelty-free lists.
"As a result of being included on the list, as well as many similar lists, defendants enjoyed the support of PETA and millions of consumers who buy cosmetics only from companies that do not conduct animal testing.
"Hence, the commercial success of defendants' products during the class period was positively influenced by their direct representations regarding animal testing. Simply put, defendants reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from U.S. consumers who otherwise would not have purchased defendants' products."
The plaintiffs claim the three companies made "a profit-motivated decision to enter the Chinese market," and "subsequently began testing certain of their products on animals and/or hired others to conduct animal testing of their products."
"However, rather than being upfront with American consumers regarding their animal testing policies and adequately disclosing that they were not 'cruelty' free, defendants instead failed to inform consumers that they were not cruelty free and/or provided inadequate disclosures regarding the animal testing of their products," the complaint states.
Avon spokeswoman Jennifer Vargas told Courthouse News in an emailed statement that she could not comment on pending litigation.
"What I can tell you is Avon's commitment not to test on animals is the same as it has been for over twenty years: except where required by local law, Avon neither conducts nor requests animal testing in order to substantiate the safety of its products," Vargas wrote. "Avon does business in over 100 countries, and some select products may be required by law in a few countries to undergo additional safety testing under the directive of a government or health agency. In these instances, Avon will first attempt to persuade the requesting authority to accept non-animal test data. When those attempts are unsuccessful, Avon must abide by local laws and comply with that government's testing requirements.
"Nothing has changed, and we have been transparent on the issue regarding our requirement to adhere to local laws in countries where we do business," Vargas wrote.
Mary Kay said in an email that it did not conduct animal testing "except when absolutely required by law."
"There is only one country where we operate where that is the case and where we are required to submit our products for testing - China," the company told Courthouse News in an email.
It added: "This is a passionate issue for us. We are deeply committed to the elimination of animal testing, and our record speaks to that. We are working closely with the Chinese government to demonstrate that alternative testing methods ensure safe and effective products."
But PETA's Cathy Guillermo told Courthouse News that the animal rights organization was "extremely upset" when it learned that the cosmetics companies had tested their products on animals.
"It appears these companies have misled some consumers, and it appears that the plaintiffs may have a valid complaint here," Guillermo told Courthouse News.
The plaintiffs are represented by Michael Avenatti with Eagan Avenatti of Newport Beach.
Avenatti told Courthouse News: "We expect to uncover significant evidence in this case showing that each of the companies knew they were not coming clean with consumers."
The class seeks an injunction and damages for fraud/fraudulent concealment, unfair business practices, false advertising, violations of California's Consumers Legal Remedies Act.
Estee Lauder did not respond to an emailed request for comment.