Honest Company: Not so Honest?

Recently, Honest Co has come under fire for contradictory information regarding ingredients in their products. The mission of the business is to provide home and baby products that are “not only effective, but unquestionably safe, eco-friendly, beautiful, convenient, and affordable”. They have a very detailed sustainability strategy that is transparent to all consumers and partners, and are formally associated with PETA, the Carbon Fund, Renewable Energy Credits, B Corps Certification, and Green America Certified Business – GOLD. The company also provides information to consumers about harmful chemicals and ingredients that exist in many household products, which they pledge to avoid. One of these ingredients is sodium lauryl sulfate, which is known to irritate skin.

The Wall Street Journal, however, has made a public statement that the Honest Co. does in fact use this ingredient in their liquid detergent, despite their pledge not to. A blog post by the Honest Co. repudiates this claim, saying that they use a different, yet similar ingredient. The Wall Street Journal is firm in it’s belief (supported by scientists research on the product) that the Honest Co. is using the harmful chemical, and the Honest Co. is firm in it’s public statement that no, they do not. While these two forces battle between what is right, the consumers are left feeling distrustful and confused.

Consumers of Honest Co.’s products are buying into a company whose products are trusted to be just that… honest. When I bought a detergent from Honest Co. last year, it was a win-win purchase. I was not making a compromise on quality, cost, or effectiveness, and I felt really good about it. I implicitly trusted that Honest Co. was being true to its sustainability and value mission. These are the fundamental values of the company, after all, and they must be aligning their products to those values. Right?

The question I want to ask here is not whether or not sodium lauryl sulfate is in their product despite their adamant claims that it is not. The question is of whom consumers are going to trust more when there are claims against the sustainable values of a company. This example shows that even if a company builds its entire product line on sustainability and safe consumption; it only takes one naysayer to bring each and every product component into question. What if Honest Co. is right, and none of this chemical exists in their detergent? They still will have lost the trust of many consumers. And what if Honest Co. is wrong? Their public adamancy will have been untrue, causing irreparable damage to their brand image and trust. Ultimately, they cannot escape from this claim unscathed.

This news article brings up many complex issues that connect with our class content, but I believe that it reflects the vital importance of transparency and honesty to help a brand thrive in their sustainability mission.


2 thoughts on “Honest Company: Not so Honest?

  1. lgonchar says:

    I found out about Honest Co first when I heard it was started by Jessica Alba, and it’s been very positively reviewed by users and in the media. I’ve never tried their products but definitely would consider in the future. I agree with you- it is very unfortunate that it takes just one negative comment to ruin the trust in a company or even the reputation of one. It is also unfortunate that we cannot really determine if the allegations are true or not, despite the labeling and PR of Honest Co. I think it is so corrupt how consumers cannot know the actual truth even with labels, ingredients, missions/ values, and certifications that the brands provide. I really hope that in the future, consumers will have some sort of trustful resource to turn to when searching for the ingredients or content of a product or even searching for transparent information.

  2. Wanda He says:

    The question appears to be philosophical in nature. The question that I have while reading about Honest Co. is regarding realistic consumer expectation and the allowed degree of hyperbole and overstatement. After all, Honest Co. is still a for-profit organization, where sustainability and profit are regarded as of equal importance. Does it make logical sense for us, as consumers to expect companies to fully disclose the truth and remain transparent? I think the answer is a less definite yes. Theoretically speaking, given that Honest Co. made the claim and regarded this as one of their selling points, then naturally, the conclusion should be that consumers would expect Honest Co. to keep their promise. Being green, or at least, claiming to be green would bring competitive advantage and better leverage the celebrities appeal from Jessica Alba. Therefore, it makes logical and economic sense to make sustainability a point of difference. Nevertheless, it does not hurt to always remain a certain level of doubt, because we live in a world of relatively rather than absoluteness. Honest Co. may have the desire to remain and operate in an honest fashion, however, in reality; they may also be subjected to constant adjustments and limitations, as some things do unavoidably fall through the cracks. As a regular consumer, we may not know the difference between sodium lauryl sulphate and its safer replacement. We are relying on an authoritative figure, the Wall Street Journal, and we are seeing the “truth” through their filtered lens.
    I feel that I am being more critical on this matter, because I may not truly necessarily believe that full sustainability can be achieved with for-profit organization. This is because profit is almost always the top priority and takes dominance over every other factor when there is a conflict.

    It is interesting that the focus here is on condemnation of the business being dishonest and its failure to achieve the brand missions and to realize the brand values. Collectively, the society’s objective should be on improvement of existing green technologies and exploration of new opportunities, I feel that instead, we should focus on how things can be changed, rather than being caught up in mistakes and wrong doings. In effect, I even would like to question whether the matter was as serious as claimed.

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