The ZMWG has started this global NGO campaign, with financial support from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) via the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). The focus of the campaign is in support of national government efforts to ban the manufacture, import, export and use of mercury-added cosmetics (with mercury content of 1 part per million.) This effort is in line with the Minamata Convention provisions in general support of listed product bans. The campaign started in 2017 and will be continuing until 2020.
In the framework of the project, a ZMWG skin-lightening cream working group has been formed.
The toxic trade of often illegal mercury-added skin-lightening products is a global crisis expected to only worsen with skyrocketing demand, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.i
Skin lighteners still available online despite mercury findings (March 2022)
Extensive testing by ZMWG in 2020-22, once more confirms that internet platforms, such as Amazon, eBay, flipkart (along with many other online internet marketers worldwide), are selling toxic, dangerous and often illegal skin-lighteners that have been already identified by many governments around the world as over the legal limit.
In our new 2020-2022 ZMWG investigation and report “Skin Lighteners Still Online Despite Mercury Findings”, skin lightening products (SLPs) offered by over 40 online platforms, and accessed in 17 countries by our partner NGOs, confirmed yet again that high-mercury SLPs are widely available from a range of popular e-commerce platforms globally. Of the 271 SLPs tested, 129 were found to have mercury levels over 1 ppm.
Our 2020-2022 investigation also included regular monitoring over 13 months of e-commerce platforms in 15 countries to assess the ongoing availability of many of the high-mercury SLPs identified. Nearly all of the SLPs listed in our 2019 report with mercury levels over 1 ppm continue to be available from over three times as many e-commerce platforms as those targeted in 2019.
National governments should ensure that sales of products prohibited in stores are also prohibited online; and online platforms should bear the legal responsibility for ensuring that products sold on their platforms fully comply with health and safety laws.
2019 (Revised March 2022)
Extensive testing by ZMWG in 2019 (revised in 2022, again confirms that local markets and also internet platforms, such as Amazon and eBay (along with many other online internet marketers worldwide), are selling toxic, dangerous and often illegal skin-lighteners that have been already identified by many governments around the world as over the legal limit.
In our most recent testing study, "Dangerous, mercury-laden and often illegal skin-lightening products: Readily available for (online) purchase,” the collection of samples was carried out by members of the ZMWG in 12 countries. 166 samples were bought from both shops and large e-commerce platforms and 93 of them were found to violate the limit of one part per million (ppm) of mercury that many countries and the Minamata Convention have fixed as a legal limit.
Products with above one ppm mercury had mercury contents that ranged from 1.09 ppm to over 40,000 ppm. Sixty-four of the non-compliant creams (or 69%) were bought online.
Our companion report, “Enforcement measures to restrict high mercury cosmetic products under the Minamata Convention,” suggests elements for improving enforcement of the Minamata Convention provisions for banning cosmetic products with mercury levels over one ppm. It also presents a field survey of the systems and strategies in eight countries where the ZMWG has member organizations.
This report needs to now(2021) be seen together with a need for measures to ensure third party liability especially for internet traders as expressed by the Joint call by business, consumer and civil society organisations on the Digital Services Act (DSA): Effective and unambiguous rules are needed to tackle illegal activities and rogue traders, 11 October 2021. Liability reform is recommended as the cornerstone of a strategy to eliminate illegal internet sales, since it is the best policy mechanism for promoting actions by internet platforms to prevent the products from appearing on their platforms in the first place. The mechanisms mentioned in the enforcement report are complementary to liability reform.
The executive summary of the 2019 reports is available for download here.
During COP3 of the Minamata Convention, the ZMWG hosted a side event to showcase the results of the campaign during 2019. Our campaign partners from BanToxics in the Philippines, ESDO in Bangladesh, and BeautyWell in USA presented their experiences in obtaining samples and working with both local authorities and raising awareness among communities using these products.
Consistent with other research, the new Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) study indicates that a significant percentage of skin-lightening creams sold worldwide contain dangerous levels of mercury.
In 2017 and 2018, 338 skin-lightening creams from 22 countries were collected by seventeen of our non-governmental organization (NGO) partners from around the world and tested for mercury. 34 creams (10% of the samples) had mercury concentrations ranging from 93 - 16,353 parts per million (ppm). These levels significantly exceeded not only the legal standard established by countries that regulate these products, but also the provisions set forth in the Minamata Convention disallowing after 2020 the “manufacture, import or export” of cosmetics with a mercury content above 1 ppm.
In a separate exercise, the Mercury Policy Project, the Sierra Club and the European Environmental Bureau purchased skin lighteners from eBay and Amazon websites. The brands purchased included many previously identified as high mercury by New York City, the state of Minnesota, the European Union, Singapore, UAE, the Philippines and many other national governments. Nineteen products had illegal mercury levels, typically more than 10,000 times higher than the legal threshold of 1ppm.
Over 50 civil society groups from more than 20 countries sent letters today to Amazon and eBay, calling on them to stop marketing illegal mercury-based skin lightening creams. In their letters, the groups are calling on Amazon and eBay to among others to ensure the products they sell comply with government regulations, develop and monitor lists of toxic skin lighteners and require prior sale approval for those to be sold.