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Ethical consumption often brings forth two terms in discussions: vegan and cruelty-free. Although these terms may seem interchangeable, they actually represent different aspects of ethical consumerism. While both reflect ethical choices, one evaluates the production process of a product, and the other concerns the product's ingredients. This blog post will explain how to identify cruelty-free and vegan products, differentiate non-vegan ingredients, explore cruelty-free supply chains that avoid animal testing, and discuss the challenges of selling cruelty-free products in China.

What is a "Vegan" Product?

A vegan product is one that contains no animal-derived ingredients or by-products, including meat, dairy, eggs, or honey, as well as lesser-known animal-derived components like gelatin, lanolin, and carmine. Ensuring a product is vegan requires meticulous examination from ingredients to packaging. Third-party certifications like The Vegan Society's Vegan Trademark are crucial in confirming the authenticity of vegan products.

What Does "Cruelty-Free" Mean?

A cruelty-free product is one that has not been tested on animals at any stage of production. Certifications such as Leaping Bunny or PETA's Beauty Without Bunnies help consumers easily identify products free from animal testing.

While a vegan product may not contain animal-derived ingredients, it doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't tested on animals during production. Some companies may choose to test even plant-based or synthetic ingredients on animals. Companies entering markets with regulatory standards like China might be required to conduct animal testing, potentially compromising the cruelty-free status of a vegan product.

Conversely, a product not tested on animals may still contain animal-derived ingredients. Cruelty-free certifications focus on testing practices rather than ingredient sourcing. Thus, 

while cruelty-free, some products may not be vegan due to the inclusion of animal-derived components.

Identifying Both Vegan and Cruelty-Free Products

According to BRC (British Retail Consortium) guidelines, vegan products should offer alternatives to traditionally animal-derived materials or ingredients. (For example, plant-based leathers such as Appleskin, Piñatex, etc.) Therefore, products that are not traditionally produced with animal-derived materials are excluded. This means that, for example, a cotton shirt, traditionally made from cotton, doesn't need to be labeled vegan. To identify both vegan and cruelty-free products, follow these steps:


  1. Check Scope: Does the product we want to label as vegan provide an alternative to a product normally containing animal-derived materials? (e.g., leather, silk, etc.) Or is the material itself inherently vegan? (e.g., cotton, bamboo, etc.)
  2. Examine Ingredients: Do we have a complete list of the materials, adhesives, and chemical components used in the product and its ingredients? If we know the list of product components, we need to check the risk areas and see if any material, adhesive, or chemical considered high-risk contains animal-derived content. (e.g., some dye substances may have animal- and plant-derived options.)
  3. Identify High-Risk Ingredients: If any of the raw materials, adhesives, or chemicals fall into the high-risk category, we may request the supplier to provide evidence of compliance, such as an ingredient list, test, or declaration. Additionally, it is important to communicate with the company or supplier for products without cruelty-free certification to obtain information and confirm that no animal testing has been conducted at any production stage.
  4. Check sales in China: Animal testing is required due to China's safety regulations if a brand sells its products in China. Therefore, even if a brand does not conduct animal testing within its own facilities, it must undergo animal testing during entry into the Chinese market. Unfortunately, this means that products from these brands, while vegan may be vegan, are not cruelty-free.

Non-Vegan Ingredients

Even if the main material of a product is vegan, not all its raw materials may be vegan. Additionally, we should not forget that not all synthetic materials are vegan, so we need information about the chemicals in synthetic materials to determine if a product is vegan. Some dyes, adhesives, and synthetic chemicals are derived from animals. Being a conscious consumer also involves considering the broader environmental and ethical implications of the components used in products and being able to read labels well. Of course, knowing every animal-derived ingredient may not be possible, but conducting detailed research about a product's production process and raw materials before purchasing is crucial. By paying attention to the product itself and the materials used in its packaging and labels, we can more easily identify vegan products.

You can refer to the content table we have prepared at this stage.

Cruelty-Free Supply Chain

Being cruelty-free goes beyond the final product; it involves ensuring that every component and supplier in the supply chain adheres to cruelty-free principles. Companies committed to ethical practices should demand assurances from their suppliers regarding cruelty-free production and supply processes to maintain integrity throughout the manufacturing process.

Despite some existing tests, retailers believe that there is currently no test that definitively confirms the presence of animal-derived components in products. Retailers need to ask their suppliers the right questions to verify all raw material contents. As consumers, our role at this point is to check the company's certifications and clarify any doubts by contacting the company.

Certifications and Sales in China

Several organizations, including Vegan Action and Vegan Society, issue vegan certifications. These organizations conduct rigorous inspections on companies to verify that the ingredients in their products are not of animal origin and provide guidance.

On the other hand, Cruelty-free certifications confirm that a product has not been tested on animals. These certifications apply to cosmetics, personal care products, cleaning products, medications, and other industrial items. One of the most well-known certification organizations is the "Leaping Bunny" program. Other organizations include "PETA's Beauty Without Bunnies" and "Choose Cruelty Free." However, certifications alone may not be sufficient to identify cruelty-free products. This is because some brands sell products in China, and China has specific policies on animal testing.

China mandates animal testing for cosmetics and certain imported products. As a result, many companies selling products in China, even if they refrain from testing on animals in other parts of the world, cannot claim exemption from cruelty. This regulatory hurdle highlights the complexity of achieving cruelty-free status globally. Unfortunately, due to these regulations, many brands producing cruelty-free products end up paying testing companies for animal experiments.

One of the best ways to determine whether a brand sells products in China is to conduct in-depth research on the brand. Some brands, despite having cruelty-free certifications, may still sell products in China. Therefore, understanding that certifications alone may not be sufficient is crucial to accessing cruelty-free products.

In conclusion, ethical consumption requires more information and attention, but understanding and implementing these terms is actually easier than we might think. Checking certifications, examining product labels, and communicating with brands help choose vegan and cruelty-free products. By doing so, we can uphold our ethical values and contribute to creating a more ethical and sustainable global consumption culture. Producing without animal-derived materials and testing is more possible than ever today, and as consumers, we have the power to increase the availability of vegan and cruelty-free products through our choices.

Change begins with us.





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