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May 31 2017

SC Johnson, Transparency, and the Free Market

by Julie Gunlock

SC Johnson’s iconic advertisement campaign, which states it’s “a family company” resonates with people. Family companies are associated with small town values, integrity, honesty and products that are durable, reliable, affordable and safe. People want to buy products from companies they trust.

Last week, SC Johnson announced it wants to do more to gain consumer’s trust. Responding to demands for more transparency, the company launched a new website that lists the chemicals used in their products. Ostensibly, this allows people who might have an allergy to certain chemicals to check which products contain those chemicals so that they can avoid them.

SC Johnson is receiving vast praise for the move. Even Ken Cook, President of well-known alarmist organization The Environmental Working Group, praised the move. Cook told PR Newswire: “SC Johnson is once again raising the bar for other companies,” adding (emphasis mine):

This is a groundbreaking disclosure of allergens in cleaning products from SC Johnson,” Cook said. “By taking these steps, SC Johnson will help millions of consumers be smarter about chemicals in cleaning products that have the potential to causes allergic skin responses.

While I’m happy to see Cook praise SC Johnson, it’s important to remember that while there are chemicals out there that can cause allergic reactions, the mere presence of a these chemicals does not automatically mean a person will develop an allergic reaction—even for those with diagnosed allergies to a particular chemical. SC Johnson and many other companies that produce cleaning and personal care products use chemicals in very small amounts—far below what causes allergic sensitivity to develop.

Of course, what’s lost in all of this is the discussion of why manufacturers use these chemicals in the first place. Consumers should know that chemicals often make products better, longer lasting, more durable, free of bacteria, and more affordable. It’s easy to get caught up in the alarmism surrounding chemicals and to be afraid of the multisyllabic words that might appear on ingredient labels. But it’s important that people realize that these products undergo hundreds of safety tests before being placed on store shelves.

When I see efforts to provide more information to consumers, I’m reminded of the benefit of the free market system. Government didn’t make SC Johnson do this—consumer demand drove this industry initiative. That’s good for shoppers.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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