Last week supporters of the initiative to label ingredients of cleaning products gathered on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento in a break between morning and afternoon lobbying sessions for California state bill AB 708. Today that bill hits the floor of the assembly for a vote. The bill would require cleaning product manufacturers to list the top twenty ingredients on product labels and disclose any substances listed as Candidate Chemicals, under the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) Safer Consumer Products program.
We spoke with Michael Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s soaps and cleaning products, who was at last week’s rally. His day was filled with meetings with legislators or their aides, attempting to get the word out about why this bill is a good thing–even from a business perspective.
While legislators’ initial response seemed to indicate that the bill was bad for business, Bronner countered that his business is built on transparency and trust and that customers have rewarded them for being open about their ingredients. “Based on the principles of transparency, we’ve grown our business from a $5M business to $96M in the last fifteen years,” Bronner said.
“The number one pushback legislators were hearing from the industry was that they’d be giving trade secrets away,” said Bronner. If required to list all ingredients on the label, opponents of the bill complain that competitors will be able to copy their products.
Bronner says this simply isn’t true. “We’re already reverse engineering our competitors’ products, we know what’s in them. The only people who don’t know what’s in these products are consumers.”
He dismisses the idea that a list of ingredients gives away the product secrets. “You might know what’s in it, but you don’t know how to mix it.”
For now, it appears that the bill may pass with provisions that only require online disclosure of ingredients, but no list of ingredients on the actual product label. While this is a good first step, it doesn’t help the people on the front lines who are handling the products, or people making a purchase decision in-store.
When asked why this bill is important to him, Bronner said, “I’m the president of a company, but also a father of a two year old, and a citizen of the planet. I believe we’re safer without secrets. An educated consumer is a safe consumer.”