Domini Joins Breast Cancer Activists to Place Product Safety Resolution before Avon ShareholdersResolution would require cosmetics company to study feasibility of removing possible carcinogen from its products
New York, NY – Avon Products Inc. (Ticker: AVP) shareholders are being asked to vote in favor of a resolution that would require the company to study the feasibility of removing chemical preservatives known as parabens, which may elevate breast cancer risk, from its products.
The resolution, which is opposed by the cosmetics corporation, is sponsored by Domini Social Investments, a leading socially responsible investment firm, and Breast Cancer Action, a national breast cancer advocacy organization based in San Francisco that is also an Avon shareholder. Two other investment firms, Trillium Asset Management and Walden Asset Management, are encouraging shareholders to support the proposal.
The results of the vote will be announced at Avon's annual shareholders' meeting in New York on Thursday, May 1.
At least 82 Avon products contain parabens. Recent research shows that the chemicals, when absorbed into the human body, behave the way estrogen behaves, disrupting normal hormone function. Because exposure to external estrogens has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer, scientists and activists have raised questions about whether exposure to parabens—particularly in cosmetics many women use daily over a period of years or decades—may also elevate breast cancer risk.
Avon argued in its opposition proxy statement that parabens have been in use for many years and have been adequately studied. While it is true that there is no conclusive evidence that exposure to parabens causes cancer, the studies Avon cites date back nearly three decades. In contrast, the research demonstrating that parabens mimic the effects of estrogen and may therefore elevate breast cancer risk was conducted in the last five years.
While more research will be necessary to determine at what levels paraben exposure may become dangerous, the proponents argue that Avon should explore alternatives to the chemicals now, as a precautionary measure. “This resolution does not require Avon to remove parabens from its products,” said Barbara Brenner, executive director of Breast Cancer Action. “The resolution requires Avon to do a feasibility study -- to explore whether it is practical to remove parabens from its products and to see whether there are safer alternatives that can be used instead.”
Investors noted that phthalates, another family of chemicals widely used in cosmetics (including some of Avon’s), have recently been linked to birth defects and reproductive disorders. Shelley Alpern, Director of Social Research and Advocacy at Trillium Asset Management, noted, “Concerns about phthalates have prompted at least one nail products manufacturer, Urban Decay, to reformulate its entire line of nail polish to be free of dibutyl phthalate.” Adam Kanzer, Domini General Counsel and Director of Shareholder Advocacy, stressed the need to anticipate product safety problems of this kind. "Our understanding of the literature on parabens is that more study is needed to determine if these compounds pose a risk to humans. As investors, we are concerned that emerging science on parabens could have a chilling effect on consumer behavior and Avon's profitability," he said.
Proponents also argue that the feasibility study would protect Avon’s valuable reputation as a corporate leader in breast cancer awareness. Avon is the largest corporate funder of breast cancer research and programs, and has raised more than $190 million for women's health programs to date. “Avon has made its name on the breast cancer issue,” said Brenner. "The fact that chemicals found in Avon's products may increase the risk of breast cancer undermines Avon's efforts on behalf of women's health.” Mr. Kanzer concurred, saying, “Avon’s image as a leader in the fight against breast cancer is one of its greatest assets. As investors, we consider it essential that our company protect this asset by following the very latest research and exploring its significance for the company’s product line.”
The proponents of the proposition, along with representatives of Trillium and Walden, have attempted on several occasions to meet with executives at Avon to discuss the request for a feasibility study and to explore opportunities to make Avon's breast cancer efforts more comprehensive. To date, these attempts have been unsuccessful.
Domini Social Investments (www.domini.com), based in New York, manages more than $1.3 billion in assets for individual and institutional mutual fund investors. Domini manages the Domini Social Equity Fund (Ticker: DSEFX), the nation’s oldest and largest socially and environmentally screened index fund. Trillium Asset Management (www.trilliuminvest.com), is a socially responsible investment firm that manages approximately $600 million. Walden Asset Management (www.waldenassetmgmt.com) is the socially responsive investment division of United States Trust Company of Boston.
Breast Cancer Action (www.bcaction.org), a grassroots organization based in San Francisco, advocates greater attention to the environmental causes of breast cancer. The only national breast cancer organization in the United States that does not accept funding from pharmaceutical and biotech companies or other healthcare interests, Breast Cancer Action is a founding member of Follow the Money: An Alliance for Accountability in Breast Cancer.