China said on Monday Johnson & Johnson should “practise morality”, a week after the US consumer and healthcare group was accused of continuing to sell baby shampoo with a possible cancer-causing ingredient.
A US coalition of health campaigners said last week consumers should boycott a J&J baby shampoo until the company stopped using a preservative considered by the US government to be a possible carcinogen and allergy trigger.
“Abiding by laws and regulations is the minimum compliance,”said a signed commentary on state-run news agency Xinhua on Monday, adding: “Responsible businesses should have ‘moral blood’ flowing in their veins.
“Enterprises should fulfill their social responsibilities, and are not only bound to obey laws and regulations but must also practise morality and self-discipline.” Such commentaries are tantamount to official government positions.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics said last week J&J used the preservative quaternium-15 in Johnson’s Baby Shampoo in the United States and elsewhere. Quaternium-15 is added to many cosmetic products to prevent spoiling and contamination, and works by releasing formaldehyde to kill bacteria.
Formaldehyde can cause cancer, according to the U.S. Department of Health, although exposure to it is common as it is widely used in consumer products and traces of it exist in the air, particularly inside homes.
“If you conduct a market survey, it is obviously very difficult to find consumers who could accept products containing carcinogens,” the Xinhua commentary said.
J&J, which was not available to comment, said last week said its products met or exceeded safety regulations in every market in which they were sold.
“We know that some consumers are concerned about formaldehyde which is why we offer many products without formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, and are phasing out these types of preservatives in our baby products worldwide,” it said.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics said J&J was selling baby shampoo that does not contain formaldehyde in Britain, Japan, the Netherlands, South Africa, and other countries, adding J&J should say when all its products will be formaldehyde-free.
The Johnson’s Baby Shampoo story has been carried by some Chinese media, though not to the extent that Wal-Mart’s woes were covered.
China’s criticism of J&J came two weeks after US retailer Wal-Mart Stores reopened its stores in a central Chinese region following a 15-day closure for selling mis-labelled pork.
Authorities in the province-sized municipality of Chongqing last month ordered all 13 Walmart stores in Chongqing be closed in response to ordinary pork as being labelled organic meat.
The punishment, along with a 2.7 million yuan (S$539,190) fine and the arrest of two Walmart managers, were the toughest China has meted out against a foreign retailer.
The criticism of foreign companies is seen by some western businessmen as a pattern of China singling out foreign companies but going easier on local firms.
Chinese companies themselves are frequently accused of producing or selling fake products or adding toxic ingredients, often to mimic freshness or increase shelf life, but have not been hit with similarly tough sanctions.