Still wanted: Chemical transparency
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Still wanted: Chemical transparency

What’s in this product? Chances are you won’t be able to find out since the chemical industry and other actors along the supply chain hide behind the lack of stringent regulation and claims of “confidential business information”. This has to change.

Increased chemical transparency has been a main goal and cornerstone of REACH ever since the regulation was implemented in 2007.

And yet – a decade and a half later – consumers, companies, and investors are still mostly kept in the dark when it comes to the chemical content of various products.

This is one of the reasons why ChemSec went to Brussels last week together with representatives from two companies and had a meeting with EU Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius. In the meeting, the importance and urgency of chemical transparency along the entire value chain was discussed as well as the need to fulfill the aims of the Chemical Strategy and move forward with the revision of REACH.

ChemSec's Deputy Director Frida Hök (on the left) next to the EU Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius and company representatives.

It’s not just NGOs and grassroots movements anymore. Consumers, companies, and investors have the right to find out if products contain any harmful substances, and are now starting to demand comprehensive chemical information. Full transparency would make it easier to make informed decisions and enable the transition from hazardous substances to safer alternatives.

A little information isn’t enough

While REACH has somewhat improved the chemical information situation, taking it from “virtually non-existent” to “some”, it’s still nowhere near enough for companies aiming to be sustainable, not wanting problematic chemicals in their products. In our line of work at ChemSec, we meet exactly zero companies that are satisfied with the level of chemical information available to them.

Increased transparency throughout the supply chain would allow companies to make informed decisions about what goes into their products. If we are serious about phasing out highly problematic substances, like PFAS, we first need to know in which products we can find it. And companies ahead of legislation, aiming to substitute not yet banned harmful chemicals with better ones, need full disclosure to know that the substitute is – in fact – better.

“At ChemSec, we meet exactly zero companies that are satisfied with the level of chemical information available to them

Investors are also tired of mist and shadows

Investors have also been increasingly vocal about the need for more transparency in the chemical industry. Last year, following the release of the latest ChemScore ranking, 23 investors managing a total of 4.1 trillion Euro wrote a letter to the 50 ranked chemical producers, calling for increased transparency.

For investors, information about what is going on in the companies that they own is crucial for accurately assessing risk. In the EU, new rules on corporate sustainability reporting are being developed.

This will force larger companies to provide investors with more detailed reporting around sustainability issues, including hazardous chemicals. While this initiative – if carried out properly – is important and a step in the right direction, it only solves a part of the puzzle.

More than one road to transparency

Chemical transparency throughout the supply chain is the future and must become the norm, as it should have been all along.

REACH is not the only tool for achieving this; the introduction of detailed Product Passports – brought forward by the Sustainable Product Initiative – and an increase of mandatory information to be entered into the Safety Data Sheets are two concrete proposals on the table.

“Chemical transparency throughout the supply chain is the future and must become the norm”

There is also an ongoing process to adjust the approach to “confidential business information”, a concept that is severely hampering chemical transparency today. For all of these new proposals, it’s crucial that information on the use of chemicals is included.

We urge the Commission to revisit the letter from ChemSec and seven progressive companies on the urgency of chemical transparency published this spring.

To speed up the phase-out of the most harmful chemicals we need more information – on every level.