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Cruelty free logos: What do they really mean?

Confused about cruelty-free icons and which ones are credible? Experts from PETA and Cruelty Free International break it down.

Cute little bunny icons are printed on the back of just about every beauty product you can find at the supermarket that claims to be cruelty free. They all mean that the company has clean hands when it comes to animal testing, right?

When making ethical decisions, icons can be a tricky thing to understand; especially when there is a wide range of them. And, despite similar branding, their meanings are different. How do we know if they are actually certified by a trusted organisation?

Basically, how do we know which ones to trust and what they really mean? Let’s take a closer look.


What cruelty-free logos are certified?

There are three logos that are certified by cruelty free organisations. When you see these icons, you can safely guarantee the product has not been cosmetically tested on animals. However, it is important to understand that each organisation has a different meaning of cruelty free.

Cruelty Free International’s Leaping Bunny logo

The Leaping Bunny logo approves brands worldwide and is globally recognised as the gold standard approval on products, ensuring brands are doing all they can to remove animal testing from their supply chains. The logo is of a leaping bunny with the words Cruelty Free International underneath.

Leaping Bunny Logo

Leaping Bunny USA/Canada

Leaping Bunny USA/Canada is the partners of Cruelty Free International and approves of brands in the USA and Canada. The logo has no words, just the leaping bunny image.

Supplied by Cruelty Free International.



The cruelty free bunny logo is a part of the Beauty without Bunnies program, producing two versions of the logo.

First is ‘animal test-free’, this ensures the brand and their suppliers do not test on animals for their ingredients, formula, and products.

Second is the ‘animal test-free vegan’ logo, where the product and its suppliers do not conduct cosmetic testing and all the products are free from animal-derived ingredients.

Supplied by PETA.

How do you become certified?

Australian Programmes Manager for Cruelty Free International Nicole Groch says the process for a brand to acquire the Leaping Bunny iconography includes an audit within the first year of their approval by the organisation, and then every 3 years by an independent qualified auditor.

All brands approved for the logo must obtain signed declarations from all suppliers and raw ingredients, a fixed cut-off date stating that there was no animal testing.

“They must check each ingredient and all manufacturing processes for recent animal testing,” Groch tells upstart. “They must ensure there is no animal testing at any stage, from the conception through to the sale of their finished products.”

“They are also not permitted to sell into a country that requires products to be animal tested before sale.”

Australia’s Industrial Chemicals Act 2019 banned any new cosmetic testing data on animals from 1 July 2020. This means brands are not able to conduct new tests and create new data, yet they still have access to tests from before the law’s starting date.


What about all the other logos?

If the logo you’re thinking about didn’t make the cut, you may need to do your own research. While a brand may be cruelty free, its suppliers and parent company may not. Groch says you can’t be 100 percent sure if it isn’t an “independent, trusted third-party organisation”.

“There are so many variants of cruelty-free logos circulating on products around the world and this can be very confusing for consumers,” she says.

“Some brands create their own version of a cruelty-free rabbit/animal/paw print logo and add cruelty free marketing slogans to their products. This is ‘greenwashing’ and is used widely on beauty, personal care and home cleaning products. Ethical claims need to be backed up.”

Example of a custom logo. Image by author.

PETA’s Campaigns Advisor Mimi Bekhechi says logos that are not connected to a certification are untrustworthy.

“Companies sometimes cite it in a ‘code of ethics’ on their websites,” she tells upstart. “Labels such as ‘organic’, ‘clean’, ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’, it doesn’t guarantee that a product has not been tested on animals or is vegan because there’s no single globally accepted legal definition.”

Bekhechi says that to avoid a rigorous certification process, brands sometimes rely on simply claiming their product is ‘cruelty-free’.

“Some companies — such as Benefit Cosmetics, Bobbi Brown, and Maybelline — say they don’t conduct animal tests unless required to by law,” she says.

“This usually means that they’re opting to sell in places such as China, where such requirements exist, thereby putting profit before ethics by choosing to pay for tests on animals or use animal-tested ingredients so they can expand their market.”

Over the years, there has been a gradual relaxation of China’s animal testing laws. In 2014, brands were allowed to enter the Chinese market under two conditions: the products had to be locally manufactured, and they could not be a ‘specialty use’ item. The National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) still requires all ‘specialty use’ cosmetics such as sunscreen, hair dyes and deodorant, to be registered and reviewed for their safety. All other general cosmetics are allowed to be sold once approved by the NMPA.

Currently, larger beauty brands are not required to test their products on animals, so long as they are not ‘specialty use’ items. This comes after 1 May 2020, when a bypass to pre-market testing on products that were not domestically manufactured can enter the Chinese market.

Now that you know the three certified logos to look out for and what each mean, you have a good basis of knowledge to navigating your way through the confusing land of logos and shopping ethically! Still, certain things can still slip under your radar, so it’s important to always check before you buy.


Article: Isabella O’Brien is third year Bachelor of Media and Communications student, studying journalism and media industries double major. You can follow her on Twitter @BellaMaeOBrien.

Photo: by Anna Tarazevich is available HERE and used under a Creative Commons license. This photo has not been modified.

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