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Company: Avon
Subject: Nanomaterial Product Safety
Year: 2009
Sector: Cosmetics Manufacture
Lead Filer: Calvert Investments
Cofiler(s): As You Sow Foundation, Domini Social Investments
Outcome: Vote: 10.7%

Whereas: The scientific community has raised serious questions about the safety of nanomaterials. The term “nanomaterials” refers to operative particles smaller than 300 nanometers (nm). A nanometer measures one-billionth of a meter – by comparison a human hair is 100,000 nm across. Nanomaterials possess novel qualities (such as shape, size, chemical reactivity) that have the potential to make them especially dangerous.

Our company has disclosed that some of its sunscreen and other products contain nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Although these nanomaterials may confer some additional sunscreen protection to consumers, their safety to consumers and the environment remains uncertain.

The ability of nanoparticles to be absorbed through broken or damaged skin remains insufficiently understood, but scientific evidence is mounting that at least some penetration is very likely. The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products released a report in February of 2008 indicating that new testing methodologies for nanotechnology in cosmetics are “urgently” needed. The Commission also singled out “nano” sunscreens as having inadequate safety testing. In addition, laboratory studies report that many types of nanoparticles interfere with normal cellular function and cause oxidative damage and cell death.

We are especially concerned that some consumer products that incorporate nanomaterials are likely to be used by children and pregnant or nursing women. Moreover, personal care products are often inadvertently ingested or formulated with penetration enhancers that may increase the delivery of chemicals to the bloodstream.

In addition, nanomaterials used in cosmetics, anti-aging skin creams and sunscreens have been reported in laboratory studies to be more toxic to aquatic life than their normal-scale counterparts under identical test conditions.

Given recent scientific findings, proponents believe companies that use nanomaterials in consumer products may face significant financial, liability and reputational risks.

Proponents believe nanomaterials are sold to the public at large without adequate testing to ensure safety, and often without any notice or warning of their presence or potential hazard, placing manufacturers in potential peril. Proponents also believe that tort claims, especially strict liability defective product claims, are most likely to emerge following exposure to nanomaterials used in consumer products, where the greatest numbers of people are likely to experience the largest degree of exposure.

Proponents believe that the best way to protect the public and to prevent unnecessary litigation-related financial losses may be to avoid producing products with nanomaterials unless they have been subject to robust evaluation for human health and environmental safety, and to label all products that contain nanomaterials.

Resolved: Shareholders request that the Board publish a report to shareholders on Avon's policies on nanomaterial product safety, at reasonable expense and omitting proprietary information, by November 1, 2009. This report should identify Avon product categories that currently contain nanomaterials, and discuss any new initiatives or actions, aside from regulatory compliance, that management is taking to respond to this public policy challenge.

Supporting statement: Proponents believe the report should include activities such as labeling, consumer education and options for selection of materials.


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