The Honest Co. is a Santa Monica business co-founded by actress Jessica Alba that has grown into a billion dollar company. The Honest Co. sells over 100 consumer products it promotes as organic, healthy and non-toxic. The company’s ethos, which touts its transparency and honesty, is under attack after another lawsuit lawsuit challenging its product claims.
The Organic Consumers Association sued the Honest Co. in Los Angeles Superior Court this week alleging that the company’s organic infant formula is falsely labeled because it “contains 11 substances prohibited by federal law from organics.” Honest’s initial public statement denies the claim, saying the formula as a whole was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration and meets the FDA’s nutritional standards.
Honest Co. also said it is “also certified USDA Organic by an independent third party, in strict accordance with the National Organic Program,” in a bid to ensure its fans that the company is indeed independently verified. This lawsuit is just the latest in a string of consumer class actions against the brand in New York and California. The suits say Honest Co. falsely claims its products are natural and non-toxic. The allegations about non-organic and toxic chemicals is potentially devastating to the brand.
Liquid Laundry Detergent
The Wall Street Journal reported it conducted tests of the company’s liquid laundry detergent. The newspaper says tests revealed the presence of the chemical sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS, which is a known skin irritant. Honest Co. promised never to use SLS and Brian Lee, one of the Honest Co.’s co-founders, flatly denied the Wall Street Journal’s story, saying the newspaper got things wrong. He claims Honest uses Sodium Coco Sulfate (SCS), an allegedly less irritating compound. However, the Wall Street Journal stood by its research and a consumer complaint was filed the following week.
SCS itself is controversial, since it is essentially the same product as SLS, just manufactured in a slightly different way.
Premium Infant Formula
According to the Organic Consumers Association, 11 of the 40 ingredients in the company’s Premium Infant Formula “are synthetic substances that are not allowed in organic products” and thus the product is falsely labeled. The ingredients include sodium selenite, which the association contended is “an extremely hazardous and toxic synthetic compound.”
The Association’s Complaint identified the following substances as prohibited from organic products:
sodium selenite, taurine, ascorbyl palmitate, calcium pantothenate, choline bitartrate, cholecalciferol, beta-carotene, biotin, dl-alpha tocopherol, inositol, phytonadion. Some of these products regulated as hazardous compounds. Sodium selenite is permitted to be added to feed, but is not allowed in foods ingested by humans. Calcium pantothenate is regulated as a hazardous substance and is not allowed in organic foods because it is derived form formaldehyde. There are multiple ways to make cholecalciferol, including from ultraviolet irradiation of ergosterol.
Shampoo and Body Wash
The company’s shampoo and body wash are under attack for being called “natural” and “plant-based.” Honest Hand Soap, Honest Dish Soap, Honest Diapers, and Honest Multi-Surface Cleaner were part of the sunscreen class action. The cleansers are described as containing “no harsh chemicals ever!” the lawsuit claimed the soaps actually contained multiple synthetic preservatives (including Methylisothiazolinone and Phenoxyethanol) which Honest repeatedly criticized its competitors for using in its products.
Sunscreen was the target of many consumer complaints after posts showing sunburnt Honest Sunscreen users went viral, prompting Alba to write a long blob post defending the product. Consumers subsequently filed a $5 million lawsuit claiming the sunscreen and other products had additives and ingredients which were not natural. The sunscreen’s ingredients were changed last March, eliminating more than half of the zinc oxide, which is the main chemical that provides protection from the sun.
Honest Co. has amassed over $220 million in private funding, with a total valuation of $1.7 billion. Rumors suggest the company was planning on going public, but its latest court battle have some experts predicting the company may explore a sale instead.