Saturday, 18 May 2024

In Business

Botswana Takes Lead in Push to Ban Harmful Skin-Lightening Products

In a significant move aimed at protecting public health and environmental integrity, Botswana has emerged as a frontrunner in advocating for the global ban of skin-lightening products. 

Collaborating with Burkina Faso, the African nation has taken the initiative to address the grave concerns surrounding these products' impact on pregnant women and their potential long-term damage to various bodily systems. The proposal underscores the alarming risks posed by these products to individuals' eyes, lungs, kidneys, as well as their digestive, immune, and nervous systems.

The focal point of this groundbreaking initiative is an international conference slated for November, where Botswana will rally support for the prohibition of skin-lightening products across the African continent. This unprecedented move reflects Botswana's commitment to safeguarding human health and preserving environmental balance.

Botswana's leadership role in the campaign is magnified by its collaboration with Burkina Faso. Together, they have drafted a comprehensive proposal that calls for amendments to the Minamata Convention on Mercury—a global treaty established to mitigate the harmful effects of mercury compounds on human health and the environment. The proposed amendments are framed to address the advertising, sales, and offering of mercury-added cosmetics and skin lighteners.

The proposal's primary thrust is to curtail the proliferation and sales of mercury-infused skin lightening products, which have continued to flood local markets unabatedly, and have even surged further through online platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. This surge in online sales is accompanied by concerns over illegal activities perpetrated by shadowy producers and decentralized third-party sellers.

Botswana's argument against these products hinges on the lack of sufficient awareness regarding their health risks, particularly the mercury-laden skin lightening products. The proposal underscores that without collective international action, the trade and sales of these products will persist long after other banned items are phased out.

Mercury, a known hazardous substance, is often incorporated into skin lightening products to alter skin pigmentation by reducing melanin production. However, such products have been linked to numerous health hazards, with a particular focus on their detrimental effects on pregnant women and sensitive populations. The proposal highlights that mercury can easily enter the body through skin absorption, inhalation, or ingestion, and chronic use of these products can lead to a range of health issues, from skin infections to damage of vital organs and bodily systems.

The proposal introduces several key amendments, one of which is the elimination of the 1ppm (part per million) mercury threshold for banning cosmetics. By doing so, countries with limited resources can use handheld devices for efficient market surveillance and screening for mercury-laden skin lightening products. Additionally, the proposal advocates for national objectives aimed at phasing out sales and promotion of these products, including strategies to discourage marketing, advertising, and display.

Several nations, including South Africa, Nigeria, and India, have already implemented policies to counter the advertising and promotion of harmful skin lightening products. Notably, South Africa's policies have proven effective in preventing such products from being promoted on television. The ubiquity of these products, both with and without mercury, highlights a deep-seated societal issue known as colorism.

Furthermore, the proposal recommends the development and dissemination of advisories and lists of prohibited substances for mercury-infused cosmetics. Many governments have already compiled such lists to raise consumer awareness and facilitate the removal of unsafe products from the market. Another notable suggestion is the requirement for licensing and approval of manufacturing facilities for cosmetics, with an emphasis on monitoring the industry to identify non-compliant manufacturers.

An underlying concern highlighted by the proposal is the lack of transparency in product labeling—mercury is rarely listed as an ingredient. To address this issue, the proposal suggests implementing licensing for products and ingredient approvals, while also involving online platforms in the development of product safety commitments. Examples such as the European Commission's Product Safety Pledge 6 demonstrate the potential for voluntary commitments from online marketplaces to remove unsafe products, including hazardous skin lightening products.

Raising awareness emerges as a crucial strategy in the proposal, with a call for public education among physicians, beauty centers, consumers, and government authorities. The need for a holistic understanding of the issue underscores the multifaceted nature of the challenge, necessitating engagement with various stakeholders.

In summary, Botswana's pioneering efforts to curtail the sale and use of harmful skin-lightening products marks a monumental step toward safeguarding human health and promoting responsible consumer practices. With its comprehensive proposal and collaborative approach, Botswana is positioned to lead a transformative change in the cosmetics industry and contribute to a healthier, safer future for all. The upcoming international conference in November will undoubtedly be a pivotal moment in the journey toward eradicating the menace of hazardous skin-lightening products from the global market.

Source: Botswana Weekly

Cabanga Media Group publishes of thoughtful economic and business commentary magazines and online media, in several African markets, that include South Africa, Botswana, East Africa Community, Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria, and Zambia.