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This article is more than 1 year old.

All that glows is not ‘white’ – the ‘fair’ legal saga of ‘fairness creams’

Mini

The fairness cream and bleach market of India is anticipated to grow with a CAGR of more than 9 percent in the forecast period of FY 2017-18 to FY 2022-23.

All that glows is not ‘white’ – the ‘fair’ legal saga of ‘fairness creams’

“Since the age of nine, I have been slapping my face with fairness creams/ Every face wash was a slap in the face because I was a skin tone which was… ugly/ I had a voice and opinion but they muted my sound/ Probably because I was told, boys only like girls who are fair and lovely.”

- A Brown Girl's Guide to Beauty a poem by Aranya Johar

It is not wrong to say that the society at large has a fascination towards skin colour, especially fair-skin or white-skin. Whether it is about going for a professional meeting or for a casual coffee, the acceptable good looking standard in our head is somewhere defined by looking fair. This fair skin mania is constantly played around in our everyday life’s advertisements on our phones, television, social media, newspapers, magazines, comedy shows, matrimonial ads, movies, songs, web series etc. Sadly, most of these ads breed on our insecurities of being dark, obese, or short. It is a bigger problem for society because these false facts are glorified to the extent that it becomes a reality.

Fairness cream market
According to a recently published report "India Fairness Cream & Bleach Market Outlook, 2023", the women's fairness cream category is anticipated to achieve market revenues of more than Rs 5,000 crore by 2023. The fairness cream and bleach market of India is anticipated to grow with a CAGR of more than 9 percent in the forecast period of FY 2017-18 to FY 2022-23. Further, men's fairness cream market is anticipated to grow with a CAGR of 6-8 percent during the forecast period of 2018-2023. Factors such as increasing disposable income, the influence of Bollywood stars and cricketers on the young generation, western life culture have robustly increased the men's fairness cream market in past some years.
What the law says—ASCI guidelines on fair skin ads
In 2014, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a self-regulatory industry body, issued a set of guidelines titled ‘Guidelines of Advertising for Skin Lightening or Fairness Improvement Products’. It majorly stated that ‘no advertisement should communicate any discrimination or reinforce negative social stereotyping on the basis of skin colour’. The guidelines mentioned that:
  • Advertising should not communicate any discrimination as a result of skin colour. These advertisements should not reinforce negative social stereotyping on the basis of skin colour. These advertisements should not portray people with darker skin, in a way which is widely seen as, at a disadvantage of any kind, or inferior, or unsuccessful in any aspect of life, particularly in relation to being attractive to the opposite sex, matrimony, job placement, promotions and other prospects.
  • In the pre-usage depiction of product, special care should be taken to ensure that the expression of the model/s in the real and graphical representation should not be negative in a way which is widely seen as unattractive, unhappy, depressed or concerned.
  • Advertising should not associate darker or lighter colour skin with any particular socioeconomic strata, caste, community, religion, profession or ethnicity.
  • Advertising should not perpetuate gender-based discrimination because of skin colour.
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    Draft Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) (Amendment) Bill, 2020
    In February this year, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare took a strong stand against advertisements that define the so-called standards of beauty acceptable within the society. It proposed Draft Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
    The new draft bans advertisements of products that promote fairness creams, enhance sexual performance, cure premature ageing and greying of hair, improvement in height of children or adults, increase in brain capacity and memory, improvement in the strength of teeth and vision, change of foetal gender by drugs.
    Under the Act, the first conviction, the proposed punishment is imprisonment of up to two years and fine up to Rs 10 lakh. For a subsequent conviction, the imprisonment may extend to five years with a fine of up to Rs 50 lakh.
    Calcutta High Court takes a strong stand against cruelty on women for dark complexion
    The Calcutta High Court in its recent decision on June 25, 2020, in the case of Mazidul Miah @ Mia & Ors. v State of West Bengal has strictly held that cruelty against a wife for her dark complexion will be punishable under section 498A of Indian Penal Code (IPC). It opined in its decision that "Causing cruelty to the deceased victim for her black complexion even after her marriage by the in-law’s members would definitely attract Section 498A/34 I.P.C. against the in-law’s members, including the accused husband." The case rather highlighted the plight of women of dark complexion whose in-laws were constantly dissatisfied with her due to her looks.
    Rebranding strategies and brands
    Apart from the government regulation, it is also required that the stakeholders especially the brands and public faces come together and make a far-reaching impact with the help of visible examples.
    • Recently, Hindustan Unilever has declared it will drop the word ‘fair’ from its over four-decade-old skincare brand Fair & Lovely in its attempt to re-brand the skincare range as consumers seek more equitable forms of beauty. HUL's Fair & Lovely, launched in 1975, is said to be India's best-known fairness brand, and sales of Fair & Lovely are 40 percent of the face care category. Sanjiv Mehta, CMD of HUL in an interview said that "We are making our skincare portfolio more inclusive and want to lead the celebration of a more diverse portrayal of beauty."
    • Being a party to the global anti-racism protests, L’Oréal has announced it will remove words like “whitening” from its products, as global anti-racism protests continue. In a statement released by the company, it stated that ‘The L’Oréal Group has decided to remove the words white/whitening, fair/fairness, light/lightning from all its skin evening products.”
    • In addition to both the above companies, Johnson and Johnson has decided to stop selling its skin whitening product range that has been popular in the Asian and Middle Eastern markets, including in India. The company will no longer sell its Clean and Clear fairness products in India, a Johnson and Johnson spokeswoman said to an online portal.
    • Joining the bandwagon, German multinational company Beiersdorf, the maker Nivea personal care products, has started a process of reviewing its global and regional portfolios to determine implications of changing perceptions for its product offering and marketing approach.
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      Celebrities saying no to fair skin
      • Nandita Das, an actor & director, was at the helm of an online movement against fairness products with ‘Stay Unfair, Stay Beautiful’. With the slogan ‘Stay unfair, stay beautiful’, the campaign ‘Dark is Beautiful’ was launched by an organization called Women of Worth, headed by Kavitha Emmanuel. Nandita Das, in an interview, said that "I have always been very outspoken about this issue, but till recently it was more informal. As the issue impacts so many people, young girls in particular, by default I have become a champion of it."
      • Taapsee Pannu, a popular actor in India, once in an interview said, “I hope it impacts consumers and they stop buying these fairness creams and realise that’s no standard of beauty. It is a very personal choice of a human being to look the way he or she wants to but if I am asked, I will never endorse fairness as a benchmark for beauty’.
      • Prahlad Kakkar, an ad guru and filmmaker reportedly said, ‘I was offered a fairness cream ad for babies, but I refused. We need to clean up our own act first. If we don’t self-censor, then the government is going to step in with a heavy hand."
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        Conclusion
        It is now expected that the Draft Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) (Amendment) Bill, 2020 would become an Act in coming times. The global outcry about racism based on the obsession of fair skin colour coupled with the Indian Government’s robust stance against punishing those who discriminate anyone based on skin colour, the change is bound to happen. With big brands like HUL, L’Oréal, Johnson & Johnson, Nivea etc. rebranding themselves, it will be interesting to see who all join the bandwagon and be a part of the revolution related to discrimination based on skin colour.
        -Vikrant Rana is Managing Partner, S.S. Rana & Co. The views expressed are personal
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