Manifesto Pledge 5: The Right to Know | Breast Cancer UK

Manifesto Pledge 5: The Right to Know

Implement the ‘right to know’ about chemicals in products and improve labelling laws

Breast Cancer UK is calling for better product labelling to help consumers identify whether products contain chemicals categorised as being Substances of Very High Concern under REACH and improved enforcement of Consumer Rights to know under REACH. 

It is not always clear that numerous products, such as children’s toys, toothbrushes, shower curtains, cosmetics, food packaging, wellington boots, baby changing mats or even teething rings may contain chemicals that disrupt our hormones.  Daily exposure to low level concentrations and mixtures of these chemicals may increase the risk of breast cancers.   Under current legislation, consumers are unable to easily identify whether a product or its packaging contains potentially harmful chemicals.

Manufacturers are only obliged to reveal whether their products contain ‘Substances of Very High Concern’ (SVHC), as identified under the EU REACH law if a consumer writes to the manufacturer or retailer to request that information [1] (Article 33 of REACH).  However, not only do consumers have to wait 45 days for the information, tests carried out by the European Consumers Organisation [2] reveal that retailers or suppliers are failing to meet their obligations under that law.  Furthermore, as many chemicals raise concerns, it can be difficult for consumers to know which ones they need to enquire about.

Breast Cancer UK believes that chemicals of concern should be phased out of everyday products.  However, because the current chemicals regulatory system has been slow in identifying and phasing out problematic chemicals from consumer products, interim measures are required to help protect public health.   Better labelling of all products is one way to help consumers to make informed choices about which products to purchase and consume.        

Breast Cancer UK is calling for:

  • The UK Government to take measures to ensure all consumer products containing Substances of Very High Concern should carry a warning label [3].
  • The UK  Government to take more robust measures to identify and sanction those manufacturers who fail to comply  with REACH information requirements;
  • The UK Government to implement measures to support manufacturers and retailers that replace chemicals which have been identified independently [4] as being substances of very high concern with safer, greener alternatives.

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[1] Under Article 33 of the REACH legislation, suppliers/manufacturers of an article containing a substance that appears on the SVHC Candidate List in a concentration above 0.1 % must provide consumers with sufficient information about the use of that chemical with 45 days of receipt of request.

[2] European Consumers’ Organisation (2012).  ‘Chemicals Companies and Consumers, How Much Are We Told?’ (Accessed 14th April 2015)

[3] over the REACH mandated concentration limit per homogeneous part of the product.

[4] For example, ChemSec’s SIN (Substitute It Now) List 2.1 consists of 626 chemicals that ChemSec has identified as Substances of Very High Concern based on the criteria established by the EU chemical regulation. The European Commission has indicated that it will take substances on the list into consideration for placement on the candidate list. For further details see (Accessed 14th April 2015)

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