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Let’s Be Honest

The Honest Company is a consumer-goods business that sells nontoxic, eco-friendly items for baby and personal care, household cleaning, and a healthy lifestyle. Cofounded by actress Jessica Alba a little more than six years ago, Honest Co. is built on the promise of “telling all and doing our best to live up to your expectations.”

Over the years the company has received high praise and media buzz about its ethical approach to making products that are not only good for people but good for the environment. On its website, Honest Co. goes to great lengths to share with consumers its guiding principles that products are made without harming people or the planet.

A little over two years ago, however, the company experienced some bad press when The Wall Street Journal reported that two independent lab tests found samples of Honest laundry detergent contained a cleaning agent on the list of chemicals the company pledged to avoid. At first, pushback from company officials was loud and clear: they denied their products were anything but eco-friendly and safe for consumers and went as far as calling the report “false” and “junk science.”

Unfortunately, the reports about Honest products and their harmful ingredients didn’t go away. After the laundry detergent story faded, the company quietly reconfigured the ingredients that went into the detergent as well as other products. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Several months later, Honest Co. voluntarily recalled organic baby powder that might cause infections and more recently recalled diaper wipes that appeared discolored.

Despite these recent challenges, Honest Co. continues to be successful and was rumored to be on the short list of possible acquisitions for global conglomerates such as Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Unilever. These consumer-good giants are snapping up smaller, eco-friendly firms that have blossomed into full-fledged ethically and environmentally conscious organizations with strong sales and solid reputations among consumers. Recently, however, Unilever acquired one of Honest Co.’s biggest rivals, Seventh Generation, Inc., leaving Honest Co. to again rethink its business strategies, including hiring a new CEO.

Using a web search tool, locate information about this topic and then write responses to the following questions. Be sure to support your arguments and cite your sources.

Ethical Dilemma: Do you think the company’s reaction to reports of hazardous ingredients hurt its reputation for honesty and ethical behavior? Do you think the company’s missteps caused Unilever to shy away from acquiring the company? Or, do you take the stance that Alba’s entertainment background played a part in the press going after the company? If you were an advisor to the new CEO, what suggestions would you give him for getting the company back on track, especially when it comes to corporate social responsibility?

Sources: “Our Principles,”, accessed June 27, 2017; Eun Kyung Kim, “Jessica Alba’s Honest Company Recalls Diaper Wipes over Mold Concerns,” Today,, May 16, 2017; Steve Tobak, “Jessica Alba’s ‘Honest’ Mess,” Entrepreneur,, March 29, 2017; Jason Del Rey, “Jessica Alba’s Honest Company Is Replacing Its CEO after a Sale to Unilever Fell Through,” Recode,, March 16, 2017; Serena Ng, “Jessica Alba’s Honest Co. to Drop Use of Disputed Ingredient,” The Wall Street Journal,, September 30, 2016; Kathryn Vasel, “The Honest Company Gets Sued . . . Again,” CNN Money,, April 27, 2016.

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