Dollar General Reaffirms New Chemicals Policy, But More Action is Needed, Advocates Say
Contact; Alex P. Kellogg, Communications Strategist, Coming Clean
802-251-0203 x709, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Campaign for Healthier Solutions (CHS), which is dedicated to getting toxic products out of dollar stores and helping them stock local, sustainably-produced healthy foods, is pleased Dollar General reaffirmed its commitment to removing eight toxic chemicals from its private label cleaning and beauty/personal care products during its annual meeting of shareholders this week, and that company CEO Todd Vasos expressed an interest in expanding the availability of fresh foods and purchasing locally-grown produce.
During the virtual annual shareholder meeting, Vasos addressed questions from community leaders and health advocates active with CHS about the discount chain’s toxic chemical policies and whether the company would source locally-grown foods. In responses, Vasos noted the company adopted a chemical policy for the first time in December 2019 that will be revised on an annual basis. He also highlighted the chain’s ongoing “DG Fresh” initiative, which aims to get more frozen and refrigerated goods in stores at lower costs, and expressed openness to sourcing locally.
Asked by a member of CHS about Johnson & Johnson talc-based baby powder, which has been linked to cancer and which the company recently announced it was discontinuing in the U.S., Vasos noted that “we do not carry any baby powder products that contain talcum, including Johnson & Johnson branded products.” He went on to state “Dollar General is committed to selling safe and effective, affordable products that meet or exceed our company’s quality and performance standards, as well as legal and regulatory requirements. And we are committed to thoroughly investigating product safety concerns, and addressing them in a timely and effective manner.”
The Campaign for Healthier Solutions appreciates Dollar General’s reaffirmation of its initial chemical policy and eight chemical phase-out, and our ongoing communication and collaboration with company executives. We applaud the initial steps Dollar General has taken. We also appreciate Mr. Vasos’ commitment to increasing the products and chemicals covered by the policy annually. But as the CHS statement read during the annual meeting of shareholders stated, “we both know there is still more work to do.”
Best-in-class chemicals management by a retailer involves more than choosing some chemicals of concern to restrict. It entails having a chemicals policy endorsed by high-level company executives to monitor its implementation. The policy would clearly state the goals of avoiding chemicals of concern in all products sold and in the manufacturing processes of your suppliers. And the policy would outline how your company is promoting the use of safer alternatives to the chemicals you restrict.
It would also involve having full chemical ingredient information from your suppliers for all own-brand and national brand product lines and manufacturing processes and collecting this information through an in-house data management system or through a respected third-party database provider. Having a good chemical inventory would then allow Dollar General to do comprehensive chemical footprinting, the process of measuring chemicals of concern in specified product categories. The goal of chemical footprinting is to reach ‘zero’ by using inherently safer alternatives instead. Dollar General could publicly set a goal to reduce the chemical footprint of different product categories and measure progress towards these goals. Transparency also involves disclosing the chemical ingredients of own-brand products sold and promoting chemical ingredient disclosure by national brands.
In order to move toward such a comprehensive chemicals policy, we believe that Dollar General should make a concrete commitment to: increasing the types of products covered by its policy beyond just private cleaning and beauty/personal care supplies; broadening its chemical phase outs to surpass Dollar Tree’s commitment to phase out 17 chemicals; making public its timeline and the metrics it will use to assess supplier progress; and regularly sharing reports on progress against the metrics with shareholders and consumers. The company’s initial policy, with its restricted chemical list, is an important first step, but Dollar General still lags behind the actions taken by retailers such as Dollar Tree/Family Dollar and Target.
CHS would similarly like to see Dollar General make a stronger commitment to supporting health and local economic development in the communities where it operates by agreeing to stock fresh, locally-grown produce and other healthy food products in its stores in Albuquerque, NM, as requested by community and health organizations there. An initial, successful initiative to provide such food options in Albuquerque would provide important lessons that could lead to a broader program nationwide.
Millions of people living in the U.S. live in communities that lack adequate access to healthy and fresh foods, communities where a dollar store is the closest, most convenient shopping option -- and often the only option.
In part due to the coronavirus pandemic, business is booming for Dollar General. As of the end of February, Dollar General operates more than 16,000 stores in 45 states. At its annual shareholders meeting, the discount retailer announced that it had hired more than 50,000 people since March, and earned a net sales increase of 27.6 percent in the first quarter and an operating profit increase of 69.2 percent, clearly indicating the company is benefitting from people tightening their belts and shopping at discount retailers more often during the coronavirus pandemic. As Dollar General’s stock price and profits soar, the company is in the position to get safer products on its shelves, and provide healthy, locally-grown fresh foods and other products.
The Campaign for Healthier Solutions, launched in February 2015 by Coming Clean and the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, is made up of more than 100 diverse environmental justice, medical, public health, community, women’s and other organizations. CHS works to challenge discount retailers, including Dollar Tree/Family Dollar, Dollar General and 99 Cents Only Stores to follow Target, Staples and other retailers in adopting corporate policies to identify and remove harmful chemicals from their stores. Our members have been shareholders in Dollar General since 2017.
In the fourth annual Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals, which CHS and the Mind the Store campaign collaborated on to grade dollar store chains, Dollar General received a “D” grade, an upgrade from “F” in 2017 and 2018. Released in November, the report said the discount retailer could improve its standing by, among other things, further expanding the toxic chemicals it bans from its products to include polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), toxic flame retardants and phthalates, by removing toxic food additives and by signing on to the Chemical Footprint Project, a program dedicated to reducing the use of chemicals of high concern.