5. Reclassifying Menstrual Products
5.3. Reclassifying on the institutional level:
5.3.4. Understanding and aligning goals
standardization. If mass media were to discover that the quality isn’t what it should be, Essity would be on board instantly.”
In the incontinence area, Essity had found that there were problems with the tests that were the industry standards, hence, not developed in accordance with international standardization protocol through participatory processes. Ellen Riise, Senior Environmental Specialist, however, did not find that there were any problems with the testing in the menstrual product industry, and thus did not see the same need for standardization of menstrual product testing methods. Helene Edmark, who had spoken to Riise about the matter, explained that,
“I understand it all, but in the incontinence area we’ve had problems with the tests because they have been inadequate, the tests that the market have had as a common standard, that is. That’s why they wanted to participate and affect that area, but they didn’t think menstrual products had the same problem.”
In summary, in order for standardization processes toward destigmatization to gain traction, critical actors that dominate the market and the existing discourse in the field need to be on board. Without their support, standardization organizations and other participating actors are taking the risk that the standard might not be adopted once established, making the work and money they spent on it redundant. One way around this potential barrier, however, is gaining the support of consumers through, for instance, consumer organizations or the media, which could lead to large manufacturers engaging for fear of tarnishing their reputation. Moreover, it is clear that a barrier standing in the way of actors participating in standardization, is that they have not understood the goals of the standardization among those already engaged. This will be discussed in the subsequent section.
imply for their business, potential benefits and risks of standardizing and so on.
Entrepreneur Daniella Peri stated that,
“Standards are a bit scary since we don’t know what they would entail, but I would definitely like to join.”
A number of different approaches to the notion that a standard’s implications cannot be known before it is completed. Peri clearly has a positive outlook where she expresses a will to participate in order to be able to affect the output of the standard. Essity, on the other hand, took a more conservative approach where they ended up not participating at all due to the apparent uncertainty for the company. An aspect mentioned as a reason for reluctance to participate in standardization was the scope of the standard. They argued that the larger the scope, the more they would be affecting other companies’ business, which they are afraid might lead to being accused of building cartels. This is an indication that the particular respondent in question did not, indeed, understand what it is that standardization implies in this case, which is surprising, since Essity engage in standardization at SIS in other areas.
Ellen Riise, Senior Environmental Specialist, for example, has been active in the standardization of incontinence products at SIS and is thus well aware of the numerous benefits of goal alignment and standard setting. In other areas, however, they work with standard setting on a company level toward their suppliers, instead of on a field level. These standards are thus limited to affecting Essity’s suppliers in transactions with Essity and Essity’s consumers, but they cannot be accessed and cannot benefit anyone outside of that supply chain.
Suppliers are often large, and have many customers, which means that their bargaining power can be sizeable, especially in relation to smaller customers. Riise stated that,
“Sometimes it’s a grateful position to be in that we are a large company, but so are our suppliers and then you need to have a relationship in order to get things moving. It works. That’s how it is. You do good things together if you have the same goals in many aspects. In the standard, there are quality requirements, requirements connected to subsequent product safety assessments, of course, environmental requirements, but social aspects are also a part.”
Since there is a standard on medical devices that they apply on their incontinence products as well as their menstrual products, Essity do not see a need for standardization in menstrual products. From Essity’s perspective, as long as they do the right thing within the boundaries of their company, they have no reason to affect the rest of the field.
Essity have been meticulous with their product safety for decades and thus have full control over their supply chain. They have developed rigorous testing standards within their company that apply to both raw materials and finished products. Ellen Riise stated that,
“SCA (now Essity) started in 1929, and what you can see is that as early as in the 70s we started working with product safety and for our products; these are products that become moist in one way or another and are worn against the skin for many, many hours, and so of course, it’s something super important that has been worked with for a really long time.”
They further place great emphasis on their relationships with suppliers who must sign agreements to follow Essity’s standards, but again, the knowledge of the details of such agreements including the contents of the final products remains between the parties involved, without disclosure to consumers or other manufacturers. Susanne Lindblad also stresses that they take their routines in the event of customer complaints very seriously, stating that they reassess product safety to follow up on any issues expressed by users. Lindblad stated that,
“We look at every input material and assess their safety. This includes finished products and post market surveillance to follow up on reclamations, which we call
‘complaints,’ where we have a rigorous system in place to follow up on the product safety assessment. And then we have close collaborations with our suppliers of raw materials. They all have to sign our standards agreements, which include that they have to conduct toxicology tests, where we ask for all possible information about the materials used.”
There is no doubt that Essity is concerned about product safety. Yet, they were reluctant to participate in standardization that might affect the entire field in a market setting where there is an apparent fragmentation regarding safety standards and consequential uncertainty in determining what the requirements are to produce a safe menstrual product.
Michael Moscherosch at Johnson & Johnson took the same position. He argued that as long as they are certain about the processes that they have in place in order to ensure product safety, there is no need for them to make any additional efforts.
His argument was that if manufacturers do not take product safety seriously, they are likely to be reprimanded for it, which will kill their business and as such, manufacturers are unlikely to place unsafe products on the market. Moscherosch stated that,
“I can put something on the package saying here’s our internal requirements that we follow, I can tell consumers that, but do we need to have a standard that is also applicable for other people? It’s not a requirement for me to do business. What’s important for me to do business is that I know that my products are safe, perform, etc. I don’t need a standard for that, and I don’t need anybody telling me what the standard is for that because I know what my standard is for that. Everybody has a standard. I would hope so. There are probably some people who slapped them together and hoped for the best but that’s not how you normally would operate.”
On the other hand, Essity are engaging in standardization to increase product safety in the field through developing an industry standard with other manufacturers and EDANA. Hence, they are contradicting their own statements.
This could imply that Essity do in fact see a need for standardization and affecting other companies is not the issue but maintaining as much control as possible over the process is of greatest concern. This takes the form of engaging in organizational and industry standardization initiatives as opposed to field level initiatives, such as those organized by standardization organizations. Through organizational and industry level standardization, they can limit the number and heterogeneity of stakeholders involved in standardization, which, in accordance with Cecilia Beskow’s statement on the matter, risks skewing the standard toward large manufacturers’ interests, limiting consumers’ and entrepreneurial interests’
reflection in the standard. Moreover, Essity discuss the matter of scope, likely because the more they can limit the scope of the standard, they can control what comes out and limit the impact it has on their company. The scope of the standard they are developing with EDANA, namely only covers testing methods for chemical residue, which is much narrower than the matters a SIS standard would cover. Susanne Lindblad, Global Regulatory Affairs/Product Safety Director at Essity, argued that,
“When it comes to product safety, I don’t see it as a need because there is a standard on medical devices. A menstrual product should feel safe in a way that it shouldn’t leak. So, you have to specify so that you know what the standard should be and that is what makes it difficult for us to understand when you talk about standardization and what it would imply. We have had a difficult time understanding the scope. It is difficult for a company to go in and steer a market, you could overstep and be accused of cartel building or be challenged by the marketing law, so it’s difficult. I can understand your thinking [in increasing general product safety in the field by standardizing], but I can’t talk badly about other companies. I can talk about and affect how we work but to affect others, the only alternative is through standards and then you can look at that. But from my perspective, you look at lab methods as one part and at chemical residues as another part…”
Clearly, it is important that the stakeholders that might participate in standardization understand the potential benefits thereof and also that consideration will be paid in order to ensure that any risks they take when doing so will be mitigated. While standards are an efficient way to ensure generally higher product safety, you have to ensure that you do not set a standard that has unwanted effects such as benefitting whatever product that contains the largest amount of raw material or such. Standards also need to avoid infringing all too much on companies’ freedom to develop products for their intended markets, whose consumers’ needs and ability to pay can vary. Michael Moscherosch argued that,
“There’s two sides to this topic; one is standardization, meaning maintaining set requirements for performance, safety, etc. and I think that’s a really good thing and ideally, if you have something like that, that’s globally applicable, that’s even better. […] Now, the interesting thing with standardization is, it’s not necessarily the standardization, it’s the regulation of the standardization that becomes interesting. If I demand, for example, very high standards, then let’s say for example, I’m making this up, if I demand a very high absorbency, then I have to put a lot of absorbent materials in there. The more material I use, the more expensive the product becomes. Suddenly, you run into the area where people who really would need the product, and who the standard is made for, because you want to make sure they get good products, suddenly they can’t afford the products anymore.”
A first step in ensuring that actors do understand the aims of the standardization can be to visit the most important actors and ensure, through personal contact, that they understand what the project entails and what is required of them if they are to participate. Helene Edmark at SIS stated that,
“Standardization works best if you visit the most important actors at their offices before you hold a stakeholder meeting. So, you know that you can start and then you can clarify the questions to address, test methods, limit values and what is interesting for them. So, you have the decision-makers with you from the start.
Then you have a starting-up meeting, instead of an information meeting, which is what you normally need to hold, and then we hopefully know that we can start because we have the most important actors on board.”
In the case of menstrual product standardization, we were never able to arrange such a meeting because Essity were not interested in doing so. Hence, on the one hand, Essity argued that they were uncertain about what the standardization would entail and were reluctant to participate for that reason. On the other hand, they were not interested in meeting to discuss what the standard indeed would entail or what it could entail and that they very much had the ability to be involved in determining what it would entail. I would argue that if there would have been an opportunity to discuss the aims of the standardization and create a mutual understanding thereof between Essity, SIS and myself, there might have been greater potential for the standardization process to go further.