Kanebo chief apologizes over skin whitener fiasco


The president of Kanebo apologized Wednesday as the cosmetics giant came under fire for dragging its feet in halting shipments of skin-whitening products that have been blamed for leaving thousands of customers with blotchy skin.

President Masumi Natsusaka pledged to overhaul safety controls and to temporarily cut his salary to atone for the widening scandal.

“We offer a whole-hearted apology to customers,” Natsusaka said at a press conference while bowing deeply, a ritual Japanese executives routinely perform when caught up in scandals.

“Kanebo will take responsibility for our customers and do our best to help all those who developed symptoms recuperate . . . We will carry out drastic reforms to our safety controls, making it the first step toward Kanebo becoming trusted again by our customers.”

The embattled executive said he and the chairman would take a 50 percent wage cut for six months and that other executives would temporarily get pay cuts of between 10 and 40 percent.

The apology came after Kanebo admitted it continued to ship flawed cosmetics blamed for the blotches for a week after deciding to recall them, possibly increasing the number of cases.

While skin-whitening products are popular among women in many parts of Asia, the flawed products have left thousands with uneven coloring and facial blotches.

In July, the company announced it was recalling 54 products containing the substance 4HPB, a synthetic version of a natural compound developed by Kanebo. The move involved about 6.15 million products on retail shelves in Japan, Britain and 10 Asian markets: Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Nearly 10,000 customers, mostly in Japan, have been affected, Kanebo said earlier this week.

The company has said it would pay the medical costs of customers left with uneven skin coloring, which in some cases persisted after they stopped using the products.

A team of external experts appointed by the company said Kanebo was late in issuing the recall, which came nearly two months after it received warnings from a doctor who suspected a link between patients’ skin blotches and Kanebo’s products.

Company officials were “obsessed with the idea that the skin discoloration was a disease” rather than product-related, lawyer Hideki Nakagome told the press briefing Wednesday.

“Kanebo should have taken adequate measures” earlier, said Nakagome, who is heading the company-initiated investigation.