On September 1, Kiehl’s, a popular cosmetic company, launched a campaign with to raise money for Autism Speaks. In a video some might describe as cringe-inducing, McConaughey implores viewers to share his video because, “children with autism need our support and they need it right now… They need access to services to give them a real chance at a better life.” For each share of the video, Kiehl’s has committed to contributing $1, up to $200,000. Additionally, Kiehl’s is selling “Ultra Facial Cream Limited Edition 2017,” which the Kiehl’s website describes as, “a daily face moisturizer to promote autism awareness.” The site does not elaborate how exactly a face moisturizer would promote awareness of anything.
Ironically, money donated to Autism Speaks is unlikely to give autistic people a “real chance at a better life,” nor would it give anyone autistic access to services. As of 2017, only 3% of Autism Speaks’ funding goes to family services. Autistic activists have lead campaigns against businesses that partner with Autism Speaks for years, and have successfully pressured Build A Bear Workshop, Panera Bread, and most recently, Lindt, to cut ties.
Autistic activist Alex Haagaard, has started a petition for Kiehl’s to break ties with Autism Speaks. As of press time, it has almost 500 signatures. Haagaard has been a loyal customer of Kiehl’s and will no longer be purchasing their products. “In the past, I’ve particularly liked their Oil-Free Lotion, ironically because its lightweight formula and absence of fragrance work well for my sensory issues. Depending on the state of my finances, I’ve also enjoyed treating myself from time to time to their Body Fuel hair and body wash, and their Turmeric & Cranberry Seed Masque,” they told NOS Magazine. “I’m incredibly frustrated that autistic people have been talking for years about how harmful Autism Speaks is, and yet corporations and celebrities seem unwilling to put even the slightest effort into investigating how their charitable efforts actually affect the communities they claim to be supporting.”
Haagaard said that their petition was inspired by the efforts of activists who pushed for Tesco, the British supermarket chain to drop a “Locked in for Autism” awareness campaign. The Tesco petition garnered over 1500 signatures and forced Cauldwell Children, the charity behind “Locked in for Autism” to cancel the campaign. Haagaard added, “no matter how many likes or retweets something gets, it is far too easy to dismiss individual posts as the opinion of a handful of outliers. A petition provides an opportunity for Autistic people to combine our voices and communicate that this is an issue that concerns a great many of us, as a community.”
NOS Magazine reached out to Kiehl’s for comment on this controversy, but did not get a response to our inquiries.