Q&A: our role in combating COVID-19

As part of a supply chain for disinfecting, cleaning products and personal care products, we have a key role to play in the fight against COVID-19.

Why is fragrance essential in combating COVID-19?

Our industry produces fragrance materials that are key elements of cleaning and household products, personal care products, and fine fragrance.

In some jurisdictions the fragrance element cannot be separated from the product as a whole. For example, the European Union's Cosmetics Regulation and its Biocides Regulation requires a product formula to be notified to a safety advisor for assessment; the fragrance formula is part of that assessment so the products cannot go on market without the fragrance.

That is why our business is essential at this time: interrupting fragrance manufacturing would cut the supply chain to producers of finished goods, reducing supply when demand has dramatically increased.

In these difficult times the fragrance industry, represented at a global level by IFRA, is committed to providing its continued support to its members, to its customers, suppliers and partners, and to everyone who uses and relies on products containing fragrance. Our objective is to ensure a functioning and secure supply chain, particularly for vital cleaning and disinfecting products.

What benefits does fragrance bring to consumers concerned by COVID-19?

The presence of fragrance in cleaning products, soaps and other essential personal care items has been shown to encourage product use, therefore maintaining good cleanliness and hygiene – which are crucial in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus disease.

As an industry, we know that if home, laundry and personal care products are not fragranced due to our inability to supply fragrance oil, people will wash and clean less often due to the unpleasant smell of the base formulations. If hygiene levels fall, the issues relating to the current pandemic will be exacerbated.

Are the industry’s facilities still open – and if so, why?

Our industry’s manufacturing facilities remain open where permitted to do so as we believe they are ‘critical infrastructure’ or ‘essential business’ in combating the current pandemic.

This is due to their key role in the supply chain for sanitary, hygiene and disinfecting products, and the role of many facilities in producing hydroalcoholic gels that supply hospitals, pharmacies, care facilities for the elderly and other premises.

We have called on governments to exempt our facilities from measures that would restrict access to employees and close operations. These facilities are meeting specific and vital needs and require the day-to-day presence of specialist personnel.

At the same time, employees involved in manufacturing are subject to additional measures and protocols that allow them to comply with social distancing rules and minimize the risk of infection.

How does the industry respond to border closures and restrictions?

Our industry is truly global, with materials being sourced from all around the world and with significant manufacturing, blending and business operations in Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America. Our normal business relies on the ability of people and goods to move with minimal restriction.

Regarding the movement of people, we fully understand and comply with measures taken by many governments to restrict cross-border travel and domestic movements in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

For the movement of goods, we consider our factories to be ‘critical infrastructure’ and the movement of the materials they produce to be crucial in the fight against COVID-19 (given that they are a key component of many cleaning and disinfecting products).

Our network of members throughout the world – from large multinationals to 21 national associations representing small and large businesses in four regions – are cooperating with governments and authorities to ensure that they recognize the essential nature of our business.

How does the industry respond to the different measures taken around the world?

In Europe, we broadly support the border management guidelines adopted by the European Commission on 16 March 2020, which call for the maintenance of open borders for goods in the European Union.

In North America, we consider our industry to be deemed ‘essential critical infrastructure’ by the Memorandum on identification of essential critical infrastructure workers issued by the US Department of Homeland Security on 19 March 2020, which includes infrastructure and industries providing cleaning products and hand sanitizers.

The industry’s representative body in North America, the Fragrance Creators Association, is leading efforts to ensure that member companies in the US can continue to operate.

Elsewhere in the world, we are working with authorities to highlight the essential role of our industry in the supply of necessary products.

For example, in India we consider industry facilities to be ‘manufacturing units of essential commodities’ under the Annex to India Ministry of Home Affairs Order No. 40-3/2020, issued on 24 March 2020. We are also working with authorities throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

In Latin America, we support the declaration by the presidents of Mercosur countries to maintain open borders for goods trading between member states. Our IFRA LATAM office is in dialogue with authorities to ensure that factories can remain open.

How do you respond to ‘social distancing’ measures?

One of the key tenets of the fragrance industry is a sense of responsibility: it is an approach that guides our thinking about respect for the environment, the safe use of fragrance and good working conditions for our employees.

IFRA fully supports the measures taken by governments to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Our members have therefore taken measures in line with government guidelines and good practice to fight the spread of the virus.

These include encouraging or obliging home- or remote-working for employees who can do so; reminding staff of good hygiene practice; and introducing and enforcing social distancing measures.