The Smell of Bullshit, part 13: Lush and the living wage

The other day I made email address southsidesocialist@hotmail.co.uk available to people who wish to contact me regarding guest posts on the blog rather than commenting. Today I received my first email. I’m quoting it verbatim, other than removing one name.

Hello,

I am an employee of Lush who wants to anonymously speak out on behalf of employees who are having a battle on Lush’s staff facebook page about being paid a living wage.  Lush currently pay the London Living Wage but don’t pay a living wage anywhere else in the country (although they say they do), where by all accounts a lot of staff are living below the poverty line and putting up with it because they ‘love their job and the company and the ethics and the 50% discount’.  Blind fools!
All this is going on while Mark Constantine has just had a new swimming pool installed at his home.  Double standards or what.
I really don’t want to be named as the information I have could lead back to other staff and – knowing Lush’s ability to ‘get rid of people that don’t please’ – there could be repercussions for them and for me.  However badly paid I am I need my job.
Mark Constantine has responded to the post – after we had mentioned that a lot of the pay was profit related and that most shops don’t make a profit – by saying and I quote: ” Just thought I would say a couple of things. In my opinion there is a lot of scope for increasing salaries at the sharp end and [name redacted]  is leaving at the end of the month after ten years working for Lush.”
That’s not a lot to respond to 123 comments about lack of wages.  It’s not just the forum he mistreats.
Please don’t say who I am.
Thank you.

I’ve said it before and I will almost certainly say it again – Lush staff need to join a union.

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8 thoughts on “The Smell of Bullshit, part 13: Lush and the living wage

  1. Some interesting stats I found whilst surfing the internet:

    (source: http://www.worksmart.org.uk/company/company.php?id=04162033&showShareholders)

    (This applies to the UK business and is historical data from around 2009, I believe)

    Turnover per employee = £50k
    Profit per employee = £3.2k
    Number of staff = 4,180
    Average spent on wages (in 2009) = £60M
    Rough average staff pay = £14k per annum.
    Number of directors = 9
    Directors remuneration = £490k (yes, that works out as a mean avg salary of £54k)
    Highest paid director’s salary (perhaps the MD or largest shareholder?) = £164k
    Increase in director’s salaries over the past 7 years = 9.6%

    There are various figures out there, some more current than others, but that link gives the most in-depth overview.

    Another interesting titbit is that Lush have just signed a £40M banking deal with Barclays bank.

    (Source: http://www.insidermedia.com/insider/south-west/90622-lush-set-40m-banking-deal)

    Here is one of the little problems with the ethics of Barclays: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/jan/28/co-op-removes-barclays-ethical-funds-list

    (I do note that Mr Jenkins, new boss of Barclays, is attempting to clean up their ethics, there is still a long way to go).

    Read the links, see what you think. Not sure what this credit facility is indicative of in terms of company performance. Considering they market themselves as an “ethical” company, I find it interesting to note who they bank with. In fact, so many of their choices are puzzling ones. An ethical company uses food in many of its products, when a huge portion of the world is in hunger; an ethical company has many employees in the UK not earning the living wage whilst it seems that the directors do benefit from the huge company profits (and the company leader continually touts he pays the living wage – only in London are employees deemed worthy of that benefit. Again, the inequality is rife); a company which likes to market its ecological values continues to encourage people to bathe when water wastage is a huge issue, even in a ‘developed’ country such as the UK; an ‘ethical’ company chooses to bank with Barclays bank, when there may be more ethical alternatives… This company is not all it seems. And on top of it all, its glorious leader continues to charm his way around the press making them believe that the company is the antithesis of all those big nasty corporates out there.

    http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/commentanalysis/corporatewatch/isittimetoboycottamazon.aspx

    http://www.thebookseller.com/news/boycott-amazon-campaign-launched.html

    As you can see above, Mr Constantine seems to have a particular problem with Amazon. Reader, please note, you can buy Mr Constantine’s little birdy books on Amazon, and also the Lush Spa CDs. So as much as he claims to hate it, it appears he is not adverse to making a little money on there himself. Seriously, have a search on Amazon and see his “Sound Approach” books on there and the Lush Spa CDs, which are both available in hard copy and via MP3…

    If one is going to trumpet about ethical practice, it has to permeate every single area of the business. Lush doesn’t quite add up here and considering ethics has, in the past 5 years, become the lynchpin of their marketing (which, it may be argued, is unethical in itself), this is a big problem for the modern ethical consumer.

    Perhaps it is time to take Mr Constantine’s advice ourselves; shun the big bad corporates – yes, like Lush Cosmetics – and buy local, buy only what you need, enjoy using what you have, buy good quality to make sure your £ stretches further (nothing worse than false economy which does swing both ways; despite what Constantine tells his forum customers, buying expensive stuff that doesn’t work is just as false an economy as buying cheap stuff that doesn’t – in fact, it’s an even worse waste of resources) and give money to the real entrepreneurs who serve their local community and earn money to live rather than live to earn money, which is what many modern millionaires are certainly very guilty of.

    There is only so much money one needs, and only so much money one can use before it becomes merely an exercise in accumulating wealth for the sake of it. It’s time to support your local business, the local market, the local farmer, the local artisan and start doing the ethical thing – shunning the shysters who don’t really care about their consumers or their employees, and support those who both need our consumer support and actually deserve it, and who will in no doubt cherish our custom; consumer symbiosis will never feel so good.

    • I have just opened a natural soap n bath bomb shop . all my products are all natural n from ethically sustained products . I use to use Lush when they first started out , but I will not pay their prices anymore nor do I agree with staff on minimum wage . Lush has lost its luster for me very disappointing , but still they make very good profits x

  2. So Mark Constantine thinks that a small amount of money in the right hands is worth more than a large sum in any hands does he? To quote from the article linked earlier:

    http://newint.org/argument/2011/04/01/ethical-wealth-debate-lush-founder/

    “Constantine’s (Mark, not emperor) first rule of money: all money is not of equal value. A small sum of money in the right hands will always outperform a large sum of money in any hands. I would suggest for example that the $4,000 that Anita Roddick started the Body Shop with was worth far more than the $1 billion that L’Oréal paid for it.”

    Ok then, how about this? The two ridiculous ‘Lush Fest’ festivals which were ego trips for the Constantines and compulsory for managers to attend achieved nothing apart from causing arguments in the homes of the managers who ‘had’ to go away from home for a week to stay in a tent, leave their families, shops and staff to fend for themselves while they went to have enforced fun. The festivals also caused havoc in a field in Dorset (especially last years one which involved lots of mud and blowing up a car in un-environmentally friendly Top Gear style to launch a perfume) cost around 2 million (conservative estimate Lushfest 2011 800,000 Lushfest 2012 around 1.5m) to put on. Imagine how that small amount of money could be used in the hands of the staff living below the poverty line. Even if it was divided up between all 4000 staff that would mean £ 500 for each loyal employee and could have been used to pay their bills or child care or buy food, or give them some inclination that the company they work for values them as much as they value it?

    But I’m sure the Constantine’s new swimming pool is lovely! I’m not saying they haven’t worked hard and earned it but when your staff can’t afford to eat it seems like, once again, double standards and double ethics are at play once again in the crazy world of Lush!

  3. I’d like to add the information that L’Oréal has spent a lot of money on research for testing methods that don’t harm animals: http://www.cosmeticsdesign-europe.com/Formulation-Science/L-Oreal-animal-testing-alternatives-vital-but-ensuring-product-safety-is-a-MUST

    http://theanimalrescuesite.greatergood.com/clickToGive/ars/article/L-Oreal-cosmetics-opposes-animal-testing790

    I’m not a big fan of L’Oréal, just a little sick of Mr Constantine’s consequent bashing against them…

  4. Looks like we’ve found the source of funds for the Constantines’ alleged new swimming pool.

    http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-2330932/Bath-bombs-net-Lush-duo-Mark-Mo-Constantine-millions.html

    Nothing so ethical as ‘sharing the wealth’ is there? However, £26M before tax, wonder what it looks like after tax? I wonder what their losses were last year? I also wonder why, considering their ‘huge success’, they are needing to bankroll a £40M loan from that lovely bank, Barclays? Something doesn’t quite add up here, does it? Smacks of a huge PR exercise to me.

    Owners make huge profit, but keep their workers on minimum pay, and then take out huge bank loan. Now it’s not for me to dictate how another uses their wealth, they’ve worked hard I’m sure and it’s their right to do whatever they wish with their money. What sticks in the throat is their continual bleating of ethical practice, because there are mixed ethics is amassing a huge wealth then trumpeting it to the press. There are mixed ethics in taking out huge loans with allegedly ethically dubious banks in times of credit crunch. There are mixed ethics with staff being paid so little (as many have said on this very blog) when you live in the lap of luxury, ESPECIALLY when you promote yourself as otherwise. And of course, there are very mixed ethics when you dictate to your own customers how they should spend their money too, as Mark Constantine said himself on his own customer forum:

    “There is hardly anything in the world that some man can’t make a little worse and sell a little cheaper and the people that consider price only are this man’s lawful prey”

    (Mark quoted Ruskin, out of context, when customers were talking about how price dictated what and where they bought from; Customers were trying to explain that Lush’s products weren’t good value for money. Which when they’re scentless, ineffective, sometimes causing skin rashes and various problems, they’re not).

    Let’s talk about value for money, because Mark often says he thinks his products are great value for money. Customers tell him that products do not retain fragrance; that soaps are often sold underweight (they explain this away via the ‘angels share’ story, something someone has already spoken about on here); that ballistics sink to the bottom of the bath and don’t fizz, that bath products have stained the skin or the bath (The Enchanter & Bollywood ballistics and quite a few others); that customers are getting thrush and cystitis and sore, swollen, fiery genitalia from taking Lush baths; that the new makeup line has applicators that continually fall off in the bottle rendering it useless; should the makeup be able to be used, it stains the skin (Calm eyeshadow and Passion lipsticks being the worst); fragrance bottles are not fit for purpose. I could go on, you’ve read it all before, but Mr Constantine has always maintained that his products are value for money. Many are not. But he takes revenue from the sales of, in my opinion, below par products and rewards himself greatly. That, to me, is mixed ethics.

    They state this in in their ‘We Believe’ mantra (which I believe is now nothing more than marketing):

    “We believe our products are good value, that we should make a profit and that the customer is always right”.

    They may believe their products are good value, customers tell them otherwise, they do nothing to remedy it. They certainly do believe in making a profit and we can see they are holding true to that one. They believe the customer is always right? Mr Constantine, company ‘leader’ certainly doesn’t appear to. He has continually argued with his customers on the international forum for years, being downright rude in the process. He is very nice to customers on his own facebook page though, because he has his ego stroked nicely on there.

    Lush still have a ‘corner shop mentality’. They make stuff by hand, folks! (i.e. person places stuff in machine). They give to charity, folks! (whilst seemingly ignoring ethical staff practices and fair pay for all). They “believe in buying ingredients only from companies that do not commission tests on animals” (please tell me how that’s working out now REACH is law, please do Lush. I’m waiting to hear it). Nope, they are just another big corporate out to make plenty of profit, which of course means something has to be squeezed out, and in this case it looks like quality is an issue as well as staff wages on the front line. There is NOTHING wrong with being corporate and nothing wrong with making profit, but there is EVERYTHING wrong in pretending you are otherwise to gain custom.

    Lush, it’s called unethical. I also believe it to be immoral.

  5. Whist having a bath last night (just for the record, it was a beautiful bath oil by another company), I was having a think about business people and wealth, in the most general of terms. I thought I would share my thoughts here. Somehow, it seemed appropriate.

    When a business person starts up a business it’s for one of several reasons; they may think that they have a fabulous idea to share with the world, they may not want to work for anyone else but themselves, or they may just have that entrepreneurial spirit that drives them to take a risk and go out on their own. Whatever the reason someone starts a business, they also ultimately strive to make money – they want that business to be a success and success is often defined in terms of revenue generated.

    When a business does become successful, in terms of size, in terms of market coverage or in terms of turnover, that business person who originally started the company usually acquires a significant amount of wealth. What they do with it is entirely their own business but it is interesting how people deal with huge amounts of wealth. Some become philanthropists, some invest in other people, some become greedy.

    Some business people become driven by the need to maintain and outward appearance of being ‘successful’. The same type of person is usually the type that becomes completely driven to acquire more wealth, more than they will ever need. A small chunk of that money may be openly shared with those who need it to give that outward appearance of charity (what I call ‘phony philanthropy’ – it’s only ever done for marketing) but much of it will be kept in the family. That desperate need to acquire more wealth may start to cloud decisions; the growth of a business may be defined on crude terms (size, turnover, assets) and therefore the measures taken to increase its size (and therefore the owners wealth, which of course defines his or her ‘success’) may not always be the best ones. In short, the desperation to acquire more wealth is not necessary a sensible one and that desire for money is not defined by need but by greed. Decisions become rash, common sense is often bypassed, and sycophancy becomes rife. That business person may even start to believe their own hype to the detriment of the business.

    What would happen if that business person gave a huge chunk of their personal wealth away (and I mean in secret – a genuine desire to help others, not for publicity). What would happen if they did live on a wage similar to that of their average employee, just for a few months? Would they make more sensible decisions? Would their perspective change? Or would they ring a paper and make a PR exercise out of it?

    Lots of things to think about there.

  6. I worked for Lush over a period of 5 years.

    In my time there I saw the following:

    * A Manager sacked without suspension or investigation
    * Retail Support Members spying on stores from Starbucks
    * A call to the store (I believe Mo?) to ask if one of the Constantine boys had been nearby to our shop. He had been arguing outside having a lovers tiff outside Sole Trader with our Temporary manager Lizzy who had been brought in after they sacked the original one. She told me to never mention the call.
    * Oh, then she happened to never come back after said call due to ‘Gastroentintis’…
    * I was witness to bullying
    * I was bullied and have suffered from Anxiety and Stress ever since
    * I was bullied OUT of my job in a scenario where I was forced to quit.
    * I was consistently underpaid because my manager was inept at Maths.
    * Being left on my own as a Key-holder having to run a stock take with no training.
    * No training on any legal financial requirements
    * Being told I would have a disciplinary whilst I was accompanying a colleague as a witness to hers… Without receiving an official document to say as such. Gabby.
    * Luckily I know employment law because the disciplinary was quashed as they had not trained me or held any documentation to support their accusations. Which were false.
    * Being forced to take shorter breaks
    * Not having a manager for 4 months
    * Being told we had to get to work if we could… regardless of the fact there was 4 inches of snow and only 2 of us could make it in.
    * Only having 2 people on shift due to poor management so noone could take breaks.
    * Having to work 13 days in a row because Lizzy never came back.
    * Working 60 hour weeks.
    * Having to dress up every week despite no financial help from Lush
    * People being promised Trainee Positions… working the hours and responsibilties… then not being paid the money
    * Managers/Retail Support members calling people who were off sick with Work Related Stress. Illegal.
    * The safe broke and ‘Lovely’ Mira screamed at me down the phone. I was 18. Had no Manager and I had called her because I had been told to by H/O.

    Lush have failed:

    Duty of Care
    Bullying and Harrassment
    No POC for work related problems
    Inadequate training
    Unethical behaviour – They can more about the animals than their own staff.
    Lack of Policies
    Health and Safety

    I told Gabbi that if I saw them trying to fail me and use me as a scapegoat in anything else going forward I would take them to court. And that I would win!!!

    The main thing I learnt at Lush is how NOT to run a company.

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