The Smell of Bullshit, part 70: across the pond

An email has come in from a reader in the USA (emails to southside socialist at hotmail dot co dot uk, please) which the writer has given me permission to share.

 

My ex-coworkers and I have been following this blog for a while now (we no longer work for lush but Stay in touch), and I figured it was about time I shared what I learned in my 2.5 years with LushCosmetics here in the USA.

I have a whole lot to say, but I will begin by saying this –

The pay issue is just as bad here in the states, if not worse. Employees here cannot pay their bills unless they have more than one job. They are expected to do and know more than anyone in the business, and put up with the low pay, verbal abuse, shady management with zero accountability, and in come cases, straight-up sexual harassment and religious discrimination.

Because of that sweet, sweet lush Kool-aid of, “we care about the planet. No other company cares like we do, and you’re LUCKY to be employed with us. You’re LUCKY to be paid $.xx more than minimum wage. You should THANK us.”

So my tale begins-

I began working for lush years ago, and had a friend who had been with them for a while and enthused non-stop about how great her job was. They were opening a shop nearby and doing interviews in a couple weeks so I researched and prepared myself, and ultimately got the job. Of course they trained us and had us worshipping the almighty MC by the end of our first day of training. Even I thought it was weird though, how the people training us would say things like “Oh my god here’s a picture of me SHAKING HIS HAND. I can’t BELIEVE he touched me!” Which is something that I feel is reserved for people who are, at least, talented.

Six months in, our new shop was already experiencing serious problems due to our manager. We did not have an MIT for quite a while, and our 23-year-old manager from Oklahoma was more interested in the big city lifestyle than running our shop. She often would not come in to work to manage because she was hung over, and the majority of the work was left to four people, myself and three others. Two were employees of Lush for 1+ years and had some idea of how to manage things, and the other two of us learned very quickly that this situation was commonplace, and that lush has no accountability to those in charge. One of the girls who was an employee who transferred and had been the Product Knowledge guru of her old shop (we are still friends today) basically trained me and a few of the other girls herself, while the other two girls tried their best to make sure product came in on time and generally manage as best they could. We got by somehow, but needless to say, it was an almighty mess. Our manager also took to hiring a young man PURELY DUE TO HER SEXUAL ATTRACTION TO HIM. I don’t think any of us realized it until maybe a month in, when she began making passes at him. She made sure they were scheduled together so she could talk ceaselessly about things she would be willing to do for a man in bed, which disgusted us all. She often confided that she only hired him because she wanted to have sex with him, and hoped he would take the hint and ask her out, much to our horror.

She was later fired, but not until he had filed many complaints to HR with no response until he threatened to file a lawsuit. He told me he got a settlement when I discussed it with him later, but he did not disclose the amount. Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough I’m sure.

I ended up moving cities for family reasons, and transferred locations to stay in the company. My new shop was much more high-volume and I had trouble adjusting, but eventually settled in and made new friends in the shop. At some point shortly after my arrival at the new shop, our manager quit to pursue her own business (I never had any real issues with her, beyond her insistence that she was an original punk-rocker despite being in her late 30’s at the oldest and generally being very condescending, but many of the older employees had complaints about her unsurprising tendency towards favoritism). There was a new MIT, who had started in the shop the same time I did and had transferred from a large makeup chain store.

And this is where it gets interesting.

She was left for 6 MONTHS to manage the shop by herself, and it became very clear that she is the kind of person that, as a wise man once said, should never ever be given the clipboard of authority. Every time I opened the shop with her, she would show up 20 minutes late, and she would never adjust my pay for it. She told me on multiple occasions that she clocked in on her cell phone while she was on her way to work so her time would appear correct. As time went on, and she realized that no one could stop her from doing anything she wanted, she began to verbally harass some of the members of our staff that were particularly sensitive – namely, one who suffered from extreme anxiety, and essentially cornering her, threatening to fire her for her “attitude,” and sending her home crying – and money and product began to go “missing” every morning she worked and was counting the cash and getting the product (seeing as she believed she was the only one capable of doing these things, despite her inability to even show up on time), and then saying that she now needed to search our bags upon arrival and departure from our scheduled work hours, which is not only against Lush policy but AGAINST MANY PRIVACY LAWS IN THE USA WITHOUT A WARRANT. She also began to harass some of the employees who were in college, who dutifully turned in their availability sheets before the final deadlines with time to spare, and were nonetheless told they were expected to come into work, and that failure to do so would result in being fired.

At some point, we all got fed up. And one particular girl, whom we will call Tracy, was more or less the ringleader. “Something needs to change. We need to contact HR. What do we do?” I mentioned the stress that my ex-coworker had gone under when experiencing sexual harassment and told them that I didn’t believe anything beyond a lawsuit would get their attention, but we were reminded by Tracy that lush requires upon hiring that we sign a nice, neat little agreement that any issues we have with the company will be settled outside of the US court system. So we all banded together, and decided that we would all email HR ourselves. And remember, this was 20+ women at once, all emailing their stories to HR. All of them agreeing with each other and everything checking out. We believed that Lush would care, and that’s where we went wrong, because Tracy was the only one to receive a response. And what did Lush’s HR department have to say for 20+ employees recognizing abuse, theft, and harassment from the person THEY left in charge?

They quite literally emailed Tracy with a single sentence – “What do you want US to do about it?”

It was at this moment that I believe the collective disillusionment began in our shop. None of us knew what to do. Many of us resolved to quit, but of course didn’t because we were part of an elaborate cult now and didn’t know how to get out. As you’ve stated before in the blog, it’s insidious and genius how they hand-pick people who care enough to accept less than they’re worth for a “cause.” It’s well-documented so I won’t get into it.

They sent someone to help as the holiday seasons started, and a new manager was given to us. I liked her at first (truly no one could possibly be worse than that MIT so rose-colored glasses were donned for a while). However, she was a very, VERY religious person and incredibly pushy about politics too. Her more-or-less nice personality became less and less important than telling employees regularly that anyone who takes Birth control pills is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and that abortion for any reason was wrong, and that gay marriage should never be legal or okay, under ANY circumstances. (All of us wondered retrospectively why she wanted to work for lush in the first place.) She often went on tirades about this, then of course shifting gears at realizing how illegal her 5-minute slut shaming speech saying “But that’s just my opinion!” She often made interesting anti-Semitic remarks in my presence (many people of her religion are known to teach in their circles that the Holocaust was fabricated propaganda. Disgusting), at one point, when going on about how health insurance should only be available to people who are members of a religious congregation (LOL) and myself and two other employees politely disagreeing with her, she then targeted me and said

“Well why don’t you get your little Jew friends together and figure it out then? You have plenty of money and doctors anyway.”

This is more or less when I decided to quit, so I began seeking new employment.

In the month between finding new employment and this decision, she fired one of the employees there who had helped open the shop 5 years previously who was also a tremendous help to many of the newer employees AND THE MANAGER AND MIT, and she was told she was being fired for her “insubordination.” The manager then made a point to call EVERY SINGLE ONE of the employees to inform them that she had fired her. It was probably the single most malicious thing I have ever seen a manager do. My ex-coworker was fired, then irreversibly embarrassed in front of all her coworkers. Tracy and another coworker whom we shall call Lorraine did not seem at all surprised. It then came to light later that Lorraine had gotten close to the manager and convinced her to fire our coworker so she could move into her position. Tracy was then promoted to MIT, and seemed perfectly fine with the way HR was handling things now, since she got something out of it.

After this I had my new job, and it was no longer really my problem. But it’s worth noting that I was given a hell of a lot of grief for leaving, especially because I put in my two weeks, and the manager decided to continue scheduling me anyway because a local event left the shop short-handed. I flatly refused to work, as the new job was offering me $300/day while she was offering me 5 hours of work for $10/hour. I apologized of course, as I knew I would miss my coworkers and expressed my desire to help out during the holiday season, but when I applied for seasonal, none of the 4 Lush’s in my city called me back after they spoke with her, despite expressing lots of enthusiasm after talking with them myself.

We have heard story after story since we left – everything from the issues of Tracy accusing someone of sexual harassment in the shop when she was trashed and was the one doing the sexual harassing, to Lush claiming to have no money to train new employees for the holidays while sending managers and manufacturing staff on 5-star weeklong vacations to party all over the world, to managers in my old city disappearing with MC during manager “training” events and showing up with him the next morning bragging about his “choosing” them for the honor of riding his dick. (Sorry to be crass, but it’s true. And disgusting.)

This company is a joke. I still meet up with my old coworkers from time to time to discuss things, and all we get is more angry and sad. Even with this huge email, there is so much that’s happened that I can’t even begin to say. But it all amounts to the same thing.

I always hope that the girls and guys working for this awful company will stand up and step away – that’s the point of capitalism, right? You don’t like your job, you don’t like your pay, you go somewhere else, right? Because of Lush’s insidious culty system, many of these people end up feeling emotionally trapped. They’re scared to speak up because, as it is well-documented, management has no problem making you feel worthless for needing other employment, or to further your education, and throw you out on the street for the next unemployed vegan to come along and take your place, and often for much less money.

And even almost a year later, I can’t even think of a solution, because there are so many people who shop at lush and think it’s just such a great, ethical company. Everyone’s smiling, aren’t they?

It’s like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.

“Everything will be perfect, you can save the planet, if you just let me sew on your button-eyes.”

And they don’t give a damn about the health, well-being, or psychological disposition of their employees.

Anyway, thanks again so much for making this blog. It’s so important that the word gets out. I can’t tell you how much solace it’s given those of us who have put up with it for years and thought we were the only ones.

 

So, my message to all Lush employees, no matter what country they are in, is the same – find out about your legal rights to join a union, and then join. If you’re worried that your employer isn’t that bothered about your employment rights, a union can help.

The Smell of Bullshit, part 69: still more alternatives

In posts 44, 54, 56 and 62 I looked at alternatives to Lush, especially alternatives to Dream Cream, which is the only thing for which I have struggled to find an alternative.

Burt’s Bees seems to be where it’s at. Unfortunately it’s not vegan, but for non-vegans, it’s definitely worth a try. The Beeswax & Banana handcream is pretty good, as is the Almond & Milk. Would buy both again, as they’re moisturising and for me, non-irritating, and smell great. I will try the hand salve at some point too. But my favourite is the Shea Butter Hand Repair Cream. It smells wonderful (I love rosehip), it soothes, moisturises, and clears up eczema scabby bits overnight, and it stops skin itching. It works really well on my oddly scabby right elbow too.

Best thing I’ve found so far.

The Smell of Bullshit, part 68: Why You Should Join A Union

Stronger Unions have done a post listing 8 surprising facts about trade union membership. The post quotes a report from the National Office of Statistics, which is worth a read if you’ve got a bit more time. Meanwhile, the 8 facts are

1. There are 6.4 million trade union members in the UK

That’s 25% of all employees. It’s down from previous decades, but it’s still a huge number and makes trade unions Britain’s biggest social movement.

2. There are more and more private sector union members

For the fourth year in a row, the levels of union members in the private sector has increased. There are 200,000 more since 2010. The numbers are still far too low (14% of the private sector is unionised, compared to 54% for the public sector), but it’s great to see progress being made. It’s definitive proof of the value of organising.

3. Private sector union members earn 8% more than non-members

The average hourly wage for non-unionised workers in the private sector is £12.64. For union members, it’s £13.67. The “union premium” is even bigger for young workers from ages 16 -24, who earn 39% more than their non-unionised colleagues (that’s £7.84 to £10.18).

4. Public sector union members earn more too

21% more. Not all of that can be put down to being a union member, but it’s clear that a union does deliver on fairer, better pay for its members – in the private or public sector. Being a union member also gives you a say on what happens in your workplace.

5. Women who are in a union earn 30% more

The wages of women union members are on average 30% higher than those of non-unionised women.

6. And women make up the majority of union members

For the 13th year in a row, women are more likely to be trade union members than men.  55% of union members are women. This somewhat dispels the myth that unions have male-dominated memberships, especially considering that women form a minority of the workforce.

7. The highest rates of union membership are among black workers

The proportion of employees who are union members was highest among “Black or Black British” workers . Union are often described as “male and pale” – but the latest figures dispel that.

8. 40% of UK employees work in a workplace with a union, but only 25% are union members

The figures show that there are significant number of workers who we can reach easily because the already work where a union is present. This is a massive opportunity. The benefits for union members are clear, and the government’s attacks on trade unions only show that they still fear the impact of organised workers demanding fair pay, proper rights, and a decent society.

Why not join your appropriate union today?

The Smell of Bullshit, part 67: 10 Items or Less*

*I know it should be fewer, not less, but the signs always say less.

The Bournemouth Echo reports that Lush refused to allow a woman to buy products to take back to her family in China. She wanted to take approximately 30 soaps and shampoos back to China as gifts, but Lush said she couldn’t have any more than ten. The Echo says ‘Hilary Jones, ethics director at Lush, said: “Like so many other brands, we have a no resale policy so if we think someone’s buying multiples of something our staff are empowered to say no.” ‘

No resale policy? Really? Then why haven’t they clamped down on ebay sales and sales on the Lush forum? And let’s not even get started on “we don’t trust the Chinese not to test our products on animals and this woman’s Chinese so she can’t have them.”

Check out the comments below the article, especially the one from the woman who says her sister stopped working at the Lush factory when she started coughing up blood. Eek.

The Smell of Bullshit, part 65: Elephantine Hypocrisy

Lush are selling a perfume they’re calling “Smuggler’s Soul,” with a graphic novel called “On the Trail of Sandalwood Smugglers.” The illustrations on the perfume and the cover of the book are of a dacoit called Veerappan, who made his name smuggling sandalwood and ivory. Setting aside the rights and wrongs of smuggling, Veerappan killed hundreds of elephants and over a hundred people, until he was killed by a Tamil Nadu Special Task Force in 2004. Yes, 2004 – not 1904 or 1804, or long enough ago that his victims aren’t around to complain about the glamorising of his crimes.

Given Lush’s self-aggrandising on the grounds of their ethical, cruelty-free stance, why on earth are they using the image of a mass murderer and elephant killer to sell their products?

Petition here.

The Smell of Bullshit, part 64: How to Help New Staff Learn the Ropes

An email came in this week from an ex-Lush employee. It makes quite upsetting reading. I’m glad the woman in question is doing better now, but as always, no matter who you work for, you don’t have to be treated like this. Join a union, get help and don’t put up with being bullied.

Abbie’s words

Hi there,
 
I stumbled upon your blog last night while I was looking
for more ethical and reasonably priced alternatives to
Lush, and I’ve never been happier to see a blog in my
life. I worked for Lush for a short period of time in
2012, I was struggling financially and took on a second
job while they hired extra staff for the London Olympics. 
I was eager and happy to be working for a company that I 
loved dearly. I did my interview, aced my trial shift and 
began working almost immediately for a high wage 
(London Living Wage) and I was content. Apart from when the
assistant manager took an immediate disliking to me. 
 
No one had explained to me that you had to be on the shop 
floor for the start of your shift - I was used to working 
in retail for another large chain that held a small staff 
meeting before the beginning of each shift, maybe it was 
naive to assume that most places did that. but they do, 
they cram you in to a tiny store room and tell you that 
you’re competing with local stores and to link and up sell 
products - if someone buys shampoo tell them it won’t work 
without a conditioner, etc etc. I hate this style of 
selling. And my assistant manager noticed this, and would 
drag me into that tiny cupboard two or three times a shift 
to shout at me, to tell me that I had no personality and 
that I was under performing. It was my first few days, I 
think this is a little unfair.
 
She did this to me for three weeks, constantly telling me 
that I wasn’t happy enough, that I wasn’t energetic enough,
 that I wasn’t good enough to even learn to cut soap, or 
stock the shelves, i should just stand by the door and 
offer people baskets. She didn’t care that I come from a 
multiracial family, and understand many hair types, skin 
types and cosmetic issues, and that every customer was 
happy when I helped them, I received excellent feedback 
from everyone I helped in that shop, but because I didn’t 
want to smile 24/7 - because the weight of being poor in 
London was constantly on top of me, and I was working 3 
jobs - I wasn’t ‘Lush’ enough.
 
In the end they fired me, horrifically. She got in my face 
and shouted at me until I started sobbing and then full 
blown crying, it was only at that point that she was 
satisfied. She then got another member of staff to watch me
collect my belongings and make sure I didn’t steal anything
- even though theft had nothing to do with my dismissal, 
and having worked in retail since I was 14, I’ve never 
stolen from a place of work. She made sure all of my 
colleagues knew that the reason I was fired was because 
I’m ‘not a happy person, and happy people are Lush people’.
They made me walk through the entire shop, crying and 
forced me from the building.
 
I experienced systematic emotional abuse over three to four
weeks, but no one has ever believed me that Lush would 
treat me that way - reading all the emails from ex and 
current staff members makes me feel strangely better, as I 
know I’m not the only one to have experienced the dark side
of Lush. Her abuse of me trigged a full blown mental 
breakdown, which I’ve been recovering from for two years. 
My current employer (someone I worked for at the same time 
as I worked for Lush) has stood by me, given me extra time 
off, moved my shifts, given me emotional support etc etc 
since it happened - and they’re a company i doubt will be 
around for much longer. 
 
I hope every ‘Lushie’ can have their eyes opened by this 
blog, and the truth behind the company.
 
My name is Abbie,
and I don’t mind you printing my first name. 
 
Thanks for letting me have a rant.

The Smell of Bullshit, part 63: crimpage or expansion, who knows?

Way, way back in post 9 in the Bullshit series, we talked about Lush perfume bottles. Customer after customer complained that Lush perfume bottles were leaking, causing the loss of the perfume and in some cases, damage to furniture. After years of denying there was a problem Lush’s answer was that the manufacturing process caused some tiny variations in the dimensions of the bottles, and the crimping machine couldn’t crimp the stoppers properly. They said they’d dealt with it and everything should be fine.

The “Lush kitchen” has just done a new round of perfumes and people are complaining that the 30ml bottles aren’t full. Going by the photos people are posting on the “Lush kitchen” facebook page, the difference in quantity of content is very noticeable. Even the photos on the website show the bottles filled to very different levels.

Lush’s answer to the queries about it is

Hi everyone Apologies for taking a while to jump on this morning. For any concerns about fill levels on the perfumes I hope this reply might answer some of your questions. The machine that we use to fill perfumes is a vaccum filler, which means once a fill level it set, it will let you fill only to the set ml/g and then cut out which means there is very little chance of over or under filling. As it is a vaccum filler, it its also very unlikely that fill levels will alter throghout [sic] the batch. Therefore this leaves a very slim chance of variances on the first bottle filled to the 1000 bottle filled. With regards to variances between each of the perfumes, the machine was set each day with weight checks carried out on each perfume before the batch was run. As mentioned above, the type of machine that we use means they should then all be filled at the same level. There is always a gap left at the top of the bottle for perfumes as the ethanol in perfumes expands and in the past has caused a lot of bottles to leak, so no perfume should be filled completely to the top. As mentioned before the filling machine was set to only fill 30ml, so there was an adequate gap for expansion anyway. I hope the above explains a little more about the fill process of these perfumes. We do our best every day to bring you fresh exclusive cosmetics that you want to see from the Lush Kitchen, but we do still have to use filling machines and as everyone knows, machines don’t always work perfectly 100% of the time We did and continue to do everything in our power to make sure every product that leaves is perfect, and I sincerely apologise if any of you are not happy with your products. Should anyone have any questions or concerns about their products, please just ask or contact our dedicated We care team to discuss solutions.

 

So, last time the issue was the crimpage on the bottles, this time it’s because they’ve left space for some questionable science. What next? Whichever member of staff has fallen out of favour has been siphoning the perfume off to drink?

If you’ve bought perfume and you’re concerned that the content is short of what it should be, take it to your local Trading Standards officers and get them to check. And then go buy your perfume from a company that actually gives a shit.

ETA: Lush are now trying to say that the perfumes are in 50ml bottles, filled to 30ml. That would be funny if it wasn’t so obviously a nonsense attempt at making excuses. How can bottles of a size which has always been sold as 30ml now be 50ml?/ Have they made the glass much thinner so the internal dimensions are bigger, or are Lush selling perfume in miniature TARDISes?

One dedicated person on the Lush International Forum has gone to the trouble of measuring her perfume with a calibrated pipette, and says it contained 22ml, although sold and labelled as containing 30ml. That’s nearly a third missing. So, like I said, if you think your perfume might be short, don’t believe Lush when they say it’s ok, or when they say it’s actually in a 50ml bottle – take it to Trading Standards (see the website of your local council) and get it checked.

The Smell of Bullshit, part 62: even more alternatives to Lush

In posts 44, 54 and 56 I looked at alternatives to Lush, especially alternatives to Dream Cream, which is the only thing I’m struggling to find another option for.

I’ve tried a few handcreams recently, including the Posh Brats Goat Milk, Aloe Vera and Honey Soothing Handcream. It didn’t work well for me. I don’t like the scent, which to me smelled like off milk and detergent, but I did like the texture which was like a very light mousse. It didn’t work well on the dry, sensitive skin on my hands, making them itch and not moisturising well enough. It might work better for someone whose hands are less particular. I like the bath bombs though, and the lip balm is great.

Then I tried the Mountain Balm from The Sugar Loaf Soap Company. I like their lip balms, and their soaps aren’t bad. The Mountain Balm is solid (like a Lush massage bar) and you have to rub it between your hands to warm it up a bit so that the top layer melts and becomes usable. It smell herby. I found it a bit too solid to melt easily so I had to rub quite hard to get a coating. It doesn’t sink in very well, so it was better used overnight under cotton gloves, which was enough for it to soften my hands except for my scabby rough knuckles.

This week, I’ve bought some hand cream from Heather Hills, who are based in Perthshire. I’ve got the Honey Handcream. Don’t ask me how much you get for your £7.50 because the website doesn’t say and neither does the pot. It’s quite a runny cream with a subtle, almost neutral honey scent. It sinks in well and it softens and moisturises without feeling greasy. They don’t give the ingredients on the website and the writing on the pot is so small I can’t read it, so it’s anyone’s guess what’s in it, apart from honey. It’s nice though. I might try their other ones when I’ve finished this.

The Smell of Bullshit, part 61: VAT cats getting vatter

Have a look at this post I did earlier this year. Lush seem to have found a solution to the issue of non-EU customers being charged VAT on purchases from Lush UK when they shouldn’t be. Their website says

We just wanted to let you know that from the 1st November prices have changed for our online customers that live outside of the EU. We believe in equal prices for everyone which is why all our customers that shop with us at www.lush.co.uk will pay the same price regardless of where they live. The price you see in your basket is the price you will pay.

 

Lush UK prices for goods sold to EU customers include VAT at whatever rate VAT currently is – 20%? 17.5%? I dunno. When non-EU customers bought from Lush, the VAT should have been removed, so the price would be lower. But as we saw in the post linked to above, the retail website didn’t remove the VAT when it should have done, and Lush asked non-EU customers to place their orders by phone instead so that the VAT could be removed manually.

And now? They’re just not bothering. Non-EU customers will pay the same prices as EU customers pay, which are inclusive of VAT. Will Lush declare that extra to the taxperson as VAT or will they just pocket it as extra profit? Either way, they’re charging non-EU customers more than they have to and trying to pretend it’s fair. It might be because they’re too lazy or too incompetent to sort the issue out with the website, or it might be because they see it as an easy way to make more money out of people. But it’s definitely not fair.