The Smell of Bullshit, part 22: Sexual Harassment is Part of the Job

In this post I briefly mentioned a Lush PR stunt/world record attempt. This was an attempt to flog more lipstick, sorry, I mean to celebrate International Kissing Day (wtf? no idea) by attempting a world record by collecting the most lip prints in 12 hours. Because that’s not a total waste of time and money. You can read a bit about it here but for the non-clickers, it’s an advert for Lush lip products, with a bit at the bottom saying that Lush want to celebrate International Kissing Day by setting a world record for the most lip prints collected in 12 hours. The Lush facebook page says

We believe all kisses should be cruelty free. In celebration of International Kissing Day on July 6th, we’re raising awareness in our fight against animal testing in cosmetics with a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™official attempt for the most #crueltyfreekisses collected in twelve hours! To kick off the campaign, we headed out to the press armed with two rather cute models and a kissing booth…

Now, I was unaware of this because I no longer shop in Lush (apart from one product which I only have to replace a couple of times a year) and I don’t use the forum, despite numerous comments in the past two days telling me to take my vicious hate-mongering back there. But I was contacted by a current Lush employee who asked me to blog about it on her behalf. She wrote up her experiences and I am copying her words here without changing them.

I was part of Lush’s ‘Cruelty Free Kisses’ campaign this Saturday and I want to write up what I saw and experienced on that day, because I want the public to understand just how dangerous and unethical the entire day was.

The concept is simple. Promote the use of cosmetics not tested on animals in a ‘fun’ and ‘quirky’ way whilst simultaneously pushing sales on all lip related products (there’s a competition for the winning store to have an all expenses paid trip to Poole to make lip products as a reward for whoever sells the most). So far, so good. The problem occurs when staff members are required to wear t-shirts that serve not only to promote the day, but also to act as evidence for the Guinness World Record attempt. What this meant was that the customers would be kissing our bodies for the entirety of the day. I could have opted out, but I would have been the only one to refuse and would have stuck out like a sore thumb on top of not participating in the store’s effort to win. Interestingly, the stores were only sent medium and large size t-shirts, so larger members of staff (they do exist, Lush) were spared the ordeal.

It was a busy Saturday and we had many people willing to help out. The majority were lovely. Unfortunately, as time went on, the mood changed. Large groups of drunken men were passing through the city centre on their way to the local bars and were drawn in by our display. From then on, they donned lipstick and kissed the most inappropriate places they could find – our breasts, our buttocks and our crotches (the t-shirts were quite long). I was asked for my mobile phone number, what time I finished work, if I had a boyfriend, if I was sexually excited by all of this, if I would give one of them a blow job… I plastered my fake grin on to my face, as I was one step away from either telling them all to fuck off, or bursting into tears and going home. I was very conscious of the fact that I was representing Lush, and I felt like I couldn’t defend myself to the same extent that I would if I weren’t in store. There were some points were I was definitely fearful, especially when some groups wouldn’t leave the store and stood waiting outside. I tried to swallow down my feelings of disgust as men pawed at me, forcefully grabbing parts of me to kiss and touch as if they’d been given carte blanche by Lush.

I felt helpless and exploited, and that’s because I was. Lush know that their staff are mostly young women, and they knew exactly how this type of campaign would play out amongst the general public. I’ve lost count of how many campaigns they’ve had that’ve sexualised and dehumanised women, and all of my complaints have fallen on deaf ears. I want everyone to know exactly what happened at Lush stores across the globe on Saturday. Animal testing isn’t acceptable, but the sexual exploitation of their workforce is actively encouraged.

Pretty unpleasant reading, isn’t it?

Now, it’s not Lush’s fault that society has sexualised and commodified women for centuries. It’s not Lush’s fault that some men took advantage of women in a vulnerable position by harassing them. But it is Lush’s fault that staff were put in that position in the first place, and it is Lush’s fault that this employee didn’t feel able to protest or protect themselves. Any competent, trained manager should have advised their employees that they did not have to put up with inappropriate behaviour or behaviour that made them feel uncomfortable, and should have supported staff to tell aggressive customers to stop, and should have called the police if necessary. And any competent organisation wouldn’t have put its staff in such a position in the first place.

We’ve already talked about the importance of health and safety and how that depends on good quality risk assessments. What risk assessments were done relating to this event and the safety of Lush employees? It was a summer weekend, with a number of major sporting events, and a forecast for good weather. It’s not difficult to work out that there was a good chance of many members of the public being drunk and hyped up. What risk assessments did Lush do and what was their plan to protect staff? And how was that plan to protect staff communicated to all of the relevant employees? It obviously missed at least two, or the employee posting above would have felt able to protect herself, and her manager would have supported her.

Have a look at this – attractive guy being kissed by attractive girl. Doesn’t look so bad does it? Imagine the guy is a woman and the woman is a drunk man, slobbering and groping. For that matter, imagine the woman in the photo is drunk, groping and leering. Still think it’s ok? What if his t-shirt came down over his genitals? What if that woman was a child kissing his genitals through his clothes? What if the employee was a woman having her nipples kissed through the shirt by a complete stranger? Oh look! Lushbournemouth2  What if customers are kissing staff rather than the shirts?

What does the Citizens’ Advice Bureau have to say about sexual harassment at work? It says

Sexual harassment at work
You are protected by law against sexual harassment at work. This includes both men and women. It also includes people who are undergoing, have undergone or who are intending to undergo gender reassignment. This is where you are changing from one sex to another.
Sexual harassment could include:
unwelcome comments of a sexual nature
unnecessary touching or unwanted physical contact
leering at someone’s body
displaying offensive material such as posters
sending offensive e-mails. This includes colleagues downloading pornographic e-mails, even if they aren’t sent to you personally.
The law protects you against sexual harassment from your employer, colleagues and third parties, for example, customers. Sexual harassment could be a one-off incident or a series of incidents. It could be sexual harassment if you are working in an environment which the behaviour of others makes intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive.
Sexual harassment might be deliberate or nasty but it doesn’t have to be. Someone could be sexually harassing you, even if they don’t mean to, or don’t realise they are doing it. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t wrong or that you shouldn’t complain about it.
What can I do about sex discrimination or sexual harassment?
If you’re experiencing sex discrimination or sexual harassment at work, take action as quickly as possible. If you are being sexually harassed, tell the person to stop. Only do this if you feel it is safe. You may find it helpful to have a colleague or trade union representative with you when you do this.

tell your manager what is happening. Put it in writing and keep a copy. Your employer is required by law to protect you from sex discrimination and sexual harassment. If it is your manager who is discriminating against you or harassing you, tell someone higher up in the organisation

talk to your personnel department or trade union. They might be able to help you stop the discrimination or harassment

get advice. A Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help or refer you to a specialist.

It seems pretty clear to me that the Lush staff member who wrote the above about her experiences was sexually harassed in her workplace, and it’s absolutely obvious that Lush put her in that position by their decision to encourage members of the public to kiss the clothes she was wearing.

The Equalities Commission has some useful information on sexual harassment. There’s plenty of advice on the web about how to deal with sexual harassment, such as this, this, and this. As alway, my advice to anyone experiencing sexual harassment at work is to join the appropriate union and get their help. Nobody has to put up with it; it’s not your fault and you can get help.

It’s not too long ago that Lush sent their staff out onto the streets naked except for aprons to promote their “naked” (unwrapped) products. Now they’re telling staff to get the public to kiss them. What next? Free shag from a staff member with every massage bar?

Obviously not every staff member would have felt uncomfortable with this, and obviously not every member of the public will have behaved inappropriately. But at least one staff member was uncomfortable and was subject to inappropriate, possibly illegal behaviour. That’s one too many. Lush could easily have avoided this by the simple method of putting the t-shirts on a table, or a shop dummy, instead of on the staff.

Oh, and if you look back at the blog post linked to in the first sentence of this post, you’ll see Lush were quite happy for their employees to cheat their way to the world record. What sort of company puts its employees at risk of harassment so it can cheat its way to possibly the stupidest world record ever just to flog a few more lipsticks?