The popular multinational handmade cosmetics company known as Lush loves to portray itself as an upstanding corporate citizen, allying itself with all sorts of feel-good causes and social movements. It boycotts Israel, supports extremist animal rights groups and now the latest: a campaign to attack Canada's oil sands development, which Lush has labelled "the most destructive project on Earth."
You're probably asking yourself – as I did – how a soap company has the authority to get involved in a Canadian energy project, particularly when it has no specific expertise in the field and no hard facts to support its public relations crusade.
If you haven't heard about Lush and its holier-than-thou moral crusades, you should – because a close examination of its record lays bare a stunning lack of consistency, and hypocrisy of the highest degree. Lush has no authority to give ethical lectures to anyone.
Aside from the boycott of Canadian oil, Lush has participated in the Palestinian Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions campaign against Israel for the past six years. The company said in July that it wanted "everyone in the country where we are trading to be on an equal footing as far as basic human rights go."
As noted by Shiraz Maher in an earlier article, this statement is false. Israel is unfairly categorized as an unequal state even though it is the only democracy in the Middle East.
And even if true, why has Lush opened stores in Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka – two very "unequal" states with disastrous human rights records? Lush hasn't attack Saudi Arabia for not letting women drive cars or for jailing homosexuals. Lush didn't criticize Sri Lanka when the government ethnically cleansed about 20,000 Tamils, either.
It is the same hypocrisy at play with their campaign against Canadian oil. The oil sands project is a concrete step toward reducing dependence on foreign oil from corrupt, oppressive regimes – a liberation from supporting tyrants that Americans need and want.
Canada currently provides 20% of America's oil supply (nearly a million barrels a day) -- and it could supply more from the oil sands going forward. Denigration of the project puts that hope at risk and merely helps continue the reliance on serial human rights violators such as Saudi Arabia, as Alykhan Velshi, founder of the Web site Ethicaloil.org, has pointed out. Similar to the folks at Amnesty International, Lush seems to attack Canada simply because it is open and transparent – in other words, an easy target.
Lush knows that few people will speak out against what they are doing, and that nary a peep of pushback is likely to come from the Canadian government. As a result, Lush will continue to look good in the eyes of feel-good, save-the-planet-type consumers who feel they are buying from a benevolent organization rather than a giant, rich corporation. The outcome is more profits for Middle Easterm oligarchs as gullible customers flock to buy Lush products.
Lush has to be held accountable and demand answers. When confronted with the EthicalOil.org charge of hypocrisy, Sean Gifford, Lush's "campaign manager," answered that the company is concerned about women's rights in the Middle East but that it is prevented from speaking out because of the Kingdom's restrictions on free speech. How principled.
Whether intentional or not, Gifford exposed something important in that response: if a country has restrictions on free speech, Lush will not say a word. They will open stores anyway, so long as it is profitable. There is nothing wrong with a company trying to make more money, of course. But it is unacceptable when that same company is castigating Canada and Israel for being open and honest and at the same time, turning a blind eye to the Saudis and other human rights violators.
The Lush hypocrisy doesn't stop there. It also supports Plane Stupid, an anti-air travel group -- yet Mark Constantine, the company's co-founder and CEO, flies on planes and Lush has several stores in airport terminals.
People of conscience who care about human rights and respect for women ought to do the exact opposite of what Lush preaches – support the development of the oil sands and, most importantly: stop buying their products.