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16 December 2017Last updated
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Beauty

How ethical is ethical?

Self-proclaimed Lush fanatic Belle Yates makes a pilgrimage to the British headquarters of her favourite beauty brand to find out if it is as eco-conscious as it says on its (recycled) packaging

By Belle Yates
24 Jan 2016 | 10:31 am
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My love for Lush started when I was just nine years old – I was visiting my older sister at her university and she took me to see one of her friends at work. Katie was working in a Lush shop in Bristol and I could smell the shop before I even saw it. From the minute we walked through the doors, the colours jumped out at me, the smells were unlike anything I’d experienced before and it felt so welcoming – almost like a brighter, more colourful version of home.

Since then, I’ve learned more about what Lush stands for and the company’s love for the planet. Even if I forgot all about that side of Lush, the products it sells are so unique; it invented one of my all-time favourite things, the bath bomb. An added bonus is that the products are natural and chemical-free. When I was at university, I had to tell my best friend to keep me out of the local Lush shop otherwise I’d spend the money I needed for food. Now that I’m working, I’m not kidding when I say the majority of products in my bathroom are Lush.

So, when I was given the opportunity to go to the Lush headquarters, it was as if the mothership was calling me home. Off I flew to the UK for my immersive experience of my favourite brand – I was even lucky enough to have a hair treatment at the famous Lush Hair Lab. To see for myself that Lush really is everything it claims to be was satisfying beyond belief. Here are the steps that Lush takes in order to achieve their high ethical standards…

Step one: meet the farmers

At Lush, the majority of the ingredients it uses in its products are bought using the ‘SLush fund’; a pot of the company’s money that is put aside purely to help encourage a better way of farming around the world. The fund first started when Lush founders Mark and Mo Constantine decided it was essential to visit the farmers and find out where their ingredients were coming from. They found multiple issues affecting the farmers they met, for example, climate change that can damage their crop and harvest. A bad harvest can lead to a vicious debt cycle of borrowing money to buy more seeds, then having most of the crop taken by the money lenders, only to have seeds withheld, stopping the farmers from growing anything – this cycle can be so bad that some have committed suicide, fearing that they will never pay back their debts. The Constantines decided that something needed to be done. Other issues they came across included slavery and child labour, which are still at a shockingly high level.

Step two: educate

The SLush fund is aimed at teaching the farmers how to do permaculture, which means permanent agriculture. Whereas monoculture (the predominant method used by mainstream growers) uses chemicals in the soil for quick regrowth, permaculture looks at how growing different crops can enrich the soil. By farming in this way, if one crop fails, they will still have other crops to sell.

Step three: change


Areas where the SLush fund has changed farmer’s lives for the better include India, Indonesia and Africa. 
Not only is there now a better way of farming in the communities supported by Lush, but the company is also helping to reforest the land and rehome species that have been forced out of their natural environment.

INDIA

In a cotton-growing area near Hyderabad, a majority of farmers were all falling into the debt cycle, so Lush introduced a model farm. It brought in new seeds, such as indigo and Moringa seed, and taught the farmers the value of nutrition in the soils. By planting these seeds and growing the trees near the cotton soil, the farmers enriched the surrounding soils and the quality of the cotton improved.

INDONESIA

In Sumatra, you will find the trees used by a majority of the world for palm oil. The large companies that sell palm oil have been cutting into the surrounding rainforest to grow more trees, despite it being a nationally protected area. This isn’t just impacting on the rainforests, but the species that live in them that are now endangered, such as the orang-utan and various bird species. In an attempt to stop this, the SLush fund was used to buy areas of land on the edges of the rainforest to create a buffer between the mass growth and the endangered species – a policy that will keep on going until the rainforest is safe from destruction. In these areas, local farmers can grow palm oil that hasn’t played a part in deforestation or endangering animals.

AFRICA

In some areas, farmers have been promised trade by Western companies and then left high and dry with large amounts of vegetables going to waste. The SLush fund is providing these farmers with different seeds to grow ingredients that are used in the Lush products themselves. The largest project to date is the eco village in Congo that houses 24 Pygmy families who were forced out of their homes in the forests. Many Pygmy families have no home to live in, no land rights and no food. They are being forced to work as slaves and being paid in miniscule amounts of rice, barely enough to feed a child, let alone a family. The SLush fund bought 10 hectares of land to become their first eco-village. Here, families are taught how to grow their own food, build houses and grow the natural medicine they were once banned from growing. The site now includes a medical centre and a school for the children. There are plans to create more of these villages for the other families to move to.

Step four: re-investing

The Charity Pot is a moisturiser sold by Lush in which a percentage of the sale is put into the SLush fund.

Similarly, the Sacred Truth, a face mask specifically created for skin that needs some glow, uses Rosewood oil. This oil is grown in the SLush-funded areas of the Amazon where they are working to combat the deforestation issues by buying plots of land that have already been affected.

Frankincense is used in Lush products such as Happy Hippy and King of Skin and is yet another ingredient sourced through the SLush fund. The frankincense is grown and harvested in Somaliland, north Somalia. SLush has built three solar wells in villages to provide water for harvesting, washing and toilet facilities. By bringing the water source to the villages, it means that the girls and women who used to have to fetch water now have more time for education.

Setting the standard

Lush was established 
20 years ago by Mark and Mo Constantine, when they realised that the beauty products they were making and selling through The Body Shop were selling out. They built the brand on innovation and ethics – it operates with a strict policy against animal testing and supports Fair Trade and Community Trade initiatives. Leading the cosmetics industry against over-packaging, Lush develops products that can be sold ‘naked’ to the consumer, without any packaging at all. Lush’s Mena director, Anita Baker says, “As of now, about 70 per cent of our products are naked and this number continues to grow.”

By Belle Yates

By Belle Yates