Lush’s Dirty Laundry
Image: A shop assistant from Lush Cosmetics is doused in “oil.” In March 2011, Lush shop assistants doused themselves while draped in Canadian flags, launching Lush’s new campaign in the UK against the Canadian tar sands. The campaign expanded this month to cities across Europe.
In an unlikely alliance, Lush Cosmetics joins the Indigenous Environmental Network in rallying against the Canadian tar sands. The Lush campaign targets the tar sands, yet the CEO of Lush North America fails to target his own family’s dynasty built on the continued exploration of oil, gas and mining.
Today, the environmental movement has become inundated with front-groups, financed by dirty industries. These front groups often fall under the guise of foundations. Unfortunately, not even the best of the long-standing environmental groups are above becoming ensnared in such webs of deception as corporations, governments and, in this case, the global Lush brand. Such entities seek to become celebrated as “green” in a system that cannot be changed by the illusion of “green” growth. This system is destined to ultimately collapse – or kill us – whatever comes first. And this is where we are today.
The CEO of Lush, Mark Wolverton, belongs to the Wolverton family – of Canadian Wolverton Securities. The president and CEO of Wolverton Securities is Brent Wolverton, Mark’s brother. Wolverton Securities was founded in the early 1900s and continues to thrive today with an annual revenue of $20,735,400.
From the Wolverton website:
“Taking advantage of our expertise. Western Canada may well be the venture capital centre of the world, especially when it comes to mining and oil and gas exploration. Wolverton is a primary player in that market for this simple reason: If you look at mining operations in Siberia, South Africa or the jungles of South America, Canadians are running and financing the operations.”
“On the research side, Blackmont hired [an investment analyst] away from Wolverton Securities. The oil and gas analyst has 29 years of experience in the sector, including executive stints in the industry at NAL Oil and Gas Trust and Easton Drilling Fund.”
Ironically, Wolverton Securities Ltd’s Calgary office is actually situated in the Royal Bank Building. Royal Bank Canada is one of the world’s largest financier of the tar sands.
Mile long list of corporations affiliated with Wolverton Securities Ltd: http://infoventure.tsx.com/TSXVenture/TSXVentureHttpController?GetPage=CompanySummary&PO_ID=44829&HC_FLAG1=on&HC_FLAG2=on
Time Magazine article 2003: “Lush first made its way to North America thanks to brokerage scion Mark Wolverton of Canada’s Wolverton Securities.”
Wolverton has controlled Lush’s North American operations since 1996 – 50% in Canada and 40% in the US.According to the Retail Merchandisers, Strategy for Growth website, approximately $90 million of the company’s global annual sales of $350 million come from its North American operations, comprising manufacturing facilities and distribution via storefronts, malls, airports, and the store-within-a-store concept in which Lush has a 300- to 500-square-foot store in the cosmetics department at 38 Macy’s stores.
The reason Lush CEO Mark Wolverton would support such a hypocritical campaign is nothing new. It’s fantastic branding. It makes people feel good when they buy a bar of soap. It raises awareness – without threatening the industry (or his family’s fortune) in any meaningful way. It builds brand loyalty. And I will be the first one to say – Lush executes such branding/marketing brilliantly.
From the Lush website: “We believe in protecting people, animals and the planet, so when we learned about the tar sands, we knew we had to take a loud and proud LUSH stand against ‘the most destructive project on earth.’ … Here at LUSH, we know it’s time for an oil change!” Displaying extraordinary bravado, the Lush site even states: “Major oil companies, banks and investors are pouring billions of dollars into the development of the Canadian tar sands and the government has created tax breaks and incentives for them to do so.”
In the Tar Sands Blow (Lush Remix) video below, Lush ironically asks the question “Who is Behind This?”
March 2011 from the Gallo Communications Group: Gallo “offers communication skills coaching for the world’s most admired brands.” Gallo states: “To raise awareness of such issues, Lush staff at some stores have stripped down to nothing but an apron to protest over-packaging, storefronts have been converted into giant blood spattered placards, and protests have been held to end Canada’s tar sands project and encourage investment in clean energy.” … “Wolverton acknowledges that Lush’s tactics might turn off some customers (Lush has stores in Alberta and some employees have family members who work in the oil sands). But they are also passionate about their values and communicating those values. ‘We strive for a substantial amount of transparency in the business. We must act in a green fashion and the causes we support. It all fits together,’ says Wolverton…. Above all, Lush teaches small business owners that it’s not enough to sell a product. Sell a story as well.”
Wolverton Securities are listed as Financial Administrators (Primary Member), along with RBC (Executive), Goldman Sachs (Primary Member & Operations), etc. etc. as a member of the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada. As always, those who profit from the system while destroying the planet and externalizing all costs make their own “regulations.” The full list of some of the world’s most powerful institutions can be found here: http://www.iiroc.ca/English/Policy/PolicyCommittees/Pages/FinancialAdministratorsSection.aspx
IEN members, Indigenous Peoples and average citizens may share the opinion that it is quite outrageous for Lush, partnered with IEN, to campaign to the public about how bad the tar sands are – without addressing the issue that the CEO of Lush has deep ties to industries that are destroying our planet, as his own family fortune is owed to the continued mining, gas and oil exploration industries… industries that exploit the most vulnerable and the Indigenous Peoples while raping the Earth beyond repair.
It appears that an effective and meaningful campaign would be for IEN’s partner, Lush, to demand that Wolverton Securities divest from all fossil fuel investments and only invest in alternatives to industrial energy sources – rejecting investments in all false solutions.
Industrialization can only succeed when traditional communities are successfully destroyed. And as society’s attention is focused on Lush branding and products, the article titled Aboriginal Industry Workforce Expands is published 14 June 2011: “An increase of Aboriginal workers in the oil sands industry is proving to be very beneficial for business. A survey by the Oil Sands Developers Group shows over 1,700 aboriginal people were employed full-time in the oil patch last year. ‘Through the work of Aboriginal people and with the support of oil sands firms the capacity has grown. So year over year, more and more aboriginal people are getting more training, more education, that allows them into the workforce,’ said OSDG President Don Thompson. By partnering with oil sands operators, local aboriginal companies have earned more than $5 billion since 1998. In 2010 alone, oil sands companies contributed $5.5 million to aboriginal communities in Wood Buffalo and the Lac La Biche region.” The industrial employment of aboriginals in the tar sands is simultaneously lethal for Indigenous cultures – eroding ancestral practices, knowledge and spirituality to the point where they eventually deteriorate altogether – and critical to the success of industrial capitalism.
Lush: Growth, growth growth …
“We believe our products are good value, that we should make a profit and that the customer is always right.” – “We Believe” from the Lush website
And as wonderful as Lush itself might be, it is still a perfect example of “green” capitalism that seeks continuous growth. This in spite of the fact that Lush continues to be a privately owned company (shareholders: Mark Constantine 37%, Margaret Constantine 25%, Andrew Gerrie 12%, others 26%). In February 2009, BNET reported: “British cosmetic retailerLush just opened its 100th store in the United States that also happened to be its 37th operating in a Macy’s, and, despite the recession, is looking forward to opening up to 30 more outlets in its current roll out across the country…. One benefit of recession, at least for Lush, is that better real estate is coming available as weaker retailers fail.”
As with most capitalists, no matter how profitable one venture such as Lush (702 locations in 44 countries worldwide) might be, the desire for additional wealth is insatiable. In 2007 in an article titled Mark Wolverton: Bath Bombs and Beer, the reporter writes: “A descendant of the founder of Wolverton Securities Ltd., Wolverton spent his high-school summers on the trading floor of the Vancouver Stock Exchange, fully expecting to step into a long career at the venerable brokerage firm. Today, he and his brother manage a real-estate portfolio that includes a number of downtown office buildings and West End residential buildings. More recently, he bought a brewery in Kamloops and partnered with Vancouver restaurateur Mark James to open brew pubs in Whistler, Yaletown, Surrey and North Vancouver.”
Wolverton: “The Body Shop has more than 2,000 stores in the US, and we have 104. So we have a lot of room to reach out and develop further. We will continue to add extensively to the store base, continue to deliver new brands to the customers, and create a much bigger following globally.”
It is interesting to note that the original founders of Lush were the Body Shop’s biggest supplier (under the business name “Constantine and Weir”) until 1994, when Body Shop bought them out for £6m. Then, after one failed concept (“Cosmetics to Go”) Lush emerged – to stay. In the 2007 Guardian article Lush couple with a shed load of ideas in an interview with Lush founder Mark Constantine, Constantine states: “There wasn’t the scope for all the bullshit. It was much more realistic. If you have got no money there is a constant focus on making a profit, which is so much more healthy.” … “In 2001 Lush tried to buy Body Shop and Mark bristles when recalling that his offer was dismissed by the Roddicks as “an early April Fool’s joke”. Upon making the official announcement that a bid by Lush (£175m) for the Body Shop was “speculation” Constantine added: “Lush is an ambitious company and we are looking at different ways to expand our business, either through wholly owned shops, deals or, indeed, through acquisitions.”
The Lush growth plan and sales as reported by the New Zealand Herald: As of August 2010 Lush had acquired 680 stores in 44 countries, including eight in NZ with plans to open 100 more in the next five years. In 2009 the revenue for Lush was $595 million. The Sunday Times Rich List estimates Mark Constantine’s monetary wealth at £50 million.
From the Wolverton Foundation website: “He [Mark Wolverton] graduated from B.C.I.T. in Financial Management in 1986 and worked alongside his father and brother in the expansion of their family-owned brokerage business, Wolverton Securities…. Recognizing the potential of the Lush brand, Mark moved out of the brokerage business in 1997 and began working full time for Lush. Mark and his wife Karen, embrace the challenge of the development and exploitation of the North American market for the Lush brand and hopes [sic]to work closely with the U.K. in the coordination of the brand globally.”
We can expect that the true success of the Lush campaign against the Canadian tar sands will be measured by whether consumers were convinced that Lush is greener and better than The Body Shop. (Incidentally, The Body Shop is now owned my multinational corporations L’Oréal, which continues to test on animals, and major human rights offender Nestlé, which owns 30% of L’Oréal.) After all, the Lush campaign won’t have the slightest effect against the tar sands, butit could help Lush surpass The Body Shop in socio-environmental branding.
“Lush didn’t tout its ethics much in the past, but as green initiatives become mainstream, and greenwashing more plentiful, the company has started to shine a light on its credentials as a values-based organization. In some cases, that means taking a highly visible stance on a social issue such as Canada’s controversial commercial seal hunt.” – from Do Good and Do Well, Retail Merchandisers, Strategy for Growth website
Unfortunately, no matter how beautifully packaged, how creamy, magnificent and “eco-friendly” a Lush product may be, at the end of the day, capital has only one imperative, and that is to grow. Under the current economic system, the ultimate measure of success is profit. Corporations exist to maximize profits while externalizing costs. That is their nature. They cannot behave otherwise. Waste, pollution, and ecological destruction are built into the system. A system that requires infinite growth cannot last forever on a finite planet defined by ecological and social limits. Market-driven growth is driving us toward collapse.
And, we must address the mining industry – listed as a key area of Wolverton Securities’ expertise and specialty. The track record of Canadian mining companies perpetrating exploitation in developing countries is most horrific.
Uploaded 13 June 2011: Testimony of Rosa Elbira: Gang-rapes at a Canadian-owned mine in Guatemala;Rosa Elbira and 10 other Mayan women were gang raped by security personnel at a mine in Guatemala during a violent eviction requested by Canadian mining company HMI Nickel (now owned by Canadian company HudBay Minerals). Rosa tells their story:
16 May 2011: From the Wolverton website under NEWS: Hudbay Minerals Releases First Quarter 2011 Results: “Hudbay Minerals Inc. (“Hudbay”, the “company”) today released its first quarter 2011 financial results. Net profit attributable to shareholders increased to $16.8 million or $0.11 per share in the first quarter of 2011, compared to $10.6 million, or $0.07 per share, during the first quarter of 2010.(http://bit.ly/jP4hS3)
The example above is just one example in thousands of the horrific abuses and murder of activists and Indigenous Peoples in which Canadian mining companies bear responsibility. At the same time, those most oppressed by the system and “free” markets will never have the ” luxury” of wasting $7.00 on a Lush bath bomb … nor, I believe, would they choose to do so. Surely the vulnerable and exploited would consider it the greatest of luxuries to simply have access to uncontaminated water for drinking – a basic human right. Water, free of contamination from mining, gas, oil and all other pollutants, is an impossibility within our industrialized capitalist system – in which both Lush and Wolverton Securities are key participants.
Cory Morningstar is a climate justice activist whose recent writings can be found on Canadians for Action on Climate Change and The Art of Annihilation site where you can read her bio. You can follow her on Twitter: @elleprovocateur