Do i smell transphobia? Or did someone just pass wind?
Earlier this week, many in the trans community were dismayed by news that alternative cosmetics retailer, Lush, had been smearing large quantities of money over some already plump and deeply transphobic bodies. Donations to Women’s Place UK (WPUK) were cited as evidence of badness, and the LGBTQ rumour mill ran rife.
How true is this? And what does it say about Lush’s commitments to the trans community? Now read on.
It all began with the publication of accounts by Women’s Place UK. These revealed, to the consternation of many, that they had received some pretty large handouts from Lush UK over the last few years. Shock! Horror!
Worse, as the story evolved, it emerged that other anti-trans organisations had benefited from Lush generosity, while trans-supportive organisations had been turned down.
What was going on? Was this just pink-washing on a large scale, or something else.
Here goes with a few basic Q&A’s
What is the Lush Charity Pot?
This is the mcguffin at the heart of the current controversy. Lush maintains a pot of money that they regularly dole out to good causes. According to their own guidelines, “Charity Pot grants do not fund individuals, only organisations and groups. Your group does not need to be a registered charity, Charity Pot grants support all kinds of groups, including new organisations and start-ups. However, your group should be not-for-profit.”
A variety of groups have benefited including, but not limited to those working in areas such as Animal Protection, the Environment and Human Rights.
Here, i’d better declare an interest. Just in case folks imagine that I am being nice about Lush because I am somehow in their pay. I’m not. But I did, on behalf of Trans Media Watch, negotiate a pay out from the Lush charity pot last year of approx £1200. Or rather: not a simple pay-out, as Lush asked that I and others from TMW come along and work on site at Lush Oxford St to promote our cause.
What is the Lush view of trans rights?
They are pretty much in favour. According to their (updated) statement on this issue, put out on 1 December, they “regard [their] business as an ally to the trans communities and to LGBTQ+ communities worldwide” and they “do not believe that Trans rights are a threat to women’s rights”.
More than that, they provide a very LGBTQ-supportive environment within which to work, as I can attest from my time at Oxford St. A number of individual staff members turned up to thank me for being there and to declare themselves disgusted by the anti-LGBT posturing of many of those in and around WPUK.
Hardly surprising, since at about the same time, various anti-trans groups and individuals — of which some, one might assume, were WPUK supporters — were making pretty clear their opposition to Lush’s trans-friendly position.
So did Lush give money to WPUK?
Yes. A flat £3,000 back in 2017.
‘Fraid so. There was also a sum doled out to Critical Sisters for media training in 2019 as well as money donated over that period to FiLiA, apparently to support minorities attending a BAME related conference (this is the best info i have on this right now, but if anyone thinks that is incorrect and can provide documented proof to the contrary, please let me know)
In respect of FiLiA, it is fair to say that over the years the degree to which it might be considered anti-trans has waxed and waned according to who was in charge.
Though under current management, most trans people would likely consider it well and truly in the anti camp.
What about trans groups?
Over the years Lush have been supportive of trans campaigning groups and allies. According to their statement, they have “given grants to 514 LGBTQ+ groups totalling £1.6 million” over the past five years.
That, presumably, includes the TMW grant, detailed above as well as donations totalling in excess of £10,000 to Sisters Uncut.
Ah. About Sisters Uncut…
Yes. It has been alleged on social media that after 2017, Lush STOPPED funding Sisters Uncut because they were too trans-inclusive.
Lush confirm that donations to Sisters Uncut did dry up at about that date. Equally, though, they maintain that no applications were refused.
So something smells off?
It is all a bit messy. Lush’s initial reaction to the WPUK revelation was to run for cover and not apologise. This is standard corporate response to bad pr: dive for cover and hope things will blow over. Except they did not.
That is why it is important to read the most recent statement by Lush, which is considerably more robust than what they first put out. It includes the admission that they “feel that money has gone to work that we would not feel proud to support and we wish to apologise unreservedly for that.”
They are therefore trying to strengthen their processes against further mistakes.
That in turn, is allusion to the fact that it is an open secret as to what actually went wrong. At some point in the past few years, Lush employed in their charity division an individual whose claim to “feminism” appears to have been defined, as it often is nowadays, by rampant transphobia. Lush did not spot this until too late. By then, the damage was well and truly done.
Still: we’re all friends now?
Not entirely. I do believe, personally, that Lush’s heart, insofar as any large corporate has a heart, is more or less in the right place. They screwed up and, as so many organisations before them, failed to get their response right until they were dragged kicking and screaming to the apology table. (The what? Jane: enough with the flowery language! — Ed)
At the same time, they need to work harder on their processes. Because in any large organisation there is always risk of some branch, individual or power centre going rogue. And I write that as someone who “sneaked” the best part of £1 million out of an IT budget to pay for a database project back in the day (with my boss’s approval, I hasten to add) in order to avoid delays at board level.
Set yourself the best values, the best brand values in the world and if those can be over-ridden downstream, you might as well not bother.
I personally like Lush products: for a period of time, when my daughter worked in one of their outlets, I was overwhelmed by them. It’s Christmas! Must be time for jane to receive half a dozen bath bombs again.
Boycotting Lush will do no-one any good. There is far more to be gained by engaging with them, helping them to do better, and ensuring they live up to their good intentions.
If you have a worthwhile project, do ask them for support.
And Lush, if you are listening: how about inviting a trans group or two in to talk to your managers. Who knows: you might even enjoy it!