Recently I got the opportunity to visit one of my favourite cosmetics companies, LUSH, and spend a weekend with them in a vegan (soap) bubble. Not only did I get to see the factories – which made me feel like a child exploring the fancy chocolate world of Willy Wonka – but I also made my own bath bombs and Charity Pot, met some incredible people and visited the very first store in Poole. Also did I get the chance to interview one oft he most impressive women, I’ve ever met: Hilary Jones, ethical director of the company.
Dear Hilary, could you tell me about your story? I heard that you have worked at LUSH from the very beginning?
Yes, I was a full-time activist until I started here. I used to spend all my time at protest camps and travelling around the country. My family is from this area and back then, it was very difficult to get vegan products. So when I heard about “Cosmetics to Go“, the company before LUSH, I was like “Oh my god! They have vegetable soap and it’s not even animal tested!“. It was simply amazing, so I shopped with them. When I was about thirty-something, I finally needed a “real“ job, so I thought: “Who am I willing to work for?“ And that was the only company I could think of, really.
Do you sell your products in China, where animal testing is required by law?
We don’t sell in China. We do see our products for sale there, but it’s not us, it’s the black market. People buy them here and resell them there. Not in huge quantities though, because we try to stop that happening. In all the other countries that we’re trading in, we can invent a product and test it and get it on to the market without testing on animals. But in China, some of the pre-marketing tests are done on animals. And the post-marketing is even harder, because the Chinese goverment have a system where, when a product is for sale, they can take it and test in in their own labs to check, if it’s safe. And that testing is done on animals. So, even if you brought a product to the market without using animal testing, there would always be the chance that, if you had a shop, they could come in and say “We would like to have one sample of everything to retest!“. And that, again, would be done on animals. So as long as these problems exist, we cannot trade there.
Why, in your opinion, do so many companies still test on animals instead of using alternative methods?
Well, ultimately animals testing doesn’t really tell us anything at all. Even medical scientists keep saying that no matter how much they test on animals, they don’t know, because animals are so different from us. They don’t know anything until it goes into humans anyway. So the whole thing is wrong and built on a misleading assumption. It’s almost like, you know, they are living creatures, so it’s like the next best thing to testing on humans. At some point someone must have looked at them and thought “We can’t test that product on another human being, but here is a rabbit, it’s alive, like us, so I’ll test on that.“ That might have been acceptable in Victorian times, but we know better! We know, that it’s cruel, we know that animals can think and feel and we know that they’re not like people. Their medicines are different from ours, the things that make animals better don’t necessarily make us better. It’s so outdated and it’s crazy, that it’s still going on. We need to invent more development of non-animal-testing. The problem is, that they keep viewing it as a one for one replacement and that again is really old-fashioned thinking. Why would you replace a pointless test with something, that is the same as the pointless test? It needs a whole new generation of people sweeping through with a completely different mindset.
What do you think of companies that once stood up for cruelty-free products and then were bought up by bigger companies, that do test on animals, like The Body Shop or Urban Decay?
It’s sad. We always mourn when that happens and we hear about it in the news. These small ethical companies get to a stage where they become of interest of big brands and they kind of lose some of their soul, when they sell. It’s sad for people, because it reduces your choices a a consumer. More and more these big companies eat up little companies. It’s the same for us, when we’re buying ingredients: we see suppliers being eaten up by bigger suppliers, so it isn’t just the end product, it’s happening all the way down the chain. When big companies buy up small producers of ingredients, we can’t buy from them anymore, because they are animal testing. It’s really complex.
What do you do to make a change? What about the LUSH Prize?
The reason we started the LUSH Prize was because the Cosmetics Directive happened, which was really good for animals, but almost at the same time, the REACH Chemical Legislation happened, which is a terrible thing for animals. So we thought, the legislatives are giving with one hand and taking away with the other, they are protecting animals with one hand and putting them in harm with loads of extra testing at the same time. And at that stage we thought, legislation isn’t the only answer, it’s not enough to talk to politicians and put petitions on. Companies and scientists keep telling us, that certain tests have no replacements, so they need to be done on animals, that’s why animal testing stayed in REACH. Because they were told that there was no way to bring products to the market wihout these steps. That’s why science needs to get on with it as well. They need to create solutions, the legaslatives and the public feel safe with. With the LUSH Prize, we want to encourage a new wave of testing, to encourage people to actually develop non-animal tests. We just put the money up, but don’t make any of the decisions. There is an independent panel of scientists to judge the entrance.
What can I as a customer do to make a change?
The only thing you can do is to keep writing the companies and asking about the things that matter to you as a consumer. The more letters they get, the more they realize that consumers care about these things. And if consumers care about it, they meet the demand. That’s how most companies work. And then you should share their replies on social media, talk to your friends and family and get them to do the same.
Do you struggle with the fact that LUSH is not 100% vegan? Do you think there is a chance, that the company will turn completely vegan one day?
No, I don’t think so. The inventors rely on honey to take heat out of the skin and lanolin to condition the hair and they really rate the ingredients for the effects they have. As a vegetarian company, they rely on those ingredients and they’ve used them for a long time, so I don’t see the company going vegan. I’d be really happy if it did, though.
Isn’t saying “We’ve always used these ingredients and we like them“ the same thing as saying “We’ve always done animal testing and that’s why we keep doing it“?
I have to agree with you. As a vegan, working in a vegetarian company is always a compromise. I would never agree with the use of eggs, I think eggs cause untold misery. But I work for a vegetarian company that feels comfortable using them and I knew that before I started. We have the intern debate constantly. We just had a managers’ meeting where all the vegans wore t-shirts saying “no eggs“. You know, we constantly cause trouble (laughs)! If nothing else, I’d really like the eggs to go, even if they would keep using the honey. If I had a top one to go, it would be the eggs. Because for me as a vegan, the whole process of the male chicks being killed, the lives of those hens and their death, when their egg-laying becomes economically unviable, is simply disgusting. It’s the worst slaughter method possible and the things that are okay for chicks would never be okay for putting a petting dog down. Everyone would call you cruel, but millions of chicks die that way.
But LUSH is a great company and it’s good that we have a big mixture of beliefs in our team. There is a constant debate from all sorts of angles. It’s a lovely company that does a lot. We even have vegan caterings for our meetings and it’s so nice to work here.
What’s your biggest goal?
I’d like to see human beings treat animals with the same respect they reserve for other human beings. Of course, there are people who don’t treat human beings with the respect they deserve either, so…just respect for all living creatures. I’d love to live in a world where we all had respect for every living creature, that would be a place worth living.
Thank you so much!