An AFed member’s thoughts on Lush, their support for the Police Spies out of Lives campaign, and what we can learn from the establishment backlash against both. This article has been updated with information given to us by Lush employees and others, about negative aspects of the company.
Lush has a long history of funding grass roots activism, especially in the field of animal rights and environmentalism, and of running explicitly political campaigns across its stores to draw attention to certain struggles. Of course, all companies like to give money away to charity, and be seen supporting worthy causes, it’s all good PR! I’d like to give Lush’s motives at least a little benefit of the doubt, though we should still be wary of any company, and the chance of our struggles being recuperated into the capitalist system. Often Lush’s funding is done with little publicity or fan fare, which counts in their favour, as does the fact their campaigns are usually of the sort a PR firm would tell you to stay well away from (such as this one). A PR firm certainly would not advise a company to launch something like Lush’s Paid to Lie campaign, designed to raise the profile of the long running #SpyCops struggle, and the Police Spies Out Of Lives support group. ‘Far too controversial’, ‘no good for your bottom line’, ‘stick to something nice, maybe about kittens’, all things I’m sure our fictional PR agent would’ve told them.
For those unaware, the SpyCops campaigns formed around a group who had been deceived into having close relationships with undercover police sent to spy on them due to their involvement in environmentalism, animal rights, anarchism or other ‘subversive’ campaigning. These officers were deployed for years at a time, deliberately forming close emotional bonds with those around them. Often this meant having long-term romantic relationships with women involved in the groups, even marrying and having children with them. There have also been numerous cases of these spies encouraging others to commit criminal acts, one would assume in an attempt to entrap them. Once their ‘deployments’ were complete the police spies would disappear. Those left behind were confused, concerned and often genuinely devastated. It was often this concern, more than suspicion, that led to the truth being exposed. After years of activists struggling to piece together what had happened, there is now a public inquiry into the use of undercover policing. While the political motivations,and instances of abuse are clear, those affected are becoming increasingly angry that the inquiry is becoming an exercise in white washing to cover up the abuses of power.
Enter Lush. Lush have launched a publicity drive online and in their UK shops. It features police tape with ‘the police have crossed a line’, posters with ‘Paid to Lie’ next to an image of a two faced cop, videos about the cases, in-depth articles, and more. They focus especially on the new petition from The Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance, which you can sign here.
The back lash that came was swift. Police officers, including some very senior ones, along with right-wing media pundits, fueled a social media storm around Lush’s so-called ‘anti police adverts’. Anger was tweeted, furious messages penned, and thousands of police supporters down-rated the companies Facebook page to ‘1.1/5’. Though it has since bounced back up a bit thanks to some positive ratings from anti-police or pro-soap activists. Never mind that this was a campaign specifically about the abuses of the SpyCops, which even many supporters of the police would vehemently oppose, the ball was already rolling. It didn’t matter that Lush literally spelled it out in a statement (disappointing to us anarchist types) that ‘this is not an anti-state/anti-police campaign’. Why would they risk launching the campaign in the first place, when they must’ve known it would result in so much negativity? Simple, that negatively is exactly the kind of thing that gets your story talked about, in person and in the press. By the end of the day hundreds of thousands of people who had never heard about the SpyCops inquiry were made aware of it, and were learning about the SpyCops campaigns. Lush are probably quietly thanking the outraged police supporters and right wingers on social media for playing their parts so well.
There are some important lessons here for those of us who engage in politics, things to remember about how the establishment reacts to criticism. First off, they seem to be taking it very seriously. Lots of people with important sounding titles like ‘vice-chair of the police federation’ and ‘home secretary’ quickly jumped into the fray. Why is this? Part of it might be the source of the criticism. Lush is a world renowned and respected company, with an annual turnover of up to £995million. For the police and politicians this is a major business ‘breaking ranks’ and criticising a core part of the establishment. The Home Secretary provided evidence of this with his statement saying ‘Never thought I would see a mainstream British retailer running a public advertising campaign against our hardworking police.’ It isn’t something we should forget either, we should not rely on, or feel the need to support capitalist enterprises, even ones that help fund our campaigns. Lush’s financial muscle also meant they had a platform much larger than most political groups, too large to ignore. Also at its core I think its because the establishment are scared. The SpyCops revelations are accompanied by cast iron proof, they were shocking even to those of used to seeing the ugly side of policing, and they strike against the very core of what the political and business establishment like us to think about the police. They shatter the illusion that the police are impartial upholders of justice, that their goal is to protect the innocent or uphold virtue. They expose the rotten core of policing in the UK in a way that even those who don’t consider themselves ‘anti-police’ will take notice of. Forget scared, this is the kind of thing that makes the establishment terrified.
So that is the why, what about the how of this establishment back lash? Well, it had a frankly immense reach. It was on a scale that money (almost) can’t buy. Every major media outlet in the country has run a story on this, not focusing on the campaign itself, but on quotes from police, politicians, and miscellaneous angry people on twitter. Headlines included the likes of ‘Lush branded “Offensive, disgusting, and an insult” by Police Federation chair’, ‘Fury over Lush campaign’, ‘Lush Sparks Outrage’ and ‘Cosmetics giant blasted over bizarre campaign’. Headlines that reveal the thrust of what the corporate media wanted to get across. Luckily for the campaign however the articles did have to include at least some substance, including writing about the SpyCops abuses and the campaign around them. Politicians and police also employed a ‘trickle affect’, with different spokespeople, often from the same organisations, releasing similar quotes though out the day. Not only does this give news websites an excuse to write a second, or third, article on the subject it gives the illusion of a ‘public conversation’ taking place that fits the narrative those in power want to construct. Picking a few random twitter quotes helps add to this idea. Don’t bother investigating for yourself (they really, really don’t want you to do that) the public at large have spoken, agree you peasants!
What about the contents of all these official tweets, press statements, articles, and reports? This is where it gets really interesting. First off, they do what we all expect politicians to do, lie. Lie like their lives depend on it. The first lie was to deflect by accusing the other side of being the liars. Believe our rulers and the campaign is unfounded, misleading, full of lies! Do they have any specifics to back that up? Of course not, and if you ask they’ll reply with something vague about how brave the police are and hope you’ll shut up. Their next big lie is that the campaign is ‘anti-police’. Not anti SpyCops, anti ALL police. This seems to be the thing that people have latched on to the most. With many police supporters tweeting that its #NotAllPolice. Which is great in itself, as it means even ‘the other side’ has realised that what the SpyCops did was awful, and they can’t bring themselves to defend them. It also misses the same point that those who tweet #NotAllMen in response to accusations of sexism miss. It doesn’t matter if every individual is directly involved in the abuse and corruption, they sure as hell associate with people that are, they fail to challenge their friends and colleagues who are, and they continue to benefit from the system wide oppression that is created. Of course not all police are SpyCops, I mean, we would’ve noticed if every uniformed police officer in the country was replaced with a shady looking activist. It doesn’t mean that all police aren’t part of the same corrupt institution however, and it dosen’t mean they aren’t complicit. After all I’ve seen plenty of former and serving police officers talking about how all police feel ‘offended’, how they are outraged at the campaign… but only one (ex) officer going on the record to say the campaign raises important points about the nature of policing. Well, two if you count the official that received donations from the owner of Lush for his Police and Crime Commissioner election campaigns.
Along with the lies, came the calls for censorship. Often in the same papers that run outraged stories under the guise of ‘defending free speech’, talking about anti-fascists ‘no platforming’ racist speakers, or women ‘daring’ to raise their voices against sexism in the media. Suddenly the right-wing media’s free speech at all costs mantra is gone, and Lush should end their campaign and silence themselves immediately or else. It’s almost like the papers, politicians, and right wing personalities don’t actually care about free speech, except when its a handy weapon to use against their opponents. Likewise its amusing to see those who describe the left or anarchists as delicate ‘snowflakes’, voicing their offense at the drop of the hat, doing precisely what the accuse us of; shouting loudly about how offended they are, as if this is the most important thing in the world. This move toward censorship isn’t restricted to words either. Along with dozens of complaints to advertising standards and other authorities, have come calls for boycotts, and even harassment of retail staff in the shops, including from ex-police officers (Source ) evidently still being boot-boys for the establishment after their retirement). Whilst the blame mostly rests with those people taking their anger out on staff, Lush also shares part of it for not making adequate moves to protect their workers in advance. In fact, this is not the first time Lush have put their workers in the firing line, as this previous campaign which was effectively an invitation for workplace sexual harassment shows. Working retail is a soul-crushing experience at the best of times, so if you can spare a few minutes, go say something nice to the folks in your local Lush. Maybe drop ’em round some chocolates (tell them the anarchists sent you). Worryingly, these calls for censorship are actually working. Lush have curtailed to their critics and removed part of their display from at least some stores. Though they later reported this was because of harassment of their staff, which perhaps makes it the right call on their part, but no less worrying a result for those who value the ability to criticise the government and the wider establishment! Free speech we usually call it. The bit of the display removed from stores is this pretty decent poster, apparently its ‘offensive’ to the right wing snowflakes (or broflakes as the predominantly macho and right wing snowflakes are often termed), so careful where you share it.
By no means did the establishment limit themselves to just these tactics of course. There was plenty of misdirection, attempting to change the conversation to how hardworking they think the police are, or to how they’ve suffered under government cuts (those things that the same police were on the front line defending). They also attempted to undermine the credibility of Lush’s campaign, labeling it ‘bizarre’ and pretending they didn’t know why it was happening, or what could’ve caused it. Other tricks included the knee-jerk reaction of blaming Corbyn, who apparently once met the guy who founded Lush, and appealing to emotion, in one instance by quoting the widow of a police officer. All of this was just damage control. It was too late, the campaign had succeeded in its aim of getting the word out about the SpyCops to loads more people. The police can and twist the narrative, but doing so further boosts the profile of the very thing they’d like people to ignore. If you plan on launching any campaign, whether its one that involves actively courting the media, or just doing an action and running away you can expect to face all the same tactics. It’s important to remember this when looking at how we frame our own demonstrations.
Feels very odd writing something positive about a multi-million pound business on an anarchist website. Despite balancing it out with a fair bit of negative comment, especially about their treatment of employees. If they really want to be as ‘ethical’ as possible in a capitalist system, why aren’t they a worker run co-op? That would certainly help remove the issues such as management bullying and the over working of employees, which, like any company, Lush has far too much of. We highly recommend their workers join a union, like the IWW or SolFed.
I’ll finish with some more negativity: Damn you Lush, you…. make stuff that smells like it should taste really nice, but then if you try to eat it mostly tastes of soap. Hmm. Nope, still feel dirty for the coverage of Lush. So dirty I should probably go wash myself. With some deliciously fragranced hand-made soap, though perhaps from somewhere a little cheaper.
Final Note: I’m supportive of the #SpyCops campaigns, and in relation to being victimised and fighting back against the police state, everyone involved. However, I’m not supportive of at least one prominent member of the group Helen Steel, in relation to other activities. Despite impressive activist credentials built up over several decades, Helen Steel has come out with some deeply reactionary views over the past year or more. These are largely in relation to trans people, and have included going as far as labeling trans activists part of an MI5 conspiracy, accusing trans women of deliberately furthering patriarchy or suggesting they only exist as a means to threaten women. I don’t think this should stop anyone from supporting the #SpyCops campaign itself, and as a core participant there is no way anyone would remove Helen Steel from said campaign. I do think we should call out bigotry and prejudice where ever we see it, even amongst those we previously considered to be comrades. Especially when beyond merely voicing it, they actively organise to spread it. It’s a shame that others at the core of the campaigns have not done this themselves. Whist I’d welcome other speakers from SpyCops at events I was hosting, I wouldn’t go out of my way to organise a platform for Helen Steel – especially given that she has on occasion used such events to mention her TERF views.
Update (an even more final note): Since publishing this article, I’ve been sent extra information about Lush which I felt it was important to include. Much of it is now mentioned in the main body of the article, with further information linked to. This bit however felt like it needed its own section.
According to our source (an ex-employee of Lush), Rebecca Lush, the charitable giving coordinator (who has significant control over where money is donated), also appears to hold transphobic views. Our source tells us she has expressed such views in a number of ways (and provided screen shots as evidence to corroborate this). These include, but are not limited to: vocal support for groups we consider openly transphobic (‘TERF’ groups), repeatedly mis-gendering trans people (with no attempt at correction or apology), accusing trans people who are gay of being homophobic by their very nature, labeling a trans activist a ‘Mens Rights Activist’, equating trans women prisoners with pedophiles and sex offenders, (and quoting a transphobic article formatted as a scientific study, written by a friend of hers, as ‘evidence’), and suggesting wanting to commit sexual offenses and/or gain access to women’s prisons is a key motive for transitioning.
This isn’t to say the company as a whole (or the rest of its ‘giving’ department) are transphobic, clearly not as they did donate to Action for Trans Health, but it is still concerning that, if our source is correct, someone with apparent anti-trans bias hold such a powerful role.
If you have any information that either backs up or refutes these claims please get in touch with us.