Photo: lush, Street Party Ballistics
Lush Cosmetics is the green cosmetic company that split off from the Body Shop in the '90's. Still privately owned by the original founder, Mark Constantine, they sell environmentally friendly soap and paraphernalia in 700 shops across the world, as well as being involved in numerous important environmental and ethical campaigns.
Now they have joined the forefront of another one: paying a living wage to their London employees. That's different from the minimum wage; it is the wage needed to live in a big city. As Constantine said: "I take pride in being an ethical retailer, but my staff were putting in a 40-hour week for me, and then having to moonlight because I was not paying them enough."
The minimum wage is £5.93 (US$ 9.78) an hour in London and with the London living wage, it will become £7.85 (US$ 12.95) for these 200 employees. For the company it's an extra expense of £300,000 a year. Not a massive amount for such a huge business, but it marks Lush as the first retailer to take this public position.
As Constantine said "In retail, it is obvious that the people at the bottom of the chain do the real work, putting in long hours, and that they get paid very poorly."
Retailers Marks & Spencer (£7.82) and John Lewis (£7) have confirmed that they are in discussion on the subject. Constantine's message to them: "Obviously this is a much bigger step for you because you have thousands more employees than we do, but at the end of the day, it's about fairness and good business practice."
Image by B. Alter, Lush Knot-Wrapping
Wages--it's a taboo subject really. We worry about fair trade and ethical compliance in Africa and India, whilst our own friends and family work in the charitable and environmental field at minimum and substandard wages--for love and commitment. It's about fairness and equity for working people
The Evening Standard, a local London paper, owned by a Russian oligarch, has been supporting the London Living Wage campaign. They published a series of articles on the refusal of University College London to pay its cleaners a living wage. Suddenly the university turned around and agreed to pay it.
As for Lush, it's a privately owned £215M business so Constantine can do what he wants and he has. He was a funder of the Plane Stupid campaign (against the expansion of Heathrow airport) as well as other environmental causes. In an interview he reminded readers "I'm not exactly a newcomer to fighting climate change: I don't hold a driver's licence, I ride a bicycle, and I've been an active member of Friends of the Earth since I was 21, decades before it was sexy to be green."