Lush Ethics Director Talks Animal Testing, Ingredient Sourcing, and What It's Like to Have Such a Cool Employer

©. Lush (used with permission)

Hilary Jones was a professional activist before working for Lush, making it a perfect match.

Before Hilary Jones became the ethics director for Lush Cosmetics, she was a full-time activist. She described those early years as moving constantly between protest camps, campaigning outside vivisection labs and nuclear power plants, and occupying land about to be bulldozed.

By the age of 30, protesting had become difficult to sustain without regular employment. She was hired by Lush Cosmetics when the company was only one month old -- one of four employees at the time, two of whom were vegan activists. That was many years ago now, but Jones' face lights up when she talks about her employer:

"They didn't mind that sometimes I didn't turn up for work on Monday because I was still in the cells from the weekend protest. How could you ever ask that of an employer and expect them to put up with it? And yet, they did. Not only that, but they shared my concerns, too."

Jones and I met at the Lush Summit in London last February for a chat about animal testing, ingredient sourcing, and what it's like to work for a company as unusual as Lush. With her vivid orange hair, arm tattoos, and captivating British accent (to my Canadian ears), she's engaging both to watch and to listen to.

Lush is known for its commitment to cruelty-free cosmetics and has opposed animal testing from its inception, long before many shoppers were even aware that it was a thing. As Jones pointed out to me, the Internet has played a significant role in educating shoppers these days about cruel animal testing practices, but Lush was raising these issues far earlier than that.

The company created something called a Supplier Specific Boycott Policy, which meant that Lush would not buy any ingredient from any supplier that tested any of its materials on animals for any purpose. Jones explained that most other ethical companies agree to something called 'fixed cutoff dates', where they say they will not to purchase ingredients that have been tested on animals within a specific timeframe, i.e. the last five years. But that doesn't address the problem of ingredients already on the market that are more than five years old. Nor does it close a worrisome loophole in which the cutoff date only applies to ingredients tested for cosmetic use. In other words, if something has been tested on animals as food, it could still be purchased and used for a so-called cruelty-free cosmetic item.

It is evident that Jones is fiercely proud of Lush's work to create its own ethical certification standards, and there was some scorn in her voice when questioned about the role of recognizable logos, such as Fairtrade International and Leaping Bunny. She believes that Lush goes above and beyond by "being experts in our own ingredients." She said:

"Licenses are good for companies that don't want to do the work themselves... But we actually are quite willing to do that work ourselves. We don't need to use the certifications. We check and set up contracts and schemes directly with suppliers that don't necessarily have the certifications, but we're paying a premium to them without the logo."

To some, this approach might seem puzzling. After all, the purpose of standardized logos is to communicate a standard of quality and ethical control to the public and assist a shopper in making decisions; but Jones believes firmly that Lush's customers trust the company enough to know they're doing the proper legwork. (In addition, Lush does hire third-party ethical consumer auditors to conduct annual random checks of suppliers.)

She had a blunt take on buying ingredients:

"[What we do] is fair trade. We're so embedded in fair trade, but we don't like calling it that. Because it shouldn't be called fair trade. Shouldn't it just be called trade? For us, that's trading and that's what our guys are sent out there to do."

When questioned about the company's use of synthetic ingredients, Jones gave the same argument that I'd heard from co-founder Rowena Bird -- that Lush uses far less than most other cosmetics companies do, hence products' expiry dates, and that these have been in use for decades. The company is hesitant to switch to a newer formula because it would actually be tested less.

"What about moving away from synthetics toward all-natural ingredients?" I asked.

Jones pointed out that "a big part of the problem is education. People don't feel clean unless there's foam." So as long as shoppers think they need squeaky-clean skin and hair, Lush will continue to offer that, alongside its 'self-preserving' options that do not contain synthetic preservatives.

Lush shampoo bars

© K Martinko -- By making many of its products solid, Lush has been able to remove preservatives, but this requires customer education and willingness to try something new.

It was a pleasure speaking with Jones and to see her visible passion for the job. She does not hesitate to criticize, either, ranting briefly about being "an incredibly strict vegan in a vegetarian company... and I won't break those tenets, not even for Lush." Clearly her employer is deeply understanding:

"In so many other ways, Lush enables and embraces those differences, listening to people with different beliefs, to people pushing for changes. Not all of us are totally aligned, but it's a dangerous world where you think you have to be totally aligned with everybody. We need to mix and match and influence each other."