You probably know Lush as the brand that sells you Bath Bombs that turn your tub into a vision out of one of John Lennon’s acid trips, but recently the British company dipped its toes into something much hotter and less comfortable than its customers’ tepid bathwater. Lush has always been a company vocally dedicated to ethics, but its latest campaign is uncharted territory, targeting “spycops:” police officers who lie in order to form romantic relationships with women involved in organizations they want to gather intelligence from. Sounds like a noble cause, but how in the world did a mall cosmetics brand get involved? Let’s start from the top.
Ok, so what is a Spycop?
The term Spycop originally referred to Britain’s Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad. The Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) is the undercover spy unit of the London police that was created back in 1968 to infiltrate British protest groups. The organization was operational until 2011. Back in 2011, The Guardian revealed that a number of undercover police officers who were part of this special task force had entered into intimate relationships with members of leftist groups. And these weren’t just casual Tinder dates—the undercover police sometimes got so entwined in the lives of the people they were duping that they proposed or fathered children in their fake relationship. All the while the protester was unaware of their partner’s role in the special police task force.
The victims of the SDS are, almost a decade later, still seeking answers and full disclosure about the events that took place. Ideally, they’re also seeking a full list of undercover names used by operatives, lists of groups targeted, and information on individuals whose lives and homes were affected by the infiltration. After the initial incidents, an inquiry was set up in 2014 by former British Home Secretary and British Prime Minister Theresa May to assess the infiltration of more than 1,000 political groups since SDS’s inception in 1968. The report was expected for early 2018, but it is now delayed until 2023—which has sparked a public backlash.
What does Lush have to do with this?
Last week, the British-based cosmetics company launched a campaign to raise awareness about the spycops scandal. Storefronts in the UK were made to look like crime scenes: warning tape was pinned to storefronts below posters of a man that was split in two with one half wearing a policeman’s cap. The text on the poster read “Paid to Lie.” Upon closer inspection, you can see the faux-police tape reads “Police Have Crossed the Line.”
Critics were quick to voice concerns that the campaign was anti-police and anti-state. The vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, Che Donald, tweeted: “This is very poorly thought out campaign and damaging to the overwhelmingly large majority of police who have nothing to do with this undercover enquiry.”
However, Lush has refused to back down. “As a global campaigning company, we believe in using our voices, shops and online presence to bring awareness and support to a variety of issues, some of which vary regionally,” said Lush Public Relations rep Evan Cook in a statement to ELLE.com.
What exactly is Lush trying to accomplish?
Lush is joining forces with activist groups like Police Spies Out Of Lives (PSOOL) and Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS) to both raise awareness and call for an end to the spy practice as well as a full, public disclosure about the events that occurred.
Both PSOOL and COPS have also already launched a petition asking the UK’s new Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, to make some major changes to the current public inquiry. Lush stores across the UK are now stocked with postcards with a pre-written message to the House Secretary so that all customers have to do is sign. “The postcards call for a panel of experts to be instructed to assist the Chair of the Inquiry, and for the Inquiry to be extended to include Scotland,” reads a blog post on Lush’s site. “They also ask for three things to be released: the cover names of the officers, the names of the groups they spied on, and the personal files of victims.” Javid has not received the campaign well and tweeted his concerns with it last week.
This seems really intense. Why is Lush getting involved?
Lush has been a highly political company since its inception. Privately owned by its original founders, Mark and Mo Constantine, the brand has thrown its name and power behind a number of issues, including campaigns against animal testing and human rights violations. In an interview with Quartz, founder Mark Constantine echoed the same sentiment that’s listed on their website: “we reserve the right to civil disobedience.” Lush has backed the US Black Lives Matter campaign and it also organized a 24-hour hunger strike in support of Guantanamo Bay prisoners in 2008. Other polarizing topics they’ve tackled include campaigning against drones, fracking, and the U.K.’s stance on Palestine. So while the move to raise awareness around Spycops may appear peculiar at first glance, it actually tracks for a brand like Lush.
How have people been responding to this whole thing?
It’s mixed, to say the least. “You sell soaps, get off your high horses and stick to what you’re good at, because politics definitely isn’t it,” Grace Coop, a commenter on Lush’s official statement wrote about the campaign. #FlushLush has also populated the Twitter feeds as consumers across the UK call for a boycott of Lush stores. People have also taken to Lush’s Facebook to negatively review the company. As of now, Lush as 2.4 rating on Facebook. Reviewers also seem to believe that the campaign is “anti-police.”
Additionally, it’s been reported by Metro UK that Lush has given into “intimidation of in-store Lush staff by ex-cops” and taken down a few store displays of the campaign, but the imagery is still dominant on all their social pages.
But there has been major support. Politicians, lawyers, union officials, and people actually affected by Spycops have signed a letter defending the major retailer. “We condemn those who have misrepresented Lush and our campaign and especially those who have sought to intimidate Lush staff. #WeStandWithLush.” Doreen Lawrence, who was a victim of an undercover Spycop, has been heading up the #WeStandWithLush movement. Two former wives of undercover Spycops have also defended the Lush campaign. The two women’s husbands had extramarital affairs while undercover and the wives feel betrayed by the task force’s actions. “Lush’s campaign has done more to publicise the issue in a weekend than a public inquiry which started three years ago,” told the women in a open letter toThe Guardian. They are also joined by the son of an undercover police officer who was abandoned as a child so his father cold keep his true identity secret. “I am really grateful to Lush for bringing undercover policing back to the spotlight, ” says the son. “Seeing Sajid Javid try and use it to win favour with the police by calling on Lush to withdraw their campaign has really upset me.”
In these politically fraught times, all sorts of entertainers and athletes have been told to stay out of politics or “shut up and dribble.” But for some of the victims, it’s been encouraging to see a brand like Lush get involved in this movement. “Our view is that the amount of public money spent to date for such little progress is of far greater concern than the Lush campaign,” explain ex-wives of former Spycops.