Case Studies

Lush: Wrongly Crossing The Line From CSR To Activism

6 months ago


Lush: Wrongly Crossing The Line From CSR To Activism

The successful interaction between businesses and society exists on a knife edge, and Lush are the most recent company to fall off.

As with my previous article about Mastercard’s ‘hunger games’ scandal, this one will look at another monumental CSR failure.

Sadly though, with Lush having a pretty good reputation for social responsibility, this example is all the more tragic.

What did Lush do?

As a company, Lush have always tried to break from the traditional corporate mould.

They’ve always wanted to positively contribute to society, and have built their brand with that in mind.

Usually, this has been constrained to cruelty free products that are vegan and vegetarian, but this time, they’ve stepped right out of the box.

Let me introduce you to ‘spy police’.

Effectively, this ‘campaign’, as it is most accurate called, is an attempt to raise awareness of the actions of a number of undercover police officers while infiltrating activist groups. Effectively, undercover officers entered into intimate relationships with female activists, sometimes going as far as proposing or fathering children.

To coincide with the inquiry into this behaviour, Lush are trying to ‘take a stand’ and publicly condemn the officers in question.

Terrible execution

Don’t get me wrong, the undercover police scandal is genuinely troubling.

Therefore, while slightly different to their usual stances, I can see why Lush would want to speak up about it. The main problem however, is that they’ve executed their vision absolutely terribly. In fact, they’ve massacred it.

Lush Anti Police CSR Disaster | Jason Wicks

The entire campaign leaves off the specific details of the issue they’re referring to, and instead just comes across as anti-police. At a time where crime rates, specifically in London, are concerning the public, and police have had to endure a number of budget cuts, this is an unnecessarily provocative stunt.

Maybe Lush are hoping that it’s eye catching enough for the public to want to learn more, but that’s not how CSR works. Just like Mastercard, the public will take these things at face value, and it’s baffling that firms are failing to realise this.

After an enormous amount of public backlash, Lush have dropped the campaign. However, has the damage already been done? Corporate reputation is unbelievably volatile, and it’s perfectly likely that people will forget about all the great things Lush have previously been known for.

What we can learn

While it’s sad to see a company like Lush fail so miserably, the least we can do is learn something.

In fact, I think we can learn two things.

1. Social responsibility must be targeted

In my book I outline the three things that effective CSR must be. The first of those three things is targeted.

Lush sell cosmetics. Why have they suddenly launched this spy police campaign? For CSR to benefit society and businesses simultaneously, it must be strategic. There’s no point in taking a stance on something that has nothing to do with your organisation. It comes across as random and divisive. Provocative at best. What’s more, nobody is going to specifically buy from Lush because of this.

Now, Lush might say that sales don’t matter, but they’d be wrong. Companies need to financially benefit from being socially responsible, because that’s what enables them to continue being so. We need to have a system where the most responsible companies thrive, and only by targeting social responsibility is that possible.

Lush Spy Police CSR Fail | Jason Wicks

Free Book Chapter: Have a read about my three stage model for CSR success. 

2. CSR not Corporate Activism

By this point, we know that firms have obligations to society. Generally, that’s been accepted to mean adopting CSR in some shape or form.

However, what Lush have done with this campaign barely even counts as CSR. As I mentioned above, it’s not strategic, it’s not relevant to their brand or products, and neither society nor Lush themselves are set to majorly benefit.

That’s a big problem.

Mainly, because that means it’s actually just corporate activism.

Don’t get me wrong, activism has it’s uses, but should organisations get involved so thoughtlessly?

Personally, with the resources and platform that large organisations have, I think there are much better ways to bring about social change. Resorting to corporate activism seems both unimaginative and inefficient.

Sure, you can argue that the line between activism and CSR is a thin one, and you’d be right. However, as Lush’s disastrous campaign has shown, it’s a challenge that CSR managers need to overcome.

Lush CSR or Corporate Activism? | Jason Wicks


  • Lush are generally a very socially responsible brand.
  • However, their ‘spy police’ campaign is unrelated to their usual ethical stances.
  • The lack of detail on their posters has led to immense public backlash.
  • This shows that firms should be clever with CSR instead of resorting to activism.
  • Reputation is so volatile that this could be very costly to Lush.

Hi! I’m an author and blogger within the fields of social impact and responsible business. I believe that businesses can be a force for good in the world, and this website contains my thoughts on how that can work.

One Comment
  1. […] From all the examples I’ve witnessed, ‘random’ gestures that aren’t linked to the business in anyway don’t create much customer engagement. I briefly mentioned this in my Lush article, where I highlighted how their ‘spy-police’ campaign suffered from the lack…. […]

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