Earlier this week, Lush Cosmetics asked its employees to show up naked to make a point about the environment—even though its past campaigns may have exposed its staffers up to sexual harassment.
Around 100 employees nationwide participated, wearing only their sneakers and black work aprons, emblazoned with “Get Naked.” On an Instagram post showing several nearly nude workers, Lush said its “brave lushies across North America (voluntarily) stripped down to shed light on the detrimental impact of over-packaging.”
The company has been asking its employees to show up in the buff one day a year for the past decade.
This week’s event was “completely voluntary for employees to participate or not,” said Jennifer Graybeal, a Lush spokeswoman. “There were no repercussions for any employee who did not wish to participate and at any time that a staff member felt uncomfortable, he or she could choose to immediately stop participating.”
In addition, shop managers could shut down the event “if there were any signs of inappropriate conduct either by staff or customers,” Graybeal told Heat Street. She added that this year’s Get Naked day occurred “without incident.”
But it’s easy to imagine a situation where employees would feel uncomfortable—or, even worse, coerced. There’s an inherent power imbalance between the lowly retail workers asked to bare it all and the corporate marketing department that dreamed this stunt up as a way to burnish their corporation’s reputation as environmentally friendly.
Moreover, past years’ write-ups and photos seem to depict a downright icky experience for the workers.
“Over by the Lush store in Herald Square, tourists and salarymen went wild at the unexpected midday display of flesh,” New York Magazine reported in ’08. “’Take them off! Take them off!’ the crowd shouted at two twenty-something guys in boxers, one of whom eventually complied. … While some clearly reveled in the attention (see above), as the crowd grew larger, others seemed to be feeling regretful about their choice.”
One staffer goes on to describe how she was worried she’d end up on YouTube after she spotted someone videotaping her at work as she walked around in only her black apron.
But believe it or not, the Get Naked campaign was actually fairly tame—at least by Lush’s extreme standards.
In 2011, one Lush employee hung herself from the ceiling for a window display, piercing her skin with giant hooks to protest the shark fishing.
And in 2012, the company hired a performance artist to endure a force-feeding and chemical testing in a store window; another actor portraying a scientist yanked her around the display by a rope tied around her neck, injected her with saline, and pulled and shaved her hair.
The gruesome hours-long act was meant to protest against other companies using animals to test their products.
Lush has used such publicity stunts to virtue-signal how socially conscious it is. But it also borders on exploitation and sexual harassment.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.