The police are enjoying a moment of high confidence in the UK. IPSOS Mori’s 2017 veracity index recorded its highest ever level of trust, finding that 74 per cent of the public trusted the police – a rise of 13 per cent since its first study more than 30 years ago.
British police forces worked hard to achieve this and against a backdrop of significant funding cuts imposed on them by central government. In this context of high public affection it would be a brave organisation that faced them head on– and a brave funder that very publicly supported them to do so.
Yet, that was exactly the fight Lush, the cosmetics brand walked in to when their latest store display was unveiled. Storefronts were decorated with fake police tape and photos of a model dressed both as an policeman and an activist, with the slogans ‘Police have crossed the line’ and ‘Paid to lie.’ Even the most trusted of institutions like the police can get things badly wrong, too often it is among that trust that abuses of power can flourish.
Lush was backing the spycops campaigners, activists in sectors ranging from animal welfare to unions to the environment who were targeted by undercover police officers for sexual relationships. In some cases fathering children, then disappearing.
A judge led inquiry has begun into this behaviour – abuse – but whilst it was initially due to report later this year, that has now been pushed back to 2023. Not a single piece of evidence has yet been heard.
However, when Lush unveiled its campaign designed to put pressure on the inquiry they faced a barrage of criticism. Their social media pages were bombarded with more than 30,000 1* reviews, staff had police officers coming in to shops to talk to them, and a boycott campaign #flushlush began.
Pointing out that some police officers had behaved reprehensibly looked like it was going to hit Lush’s bottom line. Meanwhile the campaigners themselves were fighting a valiant battle to explain they did not hate all police or support police cuts.
These campaigners are among some of the bravest I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Not only were they wronged but they work in a space where it is extremely hard to raise funds. They are grantees of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (where I am Vice Chair of the board) also supports, but there are few other places they can go for money.
However from the melee around the posters emerged some surprising effects. Lush’s sales were already up by 13 per cent and the owners expect the impact to be negligible. The buyers of bath bombs are not people who are deterred by negative social media commentary.
Lush, who have a foundation that supports small, grassroots organisations around the world working in the areas of animal protection, the environment and human rights offer lessons to other funders.
Firstly, a provocative position will not necessarily effect sales and revenue, consider carefully how your customers, not the public as a whole, will respond. Even then, sometimes speaking out is just the right thing to do
Secondly, If you are a funder who thinks of yourself as brave, then search out the campaigners who may have the toughest opponents, facing a public backlash and difficulty raising funds elsewhere
Finally, when times do get tough. Work together to ride them out. For example, Lush carried a statement from the spycops campaigners.
Within weeks of Lush’s storefronts being emblazoned with the campaign the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust assessed another application from those involved in the spycops campaign. We granted it in full.
Alison Goldsworthy is vice chair of the board at Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust