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Field Notes: The Summit of Love… but only for those with visas!

As head of Ethical Buying at Lush, Simon Constantine and his colleagues from the buying team have been welcomed into many homes across the globe during their frequent buying trips. But when they wanted to return the ‘love’ by welcoming those people supplying ingredients to the UK - and this week’s Lush Summit - they discovered that whilst the ingredients may be welcomed here, many of the people who grow them are not.

It began as a joke-y working title for the upcoming and annual Lush Summit which starts on Wednesday the 14th of February 2018 … aka Valentine’s Day.

It’s awkward - as a business - to invite people to get together on the one day a year they should be spending with their significant other. The Summit, however, has been designed to be as inclusive and warm as possible with the hope that you can come and feel the love with all of us!

Last year we focused on Freedom of Movement and this year the focus is on The Ethics of Buying; where ingredients come from and the people who grow, harvest, process or make them. It’s ambitious but we wanted to bring the experience of a buying trip to your doorstep, to provide you with the experience that the Lush buying team often has the privilege of.

We’ve invited all those people who have shown us such warm hospitality in their homes during our various buying trips; who have worked so hard to make us feel welcome and loved over the years. To bring them into an embrace of our Lush family and to make them to feel as much a part of this family as we have of theirs.

However, there is something - an obstacle - that ‘sours’ this loving intention and it is something that has prevented us from doing this more often.

Visas.

Now bear in mind that each and every guest we have invited provides us with some direct benefit - an ingredient that they either grew, processed or made themselves. These ingredients travel with relative impunity. We place our orders, arrange shipping, pay duties and, provided this is all in order, these ingredients are allowed into the country where we add value to them. We make them into soap or shampoos for example, before selling them at a profit. No issues there.

However, when it comes to the very people who provide that value, those whose backs break in the heat of the Sahel or who live in remote rainforest communities, they are repeatedly refused the same luxury. Their value, it would appear, is significantly less than the value of their goods.

When organising this year’s Summit, we offered invitations to many of our suppliers and community groups. Many have even now not had their visas issued - a day before they are due to fly.

For those who were hoping to join us but were denied visas it’s just plain gutting, for them and us. For us, I dearly hoped we could offer as warm a welcome to them here; for them they were excited and expectant of an open welcome too. For some, it’s the first time they will have travelled internationally and for their first experience to be marred with the taste of injustice, to be rejected because of where they live, is infuriating and sad.

So far visas have been denied for visitors from Kenya, Colombia, Lebanon, Palestine, Ghana and are still pending for Morocco. Of those refusals, some 80 per cent were issued to women, perhaps because our government is less believing of their answers about income  compared to their male counterparts?

 Some of the more Trumpian of you may be thinking “Oh well no surprise if they’re coming from those s**thole countries”. But in truth these are the people on whose shoulders we all stand. If you’ve ever eaten imported fruits and vegetables, if you’ve used our products, enjoyed the benefits on your skin, then you will realise that we owe a debt of gratitude to these people.

Of course, the Summit will be full of love and those who can make it to London to join us will be warmly looked after. However, there will be a darker side that an event like this lays bare: Namely that when we talk of freedom of movement we must realise that the extraction of goods from a country is preferable to their people. That, in essence, as far as governments are concerned, we want your cocoa and goods … just not you.

 

For some, it’s the first time they will have travelled internationally and for their first experience to be marred with the taste of injustice, to be rejected because of where they live, is infuriating and sad.

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