The cost to our businesses
Restricting global travel also has the potential to affect business too. In his role as head Lush buyer, Simon Constantine has experienced firsthand the consequences of tighter border controls. He explains: “In the buying team we rely very heavily on freedom of movement. If we can’t go anywhere, we lose understanding of our supply chain.
“One of the things that became obvious quite early on was that we can go to a country, we can see great projects, we can see people growing great ingredients, we can bring those ingredients to the UK, to the US, to Canada but when we try to bring the people over we have a really, really hard time. A lot of the time we can’t get those people into the country. It’s always been there, and really from our perspective is institutionally racist.
“A lot of the people coming over have viable skills to offer, they have jobs back home but nobody gives a… It’s a case of ‘you want my cocoa, but you don’t want me. You want my resources, you want me to do all of this work, but you won’t let me come over and have freedom of movement.’”
Sustainable Lush Fund co-ordinator Jo Bridger has also come across numerous problems when trying to visit global ingredients suppliers, as she explains: “Britain's border policies which deny and hamper entry to the UK has meant that friends and business partners of Lush from Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iran have been refused visas enable to visit us.
“We have had to find ways around this - however these solutions are based on the travel privileges that Europeans have, as we can easily travel to countries previously colonised by us, with relatively little cost, and apply in English, and without having to provide numerous 'proofs', which our guest are required to provide.
“Likewise, Britain's foreign policies abroad have meant that some countries can be 'dangerous' for us to travel to, and require Lush to travel with care and consideration. This sometimes means that we don't travel to the countries where materials are grown, such as Frankincense in Somalia. To buy fresh, organic fruit and vegetables, the finest essential oils and safe synthetics, we need to have good, close relationships with our suppliers, of which face to face meetings and an understanding of land use and growing are key.”
This limiting, privilege-based system has its foundations in age-old colonialism and greed. For decades colonising European powers have divided nations and continents between them like the Middle East, Africa and the Americas. King Leopold of Belgium’s infamous remark - “I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake” - made during the 1870s conquest of the Congo still resonates in more modern history when we look at the harmful divisions made to the former Ottoman Empire in 1918, the compartmentalising of Germany at the end of both World Wars, and the annexation of the Crimea by Russia in 2014. Below the surface, political attitudes towards land ownership, control and distribution haven’t changed - and neither has our empathy for displaced people or animals.
The case for diversity
Yet sage businesses also recognise the value of promoting diversity within. For Lush co-founder Mark Constantine keeping immigration routes for people open is as much of a no-brainer as preserving animal migration routes: “In earlier days, Mo [Constantine] and I used to go to the great forest in Poland to watch the huge flyways, all these marvellous eagles and stalks and so on flying through. Birds don’t have borders, They go wherever they fancy. Their main problem is when we shoot them and take their food away. When we do create an oasis of green space, they absolutely love it.”
Simon also draws a parallel between human and animal migration, explaining, “Borders are a way of carving land up and extracting the resource, then keeping the bit you want for yourself. Migration is a natural phenomenon that you can’t really control which gives me hope for the future. It’s required by nature to diversify, to build its fertility and resilience.
“If you put a fence up you start to compartmentalise that ecosystem, it’s not as broad or diverse as it could be and species start to struggle. We have to ask how do we turn some of those problems like understanding the natural pattern and connecting with nature around to make the problem the solution? In buying, we’re trying to find solutions through SLush Fund or regenerative buying that link problems like bird migration and refugee migration.”
Upcoming SLush Fund projects hoping to help regenerate affected areas include converting exotic monoculture plantations of pine and eucalyptus back into native coastal forest and using cork from increasingly rare, sustainably harvested trees in healthy ecosystems such as the cork oak savannah.
In fact, Lush co-founders including Mark Constantine are so convinced that restricting freedom of movement is so damaging, both for people and ecosystems that they have added the declaration “'We believe that all people should enjoy freedom of movement across the world' to the business’ ‘We Believe’ statement - a transparent policy available for customers to see.
It’s a powerful declaration for human and animal rights, as Jo Bridger explains: “Freedom of movement across the world is not only vital for buying in a socially and environmentally regenerative way, but a reflection of our belief in the value of every person, and that they should enjoy the same rights as us.”
History tells us that the divisive political climate currently heating up all over the globe will have dire consequences for dwindling animal populations and ourselves. Confronting the desire to build physical borders must be the first step in defeating attempts to divide us geographically and racially.