SAS Group > Case Studies
Lush Cosmetics Australia
The company discovered an unintentional underpayment of more than 5000 staff across its retail and manufacturing divisions, over an eight-year period. The underpayments were believed to total more than $2 million. Because of its high-profile stance on a number of social justice issues, LUSH was particularly vulnerable to criticism over underpayment of staff, many of whom were former refugees and working on relatively low wages.
The issue was further complicated by the fact that LUSH was one of several high-profile retailers forced to report what the media had dubbed “wage theft” from its employees, and it arose in the midst of a fierce battle for the Federal Election, where the Coalition Government was trying to look tough in relation to worker exploitation, and the union movement was running a campaign to “change the rules” of workplace law to favour employees more strongly.
The SAS Group worked with LUSH’s human resources and legal teams to identify all the potential ramifications of the underpayments, and the full story of how they were discovered and how they would be addressed. We identified the most positive narrative possible around LUSH’s genuine commitment to its staff, and we developed and implemented a communications strategy that included:
- Self-reporting the underpayments to all stakeholders
- Announcing the rollout of a new, compliance-tested payroll system
- Creating an efficient and swift communications system to support those affected by the mistake
- Developing a simple, authentic video from the Directors to staff (supporting all employees to understand what had happened, particularly migrant workers in the manufacturing division)
- Providing comprehensive media training for the CEO and issue spokespeople
- Supporting LUSH’s digital team in preparing for and handling negative social media commentary
- Preparing extensive media briefing materials relating to the issue
- And ensuring that our communications response was consistent with, and did not compromise, the legal strategy.
The goal of the strategy was to protect LUSH’s reputation as an ethical employer and retailer that cared for its employees and genuinely stood by the social justice principles it espoused. It was vital to ensure that staff, unions, campaign partners and loyal customers continued to have faith in the brand and continued to view LUSH as a leading ethical corporation, despite this aberration.
The SAS Group recommended LUSH take a proactive stance on this issue. This involved a carefully timed campaign to inform staff, regulators and the public (via the media) in quick succession. The SAS Group oversaw an extensive, proactive communications campaign that was widely praised for the honest and forthright way in which it dealt with the issue.
Additionally, the relevant Government Ministers, Shadow Ministers and the ACTU were pleased with the open and transparent approach taken by the LUSH team, and were not interested in taking any action, nor commenting in the media.
The campaign became a benchmark for similar campaigns, and resulted in a number of media “case study” news stories.
For our work on the LUSH campaign, the SAS Group was named the 2018 Asia-Pacific PR Agency of the Year for Issues and Reputation Management.
SAS were such a blessing to us at the biggest crisis point we had ever faced as a business. We were feeling so overwhelmed and daunted about the potential backlash from our staff, the public and the press but Malcolm and Lisa skillfully helped create and navigate a clear way forward. Their experience, wisdom and creativity kept us calm and focused on a positive outcome but also got us prepared for all possible responses.
We felt safe in their hands and they worked tirelessly at building our confidence through technical practice and empowering our plans, which certainly affected the impact of our words and the response. The whole experience was not easy, but without SAS Group’s support and advice it would have felt and been impossible. The response was far better than expected, staff reported feeling more engaged because of the way they had been communicated to and the press reported as well as could be expected and included all key messages. We hope to never have to call on them again, but for anyone faced with a troubling crisis we highly recommend their expertise, support and services.Peta Granger, Director, LUSH Cosmetics Australia