LUSH: Paying the real Living Wage has always been because it's the right thing to do

LUSH are one of the leading Living Wage Employers on the UK highstreet. They are famed for excellent customer service and knowledgeable staff, alongside wonderful smelling products.

We talked to Kat Hannible, UK&I Retail Director about the importance of paying the real Living Wage and why others should think about accrediting. 

Why do you feel it has been important for LUSH to pay the real Living Wage and why has accrediting been important? 

LUSH has achieved many ethical milestones in terms of how we practice business: we have a fair tax mark; we don't have zero-hour contracts, and everyone gets paid the same rate regardless of age. Paying the real Living Wage followed on as another important ethical commitment that we've made as a business.

When we could see that it was possible to afford it, it became important for us to achieve. Just before we were accredited, staff on the lowest wages told us they had to have more than one job to make enough money to live. That was a huge motivator for us. We ask a lot of the staff in their day to day work; they are encyclopaedias of Lush product knowledge, and they also know how to deliver exemplary, memorable service. These high standards needed to be reflected in their pay.

Paying the real Living Wage has made a difference to the financial wellbeing of our staff, they're able to afford the things they need to live and worry less about their income. It also benefits Lush as our staff aren't coming to work with the extra issues that low wages bring. By accrediting, it illustrates to our staff the commitment that we'll continue to raise the wages at the bottom of the pay structure in line with the cost of living, which is even more important given the rises we're seeing recently. 

How has Covid-19 affected retail and LUSH?

Retail is going through an interesting time, as there just hasn't been a consistent in-person presence for two years. But I think it's nice that we are getting back to a place where you get to interact with someone in a shop and go home with something that's right for you. We're working towards more of a hybrid business model collaborating with our Ecommerce team, and now have Click and Collect and Same Day delivery options in many of our shops. We also run a 'Bring it Back' scheme where you can bring LUSH plastic packaging back to the shop, and you get 50p off for every piece of plastic packaging.

Thankfully, the business is now returning to normal. Operationally we lost some sales during the pandemic, but personally we lost a lot more than that. We're a business that likes to get together and so we lost a lot in terms of social connections between teams.

The shop teams have just been amazing throughout. To see shop staff working on the front line in a pandemic, making a customer's day, even if they're having a difficult day themselves, I've just been blown away.

You're one of the leading Highstreet retailers to accredit as a Living Wage Employer - why is it important you sign up?'

We are a bit lonely, we're one of the only large high street retailers on the high street to pay a living wage. In terms of the way we're viewed in the sector, we do stick out as a business that other retailers are a bit baffled by: we've got the fair tax mark; we pay a living wage; we make a profit; and we donate millions to charity every year. We're accredited because it's a similar ethical commitment as our external work, but this one is for our staff.

Lush staff work really hard. When we speak to other retailers, they always ask us how do you do it? How are your staff so nice?  I just think that we provide a job where people can be themselves and then pay them a real Living Wage to be able to do that. The people we hire really believe in the brand and what we do and can't wait to tell people about it. We hire people who love matching the right product to the right person and we believe this is one of the best things we can possibly do for the environment. If the customer is going away with ten products they don't need, they're going to create more waste.

There's still a stigma about retail workers being low skilled, but as someone who's worked in retail since I was 14, I can say with confidence that serving the public with expert knowledge on your products is not low skilled.

I think LUSH is a good example of retail being a career path. A lot of people in my team are ex-Christmas temps including myself. If you think about the sort of skills that you need to be able to build trust with customers, you need to be honest, diplomatic, and assertive at times as well as have that product knowledge at your fingertips.

How do your customers respond to you being a Living Wage Employer?

They ask us for a job! Seriously, though, we don't talk to customers as much as we should about our ethical commitments, but that's almost intentional; for the Living Wage specifically, we're doing it because it's the right thing to do. We like the customers to be able to shop with us, knowing that they can buy a gift from us, and that not only is that packaging 100% recycled, and sourced ethically, but the person making that product and the person serving them are paid at least a real Living Wage. Our customers expect that of us  and hold us to high ethical standards.

Increasingly I think it is something that's important to fly the flag of the ethical business model on the high street and demonstrate that it can work. Retail can be a career, it's fun, and we'll pay properly.

What would you say to other businesses in retail who are thinking of accrediting? 

If you can afford it, do it. 

It is an inflated cost to running your business, so you need to be able to sustain it and not have to then take it away years down the line. If you can't afford it now, knowing that you're on that journey and you're planning to make a commitment to it in the future is important to staff.

In short, if you can't do it, find out why. What needs to be done differently so that you can pay the real Living Wage?

If you need further support to get there, I've been so happy with the support we have from the Living Wage Foundation, who are able to talk through any concerns you have openly. We are so grateful to the Living Wage Foundation to doing the hard work it takes to set the wage each year- not only does it take a lot off our plate but it also builds trust between our staff and the company, and the foundation itself

Describe the Living Wage movement in one word.