Would you believe it? There is Drunk Elephant drama again. This time it’s not accusations of bullying, or misinforming their audience that all skin types require the same products. No, this time it’s much worse and I’m not sure whether they will truly come back from this one.
**Disclaimer: if you personally still wish to support Drunk Elephant after reading this article, please go ahead. However, I personally expect a brand that holds this much influence to do better for our community.**
As I’m sure you know, the murder of George Floyd in the US has sent ripples in every direction. It was only a matter of time before they were felt in the beauty world too. Brands began to post black squares on their social media for #blackouttuesday and expressed their sadness at the events unfolding in America. Some even pledged donations to various charities. But questions began to be asked about whether these brands were just being performative and whether they were actually committed to real change.
The founder of Uoma Beauty, Sharon Chuter, wanted to ensure that there was action behind these bold public shows of support for the Black community and created the Pull Up or Shut Up movement. The aim of the movement is simple – ‘pull up’ and publicly release the number of Black employees at corporate level and in leadership roles. The idea being to hold brands accountable that say Black Lives Matter publicly and then not have representation within their own organisations.
Many brands have replied with their stats (no matter how good or bad) and the steps they will implement to foster Black talent and guarantee that they are recruited more widely at all levels. From small indie brands to the big beauty conglomerates, they’ve all replied.
Now this is where Drunk Elephant comes in.
Drunk Elephant are one of the biggest and best known brands in the beauty industry. They did a post saying they were donating to a number of charities (without specifying any amounts) and asked others to as well. They included petitions to sign, numbers to text and encouraged their audience to educate themselves. They also posted a black square with just hearts for a caption on black out Tuesday. The response to both these posts were overwhelmingly positive from their loyal followers. However as time went on and it seemed as though they wouldn’t be answering the call to ‘pull up’, people began to ask questions. On a picture of a cartoon human heart, they offered a message of support for those struggling to remind them they are not alone. Many people posted comments on this post about whether they would be releasing their statistics on their workforce, but comments kept disappearing. I posted a comment saying I was looking forward to hearing about their stats, but no one else was able to see it. Because I used the phrase ‘pull up’, Drunk Elephant had restricted those words so that they didn’t show up to anyone but them and me. They did this all day on Saturday 6th June to give the impression that there was only a positive response and to hide the question they didn’t want to answer. But why if they didn’t have anything to hide?
Eventually they replied to @prettyandmakeup. This was their first response before using a different copy and pasted message in reply to all other questions regarding pulling up:
Absolutely, and Drunk Elephant is made of a diverse team made up of women and men, BIPOC and LGBT, and we have always worked to ensure that opportunities for employment, advancement and representation are available equally.
However, we feel very strongly that making a “human inventory” of our team and then using that information for marketing purposes is an incredible ethical violation of our employees right to privacy. It is just not something we would ever do or feel right about doing.
We are focusing on remaining positive and taking care of the wonderful, diverse and inclusive community that we have, have always had, and making sure they are OK. We hope you understand. ❤️
Let’s dissect this.
1. ‘Diverse Team’
You may well have a diverse team, but we can’t really take your word for it. We want proof. Words are one thing, actions that the whole community can see are another. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) also doesn’t specifically pinpoint the number of Black people, as specifically asked for by the Pull Up movement. It’s a way some brands have been trying to inflate their diversity stats while skirting the real issue at hand. They’ve also not said in which ways they ensure equal opportunities, advancement and representation within their company like others have.
2. ‘Human inventory’
All companies of a certain size are required by law to submit these statistics. Even if they weren’t big enough to report this (they are), they would still have those statistics to hand. It suggests that they have something to hide. Other brands whose inclusivity figures have been pretty dire have pulled up, admitted it’s not good enough and have put plans into place of how to do better. By hiding behind an excuse of this kind just will not fly. ‘Human inventory’ is also a very bizarre phrasing to use…
3. ‘Ethical violation’
No it isn’t. Pull Up isn’t asking for names, addresses or even photos of their employees. It’s looking for a percentage. As I previously mentioned, a percentage that you already have and is not difficult to obtain. If you even search Drunk Elephant on LinkedIn (as many people have been doing), you’ll get a pretty good idea of how diverse their workforce is (not very). Let’s also just say that Drunk Elephant suddenly caring about their business ethics is laughable. They have appropriated other cultures for marketing purposes (Arabian Nights theme booth in 2018); they don’t correctly credit the origins of their ingredients and fabricate bizarre stories about them (Marula – check out @leah.azad on insta for more info); they bully creators and get defensive when justified points are made; they blame other products or that person when a product of theirs doesn’t work for someone; they fail to understand that skin conditions such as rosacea and cystic acne require different products. Yeah that list is long isn’t it. So doing all of the above is apparently considered okay, but releasing information that the community is calling for to show that their support for BLM isn’t more than just empty words goes against their ethics. Please make no mistake in thinking that this info is somehow an invasion of anyone’s privacy. Like I said, it’s required by LAW. It is the companies that have been the loudest about not sharing this info that are now suspected of not being inclusive and performative.
As I mentioned, this answer was only used once because of the backlash it caused. They later changed to a longer message that took out the parts about ‘human inventory’ and ‘ethical violation’.
Ultimately, it appears very surprising that a company as historically controversial as Drunk Elephant have it right straight out the gate. Their total lack of info on Black representation and ways in which they’re striving to ensure even greater Black representation in their organisation speaks much louder than they realise. As a result, they have been viewed as performative. A false ally to the BLM movement. And people aren’t impressed. Many people who had put up with their other scandals have turned their back on them this time. I’ve seen people posting stories of them throwing away Drunk Elephant products. People want to support brands that are doing the work and supporting the Black community, rather than ignoring the issue at hand. This time it’s a step too far.
For anyone who thought that when Shiseido bought them last year that it would clean up their act, they were sadly mistaken. Shiseido has pulled up – but they own 9 brands and their figures obviously don’t show the breakdown within each company so it’s difficult to get a true idea of Drunk Elephant’s representation. Other companies have heard the calls and done the right thing, no matter how poor those statistics are.
Let me also just point out, that all this controversy is about a week old… and they STILL haven’t released those figures. They haven’t posted anything more on their Instagram and haven’t bothered to clear up people’s doubts (like most upstanding brands would). For those who don’t understand why people are annoyed and are asking why should they share this info? Why shouldn’t they? If you’re a supporter of the wider Black community, you should be supporting the Black community in your workforce. It isn’t a performative if you actually mean it.
So please think again about the brands that you support. Do you research and be an ally.
In case you’re confused, this is not me *cancelling* Drunk Elephant. They’ve been cancelled for a long time in my eyes but others who are not as involved in the beauty community on Instagram as I am should know the type of brand they’re buying from.
DO BETTER DRUNK ELEPHANT.
YOUR SILENCE IS DEAFENING.
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