Estee Lauder's latest tangle

MSNBC/March 13, 2001
By Jeanette Walls

Beauty company Estee Lauder could be facing another ugly controversy. The cosmetics giant recently angered actors when Liz Hurley crossed Screen Actors Guild picket lines to do commercials. Now it seems the company was unwittingly using child labor. What's more, the alleged young workers were apparently part of a group that has been accused of being an anti-Semitic cult.

Estee Lauder had been using labor from a personal care products company called Common Sense to work on products from its Origins line. Common Sense is run by a controversial organization called Twelve Tribes. The group, which has 20 communities around the U.S. as well as branches around the world, has been called a cult and has been accused of dispensing racist and anti-Semitic literature, according to various published sources. Any relationship between Twelve Tribes and Estee Lauder is particularly ironic because the Lauder family is a powerful, high profile supporter of Jewish causes.

A spokesman for Twelve Tribes confirmed that it had been working for Estee Lauder but declined to discuss details or why the relationship was terminated. He vehemently denies charges that the group is anti-Semitic or racist. "We've been accused of many things by people who are mad at us" for various reasons, he says, pointing out that he, himself, is Jewish. He says that published reports calling the group anti-Semitic or racist are from the groups" foes, who "promulgate lies."

Estee Lauder had been using Common Sense "for a couple of years," a spokeswoman for Estee Lauder confirmed, but she says that relationship stopped "in late January or early February" of this year. "We ended that relationship because a routine, regular check turned up a question about the age of a couple of workers," says the spokeswoman. "We called in the folks from Common Sense, and we found their answers insufficient, and with record speed we were out of there."

She says she was unaware of any relationship between Common Sense and Twelve Tribes or of allegations that Twelve Tribes is racist or anti-Semitic. She added that Estee Lauder has a "strict labor compliance" policy, which it closely follows.

"I'm shocked that the Estee Lauder corporation did not do a thorough investigation before becoming involved with the Common Sense organization, which is simply a business front for the Twelve Tribes group," says Rick Ross, an expert in cults and controversial religions. Some of the charges leveled against Twelve Tribes are outlined in articles posted on Ross' Web site at

Ross says that he has dealt with Twelve Tribes for about 10 years and "I have received numerous complaints from families, including allegations of child abuse and exploitation...Through direct contact and conversation with leaders and former members, without any doubt in my mind they are an anti-Semitic group that preaches a racist message."

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