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Why MLMs Like Arbonne, Mary Kay, Or Avon Are Blacklisted From My Cruelty-Free List

I often get asked if MLM companies are cruelty-free, and this often comes with a sales pitch. But they don’t just want me to buy their products. They want to recruit me as a “representative”.

Which companies am I talking about? Here’s a list of MLM brands in the beauty, personal care, and wellness industries:

  • Arbonne
  • Mary Kay
  • Avon
  • Nu Skin
  • Young Living
  • Forever Living Products
  • Beautycounter
  • Younique
  • Rodan & Fields
  • Maelle
  • Amway
  • Herbalife
  • Oriflame
  • Aloette
  • Nerium
  • Monat
  • Jeunesse
  • doTerra
  • BeautiControl
  • Melaleuca
  • Natura
  • LipSense
  • Scentsy
  • Neal’s Yard Remedies
  • Tropic Skincare

MLM stands for Multi-Level Marketing. Instead of being sold in stores, these companies let their representatives do all the work. On the surface, an MLM representative appears to be selling you products. But what they’re really trying to do is recruit you to be a representative under them, so they can profit from it.

Bloggers like me make prime targets because we have a big audience, so we can keep recruiting more and more women. These MLM representatives are always looking to add more representatives under them, because that’s how they truly make their money.

In order to join an MLM an be a representative, you need to pay a fee and purchase inventory. This can cost anywhere between $50 up to thousands.

This is why MLMs are pyramid schemes: they’re making money from recruiting other people. But in order to start out as a representative, you need to pay a large fee and purchase inventory.

Many MLMs also force or encourage their representatives to purchase more and more inventory, even though they’re unable to sell it all. This is why 99% of MLM representatives end up losing money, while only the 1% at the top of the pyramid are making ridiculous amounts of money.

The average net income (after subtracting expenses) for the 200 top Amway distributors in Wisconsin was approximately minus $900. (The Case (for and) agaist Multi-Level Marketing)

In case you missed it, that’s -$900. The top 200 Amway distributors lost an average of $900.

On top of this, MLMs use lies and manipulation to recruit their people. They give the false promise that you can “be your own boss”, “work from home”, and become loaded beyond your wildest dreams by joining the MLM. Remember that 99% of representatives LOSE money, making this is a big fat lie.

So far, regulatory agencies have not required honest and understandable disclosure of essential information to MLM prospects. I have examined the compensation plans of hundreds of MLMs and found that virtually all hide the near-zero odds of making a profit, and in fact almost certain loss after subtracting purchases of products necessary to qualify for commissions and advancement in the pyramid of participants. (The Case (for and) agaist Multi-Level Marketing)

One aspect of big MLMs I loathe is that they’re preying on minorities and on those who struggle financially. As an immigrant myself, I find this heartbreaking and deplorable. MLMs love to expand to developing countries and exploit the hopes of the underprivileged. They’re easy targets because they’re not doing well financially, yet they’ll do anything to get out of the hole they’re in. When you’re in that vulnerable position, it’s easy to fall victim to their “live your dream life” propaganda.

See Also

Low-income immigrant neighborhoods offer pyramid-schemers the additional advantage of recruits’ higher likelihood of ignorance about local business practices, which can make them easier to sell on wild business plans. When you’re new to a country, everything might seem a little off, a little strange and unexpected. Therefore, you may be more likely to push aside that voice that says “this doesn’t seem right” or “this seems too good to be true” than if you were in your native country. This is especially true among low-income groups, including non-immigrant minorities who might be more desperate for upward mobility than wealthier groups, which means they are willing to put in work or even invest their own money for a shot at the American dream. (Multilevel marketing companies target women, immigrants and low-income minorities.)

At their core, MLM companies are based on an unethical business model. While a few of them have gained cruelty-free certification, I choose not to include any MLM brands in our list of cruelty-free brands for this reason.

As of December 2019, our brand directory now has an “MLM” feature. MLM brands will be added and marked as MLMs as a warning for those who want to avoid these companies.

If you want to learn more about MLMs, I highly suggest you watch this John Oliver segment on Last Week Tonight:

View Comments (60)
  • Thank you so much for taking a stand. MLMers, pretty much all of whom financially abuse women and minorities to make money, should be called out and shunned.

  • I’m slightly torn because I naturally want to support anyone who doesn’t test on animals, but MLM’s often have sub-par products and, more importantly, are cruel to humans. Also some have reps who spread misinformation about their cruelty status.

  • This is my first post… and I was drawn to the headline.
    I’m in Europe, so most of the people are a bit more down to earth regarding to this. But it’s an issue, those MLM companies.
    Although I’ve worked for one of them and had a nice experience I really am annoyed by the ones who push you into buying. Because I’m stronger than most of the women and won’t get impressed that easily (haha) I was carefull and tried to put half of my earnings aside. That was the base of my current job as a make-up artist.

    I’m still carefull with these kind of companies and with people who are selling it, because a lot of false information is being spread. Plain housewives who claim to be doctors or nutricians and schoolgirls who are “certified” beauticians, come on…
    Let your common sense speak if you see this. It’s on facebook all over now.
    A few months ago there was also a British documentary about Nu Skin. That says it all….

    Suzana, thanks for spreading the news!

  • You amaze me suzana – thank you for your genuine and I’m sure exhausting efforts to bring thy public the truth. You’re pretty much my only go to regarding all thats cruelty free (or not!). And now I’ve reconsidered repping for arbonne too.

  • Please do your research. Melaleuca is not an MLM company. They are an online manufacture. People don’t buy inventory, they simply shop and share with others and get a referral check. There is no business in a box to purchase, no money to invest into a business, etc.

  • Thank you for taking a stand against MLM. They’ll all try to convince you they’re not like the others. THEY ARE. They’ll say you don’t make money off recruiting. But you do. They just disguise the costs into products prices. They make money off what people below them purchase. They HAVE to recruit to make money. It’s disgusting.

  • I’m so shocked and disappointed (in them, not you!) to see Neal’s Yard on there. In the UK, they’re a quite well respected brick-and-mortar store in Covent Garden. They sell online, but as far as I know, don’t do MLM selling here. The Body Shop do, however.

    • Someone else mentioned that Neal’s Yard Remedies no longer operates an MLM model. If this is true, the change must have happened recently.

  • I am curious about Arbonne. I know a couple of women whom sell this product. They both are young, beautiful and come from wealthy families. Within a very short period of time, they were promoted and driving new Mercedez (given to them from Arbonne). They have been w Arbonne now for a while, and continue to flaunt their rewards and perks. One is in Maui now at a conference. Btw, she has posted tons of pics from her adventure, and I noticed and have noticed before from other pics and conferences, that all of the women look just like her: Young, beautiful and wealthy. I know girls who work w other MLM companies and none of these women are traveling, driving new cars, etc. ???

    • You said those women come from wealthy families, so are you sure they made their money through Arbonne? Sounds like they’re faking it to me. The majority of MLM consultants lose money.

  • I think it’s unfair to lump Beautycounter in with the rest of them. Beautycounter has stand alone stores, sells direct through their website and on platforms such as Goop. Beautycounter also has consultants, but there’s no inventory to buy or sales/recruiting minimums. They do this so they can educate the public about the dangers in the personal care industry and the lack of regulation.. They get laws changed. They lobby in Congress. They are cleaner than most of the cruelty free brands on your list (and they’re cruelty free as well). Most of their products are EWG verified or rate a 1 on EWG. They are a B Corp. Please research what a B Corp is- they are very transparent, eco-friendly and give back to communities.

    • Is the following false or outdated?

      •The company operates a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) business model
      •To become a consultant of the company, you need to pay $85 for an enrolment kit
      •After every 12 months, you will have to pay a $50 renewal fee to remain a consultant
      •In order to remain an active consultant, you must achieve at least 1200 QV every six months, 250 of which must be new volume
      •The company’s preferred method of making sales and/or recruiting is by organizing socials

      Seems to me that there’s no requirement to buy inventory, but in order to remain a consultant, you have no choice but to buy and move inventory.

  • Please do not tarnish all amLM’s with the same biased brush. 100% of my personal sales are too customers and I earn a really nice living by helping people . A pyramid scheme has no product. Bernie Madoff ran a pyramid scheme. Two of the most famous dermatologists in the world do NOT run a pyramid scheme, nor do they test on animals. Watch this Please and then please comment
    https://youtu.be/zZiw15VgWoI

  • 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 yes yes yes. thank you. My mom purchases medicine from amway and ive been trying so hard to tell her that its a pyramid scheme and it doesnt work but she was like “oh but theres someone who got a car by doing this!” and im like, is that someone the founder/ someone at the top of the pyramid?” shes like “yeah.” and still doesnt see whats wrong with the picture.. I told her about how their drugs dont need to actually ‘work’ for them to be able to sell it. Ive also told her that she can literally read the ingredient list at the back and there’s only 5 ingredients and 4 of them are ‘artifical sweeteners’…. She’s still not convinced.🙄 Anyway.. thank you for this article and speaking up about this AND deciding to add a section of which brands are MLM’s so that people can be cautious!!🙏🏻👏🏻💗

    • Hi Merve, sounds like a tough position to be in but it’s great that you’re speaking up! Thank you for being positive, hope you have a great 2020!

  • Neal’s Yard Remedies have stores and also sell online and through many supermarkets. The part that might have been considered to be an MLM no longer exists as it was not successful.

    They offer a fantastic range of organic and cruelty free products so would certainly not black list them.

    • I was sad to remove Neal’s Yard Remedies but they’e still referred to as an MLM as of recently. I couldn’t find anything on their official site though. Do you have more information about this change?

  • I have friends who do very well selling Arbonne and they’re not necessarily at the top of the company. No inventory required for sales reps. Customers order directly from the company. I did find the whole thing a bit cultish and it wasn’t for me but maybe all MLMs aren’t the same. Just my opinion.

  • I’m so insanely happy to see someone with influence addressing this!! I have a number of friends falling into these predatory schemes and trying to sell them off like they’re honest, wholesome products. It’s actually really dangerous and I’m really thankful that you are out her providing the facts!!

  • I think it’s wonderful that you’re posting this since I’ve always thought they were a pyramid scheme. You have to be really really high up to earn money. I work with someone who said in 1997 that her goal was to quit and only sell Mary Kay. Well, she’s still doing both and not making enough money to quit her full time job. AND, she is pretty aggressive/successful in convincing people at work to buy from her. Another person sold Avon just for fun and a little extra money – her words not mine. I think she liked the interactions with different people so maybe the little money is worth it to her. BUT please don’t think it’s a way to make LOTS of $$$ unless you get more and more people under you selling.

  • I do think this is great information but since Avon, MK, etc, sell in China, they’re no longer cruelty free anyway. I think that’s the more important message – isn’t it?

  • Yes! Thank you so much for this! I can’t stand MLM’s. I’m even in an anti-MLM Facebook group where people talk about their friends or strangers who are roped into a pyramid scheme. There are also TONS of people in that group who were previously in an MLM and lost all their friends and money. It’s really sad how these companies ruin people’s lives. I will never support or buy from an MLM!

  • Im just curious and just trying to get educated, so as long as you don’t pay for your products (meaning they’re given to you) its ok to promote them and get payed for? Because I follow several bloggers who get sent stuff and then promote even if they haven’t had a lot of time trying it.

    I was also about to try one of these MLM companies, but on the side (never leaving my job) just to get extra money, and I’m one of those that wouldn’t pressure people to get signed up if they don’t want to.

  • I think Neal’s Yard Remedies is MLM outside the UK. Here in the UK tends to sell through affiliate companies like Marks and Spencer and John Lewis – very large and respectable businesses. It allows that kind of business to offer cruelty free ranges alongside ranges tested on animals.

    I stopped buying Avon when it recommenced animal testing to be able to sell in China. The irony of the first cruelty free company to start testing again just to get a slice of Chinese market speaks volumes for the times in which we live. Same goes for NYX selling out to L’Oréal, probably the worst of choices

  • About 20 years ago, I got sucked into an MLM – I just had a baby and wanted to “be able to quite my job”. Yes, I did LOSE money, yes, I did have to use high pressure tactics (not my thing and I was very uncomfortable) and then I realized, I actually had to pressure people to have parties….most of which were in the evenings or on weekends, so therefor, I was STILL leaving my child to technically, go to work. As I mentioned, I lost money and it actually stressed me out much more than any office job I’ve ever had. It was a lose/lose situation

  • Thank you for this and good for you! This can be such a controversial topic and often does not involve logic at all, only emotion and opinion, therefore making it even more difficult to tackle. It’s a scary topic for me to address with friends as those who “believe” or are actually putting all of their eggs in the basket are fierce supporters and cannot be moved. They have no choice. I decided to get more educated on the matter of MLMs since I have so many friends always trying to sell me something and I came across a great podcast – The Dream by Jane Marie. I highly recommend it for anyone struggling to find their way through this issue.
    Again, good for you for taking a stance openly….can’t be easy.

    • Thank you Noreen! I wish some “reps” didn’t have such as emotional reaction and almost cult-like mentality. But I understand that it’s hard for someone who’s so deep in it, and even if they don’t want to accept the facts right now, I’m sure someday they’re going to.

  • Thank you for this informative post. It is quite brave of you being that 1.) so many women now-a-days are easily sucked into these schemes and 2.) many of us (including you) probably have a ton of friends that operate under one of these MLM’s. I want so bad to repost this on my facebook but I know it will lead to loss of friends, endless days of electronic arguing, and hurt feelings all around because probably greater than half of my friends either sell from one of these companies or buy from one of them. I was a Mary-Kay rep many many years ago and it was the worst experience of my life of the constant pressure to have these “facials” and “socials” and recruit recruit RECRUIT was insanity. I ended up recruiting one friend and she ended up taking all of our mutual friends as clients and basically put me out of business. Now, I’m constantly being given the “can I have you watch a short video” talk from all my friends who are MK, Arbonne, Younique, Rodan and Fields, and doTerra selling fiends. I’m hit up once, maybe twice a week being asked if I watched the video or changed my mind. My one friend who is an Arbonne rep is so obsessively aggressive with it that I had to block her for some time because she was blowing up my inbox 4 times a day. Anyone who has to be that aggressive to be “successful” in these businesses is a major red flag. I’ve wanted to say something for so long too….but not brave enough yet. I’m just now finding the strength to stand my ground and say NO to these friends of mine.

    • Thank you Brittani! I’ve been putting off writing this post and addressing the topic of MLMs for years for those reasons. I think that spreading the other side of the story is doing more good than harm, and even if I’m ruffling some feathers with this post, hopefully some of the “reps” who are reading this will reconsider in the future.

  • I highly respected you, and your blog and your platform… until I read this.
    First of all, pyramid schemes are ILLEGAL. I believe what you meant to title this article is “why I do not purchase or support MLMs” because what you’ve done here is take your very biased opinion and generalize ALL companies who use a MLM business model as pyramid schemes. This is totally unfair. While I agree that a vast majority of MLM companies come off as scammy, it is not because of the structure of the business model. That is due 100% to poor training and people looking to “get rich quick.”

    Further, signing up and paying fees to be members/distributors/consultants/guides, etc. is just basic overhead and deems the individual an independent contractor of the company. They pay a fee to maintain their status with the company and utilize the company’s resources (like website fees and annual subscriptions). I have to sign up through my insurance company and pay annual fee to stay a member of their insured practice. Does that make them an MLM? They sell insurance services. They have executives who make more than the claims adjusters. Are they MLM? I would even argue that corporations are closer related to pyramid schemes than an MLM…

    My point is, please do not generalize ALL of the MLM companies as bad. There are poorly trained ones out there making all the other companies look bad. There will always be, in every business model (whether MLM, LLC, DBA, Corporation, etc.) someone who makes more than someone else. There will always be executives. There will always be someone to make the decisions and structure of their business. That’s the FREEDOM they have as owning the company. Even the ones who rank the highest in the MLM still answer to their companies CEOs, just as the greeter at Walmart answers to his general manager.

    I hope you consider this. I do appreciate your site and all your hard effort with committing to buying cruelty free, but I also hope you consider to research more than the most popular Direct Sales companies.

  • Well said Jamie. I agree with you 100%. @ Cruelty Free Kitty – I follow your page as it is about cruelty free products. I am now unfollowing you as you have lumped all MLM businesses into the same pile. The people who are driving around in white Mercedes hustled their butt of to get there. Everyone has the same chance as they do. If you want something, you have to work for it. Just like you would if you opened your own graphic design business or any other service. See below from the Canadian Government website.

    Multi‑level marketing plans can be legitimate
    An MLM plan promotes the supply of a product to participants in the plan. Participants earn compensation based on supplying products to other participants and/ or customers. A legitimate MLM plan has three or more levels of participants.

    It is illegal for operators or participants in an MLM plan to make any representations about compensation, unless the representations constitute or include fair, reasonable and timely disclosure to prospective participants of the amount of money actually or likely earned by a typical participant.

    Pyramid selling is a criminal offence
    A scheme of pyramid selling focuses primarily on generating profits by recruiting others and NOT FROM THE SALE OF PRODUCTS . These schemes may offer products; however, the products may have very little value or the plan may offer limited incentives for their sale.

  • I’m sorry but I don’t believe you can put all these companies under the same banner & say they all behave the same. I am part of one of these companies …. I’ve never felt under pressure to buy in , never felt under pressure to buy stock, in fact it is discouraged ! I’ve never been put under pressure to recruit others . I have used the products to raise lots of money for charities. I look after my customers & more often than not down sell!
    Pushy sellers would also be pushy if they worked in shops … There will also be people who have bad experiences, just like it other areas of life …. but not everyone regrets it or prayed upon. The one that I am part of gave me confidence in myself when it was lost & a social life again with some lovely new friends.
    All you have done is look at business models and from I can gather have never been involved in one to have personal experience. So all I ask is don’t clump time together

  • Hi thank you for the information, however, Neal’s Yard Remedy have been sold in store for a few years now. They have a fantastic range of products.

  • My mom did Youniqe for a while and she lost a bit of money, the people above her were also VERY rude to her. I’m glad she quit that.

  • I am replying to my comment about Beautycounter.

    Each of your questions answered:
    ** they sell via independent consultants AND their own Beautycounter brick & mortar stores AND through independent websites such as Goop AND they have done capsule collections with Target & J Crew. They are not a “pyramid scheme” since they have a product. Pyramid schemes do not involve products.
    **the $85 enrollment kit is actually for the personal webpage they provide to each consultant, a tote bag, some marketing materials like catalogs, workbooks to learn from, a lipstick and a tube of moisturizer. It is not inventory.
    **the $50 annual renewal fee is for the maintenance of the consultant’s personal website. Not for inventory.
    **to maintain status as a consultant you do have to have $1200QV every six months, but not the $250 in NV anymore. The QV also counts for any personal purchases. I use their products for my entire family (child, husband & myself) AND for most of the gifts I give (family, teachers, friends), so I have no problem with this amount. All that happens if you don’t make the $1200QV is you stop being a consultant. You don’t owe anything. You are free to not ever interact with the company again if you choose.
    **some people choose to have socials, some choose to give samples of merchandise, some choose to sell via their website. All of the above methods are fine and encouraged. There is no rule about how you choose to sell. Consultants are not allowed to do cash & carry socials. Consultants are not allowed to stock any products. Any products sold in any way get ordered from the consultant’s website OR the main Beautycounter website (which doesn’t link to any consultant) OR the brick & mortar stores OR from outside websites like Goop.

    Closing to say that I am surprised that you don’t love Beautycounter because of their B Corp status, cruelty-free status, transparency of ingredients, major impact on laws being changed in the US & Canada & how well-performing the products are. I think you should really do some due diligence on the company.

  • I generally find MLMs high pressure, sometimes to the point of obnoxious. I avoid. Just last week I was FB friended by someone in a group I”m in, to find that he immediately started using scare tactics – “your home is full of deadly chemicals that are killing you” – to get me interested in Melaleuca. The next day I told him, no thanks, and he got snarky. WTH. I didn’t accept a friend request to be bombarded with MLM crap. And let’s say you buy – then you get pressured to become a rep yourself (experienced that twice with Mary Kay). On principles, I avoid buying MLM products for the reasons you give, Suzana. I really appreciate your stand on MLMs. For every person who’s actually making money, there are thousands who have no chance of living the dream they’re selling. No. Just no.

  • https://uk.nyrorganic.com/shop/corp/area/become-a-consultant/

    For those who were shocked or doubting that Neals Yard Remedies is guilty of this, it is and here’s the link to prove it. (I tried to reply to you directly but the reply button doesn’t seem to be working for me) Before I was aware of this terrible unethical money sinkhole I joined up. After spending about £400 of my own money on products I was supposed to sell on to others I realised I was being had (I know, it took me a while, what can I say, I’m a trusting person and I loved their products!) It was borderline impossible to recruit others as no one’s as naive as I am and if I were to recruit them I would have had to spend my own time ‘mentoring’ them. It all had such a bad feeling to it. I knew in the back of my mind it wasn’t right but I wanted to believe what they told me. Good job I didn’t give up my day job, I bet some do. I’ve boycotted them ever since even though their products are good and I’m so glad Suzana has called time on this crap. Can we start a petition or something? I feel so angry for people who put even more in than I did and get left with worse than nothing.

  • Don’t forget Farmasi. They have a PETA certificate on their Slovenian website, but when you visit PETA’s cruelty-free brand list – guess what – they are not there! I contacted PETA about it and they said that Farmasi is not certified by them. Farmasi representatives claim that Farmasi and PETA have some sort of a beef between them. I honestly don’t think they were ever certified. They probably just found a cute bunny logo with the word cruelty-free below on the internet and posted it on their site…

  • We need more people with exposure to speak out against MLMs, so maybe people will consider it before signing up based on a huns salespitch. I’ve been researching MLMs a lot, as I find the cult mentality so fascinating. At first I kind of laughed at the patheticness of the hunbots, but now I just feel sad for anyone who is new to an MLM and doesn’t see they’ve been brainwashed. If more people spoke out about the truth regarding the predatory nature of their business structure, maybe they can stop hurting naive people. And also, their products are all either total crap or mediocre at best. Buying their products is enabling MLMs to continue taking advantage of hard working women and men.

  • What about Seacret? Although I’ve seen some kiosks in malls I know someone who’s been very successful with about 100 people under him in us and Australia. He made a lot of money, went to conferences in luxury, etc.

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