The E-Word

I thought I would go back to my four letter words series.  First, I'm going to show you some pictures and you see if you can guess what they have in common.  


Have you figured out the common thread between these everyday items?

Let me tell you a story.  Once, at the age of eight, I was invited to my first party.  How cool is it that I get to go to a party with a bunch of grown-ups on a school night?  It was hosted by an aunt or a cousin, I think.  Anyway, the premise of the party was that you went, had a fun time, then bought some jewelry and made your family member rich.  I bought I gold teddy bear necklace on a gold chain with really cool green sparkly eyes.  It was very 1992.  Weirdly, the person throwing the party did not thank me for making them Scrooge McDuck amounts of cash.

However, I did get invited to another party by another friend or family member.  This one was a year or so later.  This time, the party was for a kitchenware company which shall remain nameless.  We ate some amazing spinach dip (this was in the pre-Applebee's era so it was a real treat) and some sort of baked cinnamon roll thing.  We were told that these amazing products would, again, make us both amazing chefs and rich.  Weirdly, after buying several rounds of this product, we never got a thank-you note for making the host filthy rich.

More parties, each more expensive than the last (I'm looking at you Longaberger Baskets!  I could harvest straw and weave my own dang basket for less than $120! Oh wait, no I can't...)

Cue my teenage years.  A really lovely older lady at my church said: "I'd love to give you a makeover.  Why don't you come to my shop, and I can help you find some products to help your skin?"  As a pimply teenager with glasses and braces who read too much Sweet Valley High, I was totally into it.  The makeover was fun, but I just looked like the same pimply teenager with a load of makeup plastered on.  Then, she said, here why don't you take these samples with you.  If you like them, you can give me $2,343.15 for some more.  That wasn't the actual price, but the look on my mom's face indicated that it might as well have been.  We did not purchase any.  However, it didn't stop the sweet old lady from asking me every time she saw me to come see her again if I was interested.  I wasn't interested.  It made our relationship awkward.

So how do you think it went when my actual friends started to invite me to their "Girls Night In"? A cute postcard or e-vite would arrive in my mailbox, and I would think "Oh, how nice!  It's so great to have friends who want me to join in their fun lives!"  Then, more than once, I would arrive to find the fun was being subsidized by the jewelry, kitchenware, bags, makeup and miracle cures that the host was selling.  There was never any "pressure" to buy anything, but to be really honest, I usually bought things out of pity.  I don't want my friends to make an investment in something as a quick, easy way to earn money and then lose it all.  I bought things because I was their friend.  I sat down for "health consultations" and "makeunders" galore in my twenties.  I've taken herbal supplements which a) made me more hyper than skinny and b) were revoked by the FDA for nearly killing quite a few people.

I did this over and over.  In my late 20's it got worse.  Not the sales pitches, but the reasons for doing the parties.  Single mothers and stay-at-home moms, desperate to find an easy way to provide for their families.  I've seen numerous people invest in these things over and over.  Bags, jewelry, makeup, kitchenware, herbal supplements, vitamins, weight-loss miracles.

It makes me angry and sad.  Angry because these companies are literally preying on the loving relationships of families and friends in order to make money for a few people at the top of the company.  Sad because the people who need the money are the ones most likely to be spending it.

Dear friends,  I wish there was a way for every woman who wanted to stay home with their child to earn money during naptime.  I'm lucky enough to have an actual paying part-time, work-from-home job.  However, 99% of people aren't.  And these companies are clever.  They invite you to amazing pep rally-like retreats, give you promotional prizes that cost them very little and make you sound like a real "health consultant".  In truth, they are exploiting you in the same way that you would recognise in other people.

Most people, if they saw a child being put to work in a brothel or a sweatshop, would immediately recognise that as exploitation.  We are conditioned to understand that.  How then do we not look at the severed relationships, lost income, debts incurred and inverted power structure that characterizes all of these "multi-level marketing companies" as exploitation?  Why, when our friends decide to start another "small business", do we not speak up about it?  The people I know that sink large amounts of money in these companies don't just do it once.  They do it over and over.  They are told that anyone can be a successful salesperson!  There is always one person who has a rags-to-riches tale of success with the "recruitment" model.  They will have cured themselves of something, lost weight, made money.  It is enticing and sounds wonderful until it's not.

Those are lies, and they are hurting people.  They are costing people money and time and probably friendships as well.  All you see is the successful saleswoman with the amazing bags or kitchen or life, and you want that.  You are told about points, commission or active sales.  However, it's a conservative estimate that only 1 in 333 people who start with a MLM company will earn more than they spend.

That means that out of every THOUSAND people who start ones of these businesses, only THREE will make more than they spend.  The turnover is huge, the loss is huge, and the companies stake their entire existence on that model.

When a family member recently started a new MLM business, my mom said something pretty profound.  "I wish she could just say that she needed some extra money to stay home with her child.  I'd much rather give her some money to make life easier than watch her waste her time on something that will just fizzle out in a few months."

Amen, Mom!  Seriously.  If my friends came to me and said "Wendy, I really need £30 to make rent this month/buy my child's school uniform/put nutritious food on the table/go on a date with my partner", I would totally give it to them.  Not because we have so much money to spare, but because I'd rather support them directly than give tons of money to the companies that are exploiting them.

And they are exploiting them.

Here's Google's definition of exploitation:

Do I have a good way of fixing this problem?  Not really.  Maybe speaking up to friends and family is a good start.

"I see that you are starting this type of business.  I wish you well, but you should know that there are more risks than benefits.  Why do you feel this is a good option?  Do you need any help that I can give personally?"

Then we can listen and help.  


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