Zain Alatas talks to Mark Constantine, founder of Lush Cosmetics, and Patches Rhode, whose son was executed on death row and who established the Brandon Rhode Foundation in his name
I don’t really understand much about setting up foundations and all that. From my point of view, getting too involved in what is tax-deductible, what is a charity and so on is not necessarily for the best. Indeed, a lot of what we give is not to listed charities but to all sorts of good causes.
I used to give quietly, until someone gave me a lecture on how being noisier about the giving both helped the recipients and encouraged other donors to think more about giving. I am still a little bit bashful about it. Being more vocal about giving has actually been a mixed experience. I am now often described as ‘controversial’ because of the causes that I support. At some point where nothing else works and it all becomes palliatives and pretence, someone has to do something.
I like to support ‘supercitizens’, people who care very deeply about things that most people should care about but tend not to shout enough about them.
I first met Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith at Anita Roddick’s memorial service, where he was speaking out against the Guantanamo Bay prison, and I was impressed by him. Lush has supported them in various campaigns. The first was our Guantanamo Garden bath bomb, where we designed a bath bomb, perfumed with a blend of essential oils that you could grow in a garden in Guantanamo. When you popped the bomb in the bath a picture of one of the prisoners would float out, and all the proceeds went to Reprieve, which campaigns for human rights for prisoners.
In the end, both the prisoners we supported with that campaign were released from Guantanamo, and of all the things we have done at Lush that is probably what we are proudest to have been involved in.
Our latest support for Reprieve is with its Stop Lethal Injection Project, where we are trying to identify where the drugs used in the lethal injection come from and then embarrass those companies and stop them doing it. Again, we are delighted to be involved. One might see Reprieve as a fairly ‘out there’ team of people, but to my mind they are simply supporting the law at its finest.
When I first emailed Reprieve I was really not expecting a reply, much less so for them to invite me to come to London and help with the Stop Lethal Injection Project. I have been fighting for twelve and a half years, and that is something I have never experienced in the States. To have Reprieve invite us over to London and work so diligently to help us was just unbelievable.
The lethal injection is supposed to be the most humane way to execute someone, but Reprieve has shown facts behind it that no one really would have known otherwise. Being able to come to London and tell my story was very important.
I used to be one of those naïve people who thought that the legal system was the same as the justice system, but they are two very different things. Until you are ingrained in the system you never know how the inmates are treated once they are sent to prison. What is more, people can be convicted for doing things that they haven’t done — there are currently two gentlemen sitting on death row for the crime of one man.
I think one bit of value that Reprieve adds is by bringing home that this is about people, that these are actual people that they are trying to kill. Other organisations can be so disconnected and cold towards the individual. The work that Reprieve does is heartfelt and the team there really launches itself into it.
I set up the Brandon Rhode Foundation because I want my son Brandon to have a legacy that will sustain his work. In Georgia prisoners only get enough food when family members send them money so they can buy food from the prison. I used to send Brandon money and he would share that food with a couple of the other guys. Some of the people that he was in prison with are now starving because he is not there to share the food that I used to buy for him.
A lot of the inmates never get a visit because their families are very poor and cannot afford the trip to Georgia, so another thing I am trying to do is help these families be able to go and visit their loved ones on death row.
Working with Reprieve has also inspired me to go to law school. Seeing their work made me realise that without legal credentials I may not be able to get anywhere with helping anyone in the work that I want to do.
Miller Philanthropy supports the Giver and the Gift