Beauty giant Mecca has hired an independent consultant to investigate the company’s workplace culture after a mass of past and present employees accused the company of bullying.

The complaints were published anonymously online by Instagram account @estéelaundry, a beauty collective which says its aim is to bring “transparency, honesty and equality” to the beauty industry. Since last month, Estée Laundry has published a slew of complaints from present and former employees, both on its feed and Instagram Story, torching the company for its alleged poor treatment of staff and customers.

In one such post, Estée Laundry said they received an “overwhelming number of DMs from employees and customers” who claimed they had been bullied and discriminated against for “not being skinny, Caucasian, and/or not fitting the ‘Mecca look’.

“We’ve always heard stories about discrimination in Australia, but these stories take it to a new level,” the account said.

The Young Workers Centre Victoria has received 14 written complaints from past and present employees within the past two weeks, director Felicity Sowerbutts told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

She said the team are currently working with the employees to best map their way forward, and advised those concerned to hold on to any related written communication between themselves and managers in case it’s needed for evidence.

“Ultimately it’s about making sure management at Mecca are providing us a safe working environment because clearly at the moment they’re falling short,” Sowerbutts said.

“There is power in workers telling their stories and sharing their experiences. It is a brave thing to do, and the more they tell their experiences, the more progress they can make in making sure that Mecca is a safe working environment for them all.”

A former employee, identified as Grace* by P.TV, worked as a colour specialist for two and a half years at Mecca. She said she was repeatedly “bullied, intimidated, and belittled” by her managers and senior colleagues. 

Grace, who has anxiety, said the “bullying made it so much worse.”

“I was constantly judged on what I wore, how I dressed, how my makeup looked, how my makeovers were done, [and] the timing of my makeovers,” she told P.TV. “This would all be done in front of the customer which would leave me feeling humiliated and quite upset.”

She said her complaints about her treatment “weren’t ever taken very seriously” because the person bullying her was a senior artist.

When Grace asked for more hours or a part time contract, she was told that the company couldn’t “invest having you as part time”. 

“[It] instantly gave me the impression that I wasn’t good enough,” Grace said. 

“In the end, my regional [manager] said if I wasn’t happy I could leave.”

Grace eventually resigned from the company, but said she felt “pressured” to. 

Following “concerns raised in the media”, Mecca issued a statement saying it was taking the allegations very seriously, and said it was hiring an independent consultant to complete an objective review of company culture.

“For the past 22 years, our mission has been to go above and beyond to ensure all our team members have a positive experience. To anyone for whom this hasn’t been the case, we’re truly sorry,” the beauty brand said in a statement.

It addressed key concerns raised by complaints published, including allegations of bullying, harassment, and discrimination; staff being paid in free product instead of wages; and a culture of intimidation where staff were made to feel uncomfortable about raising issues. 

“To be clear, we have zero tolerance for bullying, harassment and discrimination of any kind. To that end, we have expanded the number of reporting channels our team members can use to ensure that issues are reported in real time, so we can thoroughly investigate, and act on any matter,” Mecca said.

Mecca CEO Jo Horgan said she was “deeply saddened” to learn of the allegations, in a company-wide email published by Estée Laundry on November 5.

She said she prided herself on “building a positive environment for people – both customers and our teams”, but acknowledged that initiatives in place to help foster a positive work environment were “not enough”. 

“What we are doing is either not enough or it’s not working effectively enough. We are now looking at what we need to change and what else we need to do above and beyond this to make sure we get it right,” Horgan said.

In a follow-up email, Horgan announced the company would undergo an independent culture review from a HR specialist.

The independent specialist will meet a “cross section” of people across Mecca, and is expected to spend roughly two months with the company.

Mecca has consistently placed in Australia’s Best Places To Work Study list. It came in fourth this year, its sixth consecutive year on the list.

The Fair Work Ombudsman would not comment on “operational matters”, but a spokesperson encouraged any workers with concerns about pay and entitlements to contact the watchdog directly for assistance.

You can read Mecca’s full statement, including a Q/A, here.

*Not her real name.

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Image: Facebook / Mecca