Young living’s $3.5 Million Sourcing Scandal
Young Living just admitted to illegally harvesting plants found on the endangered species list. Supplies smuggled on a private plane, meticulously labeled counterfeit canisters, spurious permits — these were plot twists I’d expect to find in a Tom Clancy novel. Instead, they glared back at me from Young Living’s recent plea agreement. The court case (United States of America vs. Young Living Essential Oils) was became public information on September 18, 2017. I’d heard a bit about the case from my essential oil savvy friends but assumed they were overreacting. I finally decided to
read for myself what all the fuss was about. I downloaded the documents here and scrolled through the scandal.
Hereâ€™s Your Briefing Over a span of four years, June 2010 to October 2014, Young Living intentionally (and illegally) harvested the endangered plants from the Peruvian jungle and Nepal. In 1997, Spikenard was added to the globally accepted CITES endangered species list (CITES is an international agreement between governments that protects endangered plants and animals from over-exploitation through international trade). In June, 2010 rosewood was also added to the CITES endangered species list. After both spikenard and rosewood were added to the CITES endangered species list, Young Living began searching for various ways to harvest the
plants without being encumbered by the increasingly stricter regulations meant to protect the struggling plant species. Here are the sad details: Since 2010, Young Living illegally harvested 86 tons (the equivalent of at least $ 3.5 million dollars) of Peruvian rosewood from the Peruvian jungle and illegally transported it (without any CITES permits.) In the fall of 2011, a Young Living employee in Peru advised in writing that “in a short time they [the rosewood trees] will disappear by illegal logging.” Shockingly, the individual still recommended securing the endangered rosewood for 2–3 years of oil production until cultivated trees could be used. The employee suggested that rosewood oil could be exported to the United States in two ways: (1) by saying it is “Geranium Rosa to avoid problems” or (2) by “saying it is extracted from the The estate of Young Living in the jungle of Peru.” Ultimately, canisters of rosewood were relabeled “rose geranium” instead of “rosewood” to surpass export and import regulations. In February 2011, the company asked an employee to travel to Peru to harvest more rosewood. The employee refused, stating it was too dangerous to be transporting what he believed to illegal goods. Despite the employee’s pushback, in the summer of 2011, Young Living company employees arranged for the harvest and transport and purchase of at least three tons of additional rosewood in Peru without government authorization. Numerous Young Living employees alluded to cop and government “pay-offs” involved in with rosewood oil. From 2012–2013 the company feigned it was trying to develop a rosewood farm in Peru, in hopes of obtaining permits to legitimize
its unlawful procured rosewood. The company never acquired the land to develop the farm, nor was the land ever cultivated for rosewood by or for the company. On November 14, 2014, a Young Living employee received an email about the “Peru Project” outlining that a boat was on its way to Iquitos from Peru and was carrying 30 tons of logs arranged to cover the smuggled 5 tons of [rosewood] roots. In the spring of 2014 Young Living experienced a shortage of rosewood oil. In July 2014, a company executive drafted a memo entitled “Project oiling the jungle” that discussed plans for the unlawful harvest, transport, and shipment of rosewood in Peru. This plan entailed taking rosewood stumps from the jungle to the Young Living company farm to make it appear that harvested rosewood had originated from the Young Living farm. In July 2014, a company executive documented in writing “flying my own plane down” to Peru in hopes of bringing rosewood oil back with him. To Young Living’s marginal credit, on October 2014, some of the newer Young Living executives realized the severity of the crimes and took immediate steps to stop the exportation of rosewood and disclose to government parties YL’s various violations that of both United states and foreign law. Unfortunately, even two years after this disclosure, Young Living continued to participate in some fairly unsavory actions. On December 2015, Young Living exported Nepalese spikenard oil without CITES permits. And in January 2016 the company purchased 1,100 kilograms of “bois de rose natural” which the U.S.
government alleges occurred without verifying lawful sourcing of that product.
Here’s the Plea Details On September 18, 2017, Young Living pled guilty to counts I and II of the misdemeanor. Young Living admitted its efforts to illegally harvest rosewood and its efforts to cover up its actions. Worse yet, these actions were known of, and actively pursued by, members of Young Living’s Executive Team. In case you are wondering what the plea amounted to, Young Living ended up paying a meager $500,000 in fines and another $125,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. A Sad Day for “the Seed to Seal” Promise A close friend from Maine introduced me to Young Living’s products. The company won my heart with their “seed to seal
promise.” Heck, I even had plans to visit their Mona lavender farm next summer. But, reading this plea was a painful, much-needed wakeup call. If members of Young Living’s executive team were willing to unceremoniously cut that dozens of corners in sourcing rosewood, I can’t help but question the entire foundation of the company — from the authenticity of their oils to the sincerity of their marketing messages and their ethical practices in general. I’m know firsthand there are many, many, wonderful people working for Young Living. A kind-hearted acquaintance of mine currently works at Young Living’s Highland Tree Farm, one of my social media BFFs loves working at a YL call center, and my neighbor’s sweet husband was on the company’s IT team for 2+ years. I’ve had so many positive interactions with Young Living’s tribe — but how can I now trust the integrity of their products after this lapse in the integrity of their leadership? With all my heart, I hope that those who were involved with the shady decisions of Peru (and elsewhere) can reexamine their decisions, step-down, and invite a new wave of principle-based leaders to help Young Living start fresh. My fingers are crossed that Young living can make a shift that mirrors the good nature of many of the Young Living employee’s I’ve come to know. To End on a Positive Note Reading this plea also was a reminder to reinstate my purchasing power. As a consumer navigating the world of essential oils, I can opt to support brands innovating the marketplace with far more transparent sourcing and ethical accountability. I can celebrate Earth Oil’s inspiring Grower Projects, doTERRA’s expansive
SourceToYou initiative and Mountain Rose Herbs’ Fair for Life certification.  Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs — Essential Oils Company Sentenced for Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act Violations to Pay $760,000 in Fines, Forfeiture, and Community Service, and to Implement a Comprehensive Compliance Plan.