In a partnership involving a business and an animal-welfare charity, it would not be that unusual for one of the partners to employ a number of former activists recruited from campaigning organisations such as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Nor would it be exceptional if that partner organised a protest in which it attempted to dump a lorry-load of manure outside the offices of the European Commission.
But it would be unusual if the partner in question was a business. Cosmetics retailer Lush, which in 11 years has grown from a single store in Dorset to a chain with a presence in 36 countries, does not test any of its products on animals. That opposition to vivisection extends into campaigning activities normally seen as the exclusive preserve of NGOs. Last year, when the EU's Reach regulations on chemical testing (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemical substances) - which came into force in June this year and will be phased in over 11 years - threatened to produce a big increase in animal experimentation, the company launched its own campaign.
"We have some company ethics," says Hilary Jones, director of ethics at Lush. "Rather than just being neutral, we do take a stance on things." Lush also funds charities, but not the usual suspects. Beneficiaries include Plane Stupid, which helped to organise the Heathrow Airport climate camp this summer, and anti-roads campaigners.
So when the Dr Hadwen Trust, a charity that promotes non-animal medical research to replace animal experiments, was searching for a corporate partner, Lush seemed the ideal choice. The trust wanted to promote a petition that calls on EU legislators "to do everything they can to maximise non-animal replacement efforts" when the EU reviews its 20-year-old directive on animal experiments next year. The charity had already collected 60,000 signatures, but wanted to bring in 100,000.
"Lush is an effective campaigning force and a rare thing in being an extremely successful brand that is also absolutely rooted in its ethical responsibilities," says Wendy Higgins, director of communications at the trust. "And it is very effective at drawing the public into campaigns without ramming them down their throats."
For Lush, supporting the petition is a step beyond its previous commitments because the trust is asking for regulations on all animal experiments - not just those carried out by cosmetics companies. Promoting a petition can also distract from the firm's primary purpose, especially given that the petition will be promoted in Lush stores across the EU. "Asking customers to sign a petition is always a risk because they just want to get on and shop without having the worries of the world thrust upon them," says Jones. "On the other hand, we have a lot of staff who care about these issues and a lot of customers who do too. It's worth us taking the risk."