In 2021, a major legal dispute began between the two important oil companies where Young Living accused former staff (David Stirling, Emily Wright, Justin Harrison, Lillian Shepherd, and Robert Taylor) of illegally breaking non-solicitation provisions in their employment contracts when they created doTERRA. Their lawyers argued that there is no way to know who was told to tell fellow staff members about the lawsuit, and therefore the clauses in the contract cannot be violated without being aware of the wrongdoing. The judge hearing the case, however, sided with the oil companies and did not require doTERRA to compensate former staff who were owed wages, medical benefits, or other forms of worker compensation for breach of contract violations. This meant that although Stirling and Young Living were required to reimburse thousands of pounds in damages, and are now facing a class action suit, they escaped major punishment.
This story highlights another point that is often overlooked in oil and gas marketing: the difference between soliciting opinions, and telling customers that certain oils or gases are better than others. Consider the fact that when you walk into a gas station to buy fuel, you don’t specifically ask a salesperson what qualities make oil better than gasoline. Rather, you simply ask whether “are your essential oils effective for reducing flammability?” Or, if you’re buying a detergent to clean clothes, you don’t specifically ask what detergents are best for cleaning your children’s clothes. You simply choose the brand that has the brand name and reputation that sound most appropriate to you at the time. Oil companies have identified the essence of petroleum-based ingredients and marketed only those products rather than educating consumers about the best properties of the essential oils they use.
When do companies begin to learn about the value of their products and begin to protect them from liability? Unfortunately, it seems that too few oil and gas marketers pay attention to educating themselves about the fundamental value of their product. Instead of considering the question of whether or not the compounds contained in their products provide tangible benefits to consumers, they simply choose the product that seems right for them at the moment. The courts have repeatedly found that companies have failed to sufficiently demonstrate that they took reasonable steps to protect themselves from harm. And when the plaintiff in this case brought a lawsuit against three major manufacturers of the essential oils underlying her injury, the court found that she was actually not able to prove that her injuries resulted from the oils, but from exposure to vapors produced by the oils themselves.
This is a lesson that should be learned by all responsible business people. In addition to the fundamental value of providing safe fuel, manufacturers and marketers need to establish and maintain a baseline of understanding about their products and the strength of their protective properties. It takes some research to determine which oils are most appropriate for which uses, but companies that want to succeed in the 21st century need to be aware of the relative strengths of each of their most important natural components. They must also consider the relative strengths of their most effective delivery systems, as this may substantially impact the success or failure of their product.
This lawsuit provides a perfect example of why it is so important for oil and gas marketers to engage in what I call Essential Oil Case Studies. Instead of simply relying on published data or press releases, which are typically untrustworthy sources, manufacturers and marketers should investigate the safety and environmental impact of their product using scientific research. Independent scientific research performed by third parties can consistently confirm that essential oils are generally safe and present no health or safety risk. Moreover, independent research will also reveal the unique chemistry and synergistic properties of specific oils that make them even more effective than known compounds.
As a result of Doterra’s and Young Living’s lawsuit, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has opened an investigation into these highly profitable oils. The FTC has authority over consumer protection issues because it is required to protect consumers from deceptive and unfair marketing practices. The investigation is likely being sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission under the authority of the Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman, New York Sen. Charles Schumer. If the FTC decides to open an investigation, it will be an unprecedented move and could lead to massive sweeping new laws and regulations regarding the marketing of safe and effective natural oils.