Here come the lawsuits.

As Inc. reported recently, it was only going to be a matter of time before Jessica Alba's Honest Company faced lawsuits, once a Wall Street Journal investigation published March 10 found Honest's laundry detergent contains sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a chemical that the company promised never to use.

To be precise, it took exactly seven days.

On March 17, Illinois resident Staci Seed filed a class-action complaint against Honest in California, alleging that the company is "misleading [consumers] in the extreme" by advertising its products as SLS-free. The suit also states that Seed specifically sought out products that did not contain the chemical and purchased Honest's products because the labels say that the company uses sodium coco sulfate (SCS) as a less-harsh alternative to SLS. The Journal investigation, as well as chemistry professors contacted by Inc., have confirmed that SCS is blend of chemicals that includes a significant amount of SLS.

The Honest Company has taken issue with the Journal's testing methods and insists the two chemicals are distinct. On March 16, Honest told Inc. "The Journal confirms what we have said all along, that we use Sodium Coco Sulfate (SCS) in our laundry detergent. And, to reiterate our position, just because you can isolate the C-12 carbon chain in a test for SCS does not mean we use SLS in our product."

According to court documents, Seed's lawyers conducted their own independent lab testing of Honest's laundry detergent in February. 

In response to the suit, Honest told Inc., "The claims alleged in the lawsuit are without merit and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against them."

Dale Giali, a partner with Mayer Brown who has defended multinational corporations in consumer product litigation cases, told Inc. last week that he expected class-action attorneys to use the Journal's investigation as fodder for more suits. (Two existing suits alleging false advertising have been filed against the company previously, but neither mention any SLS-related issues.)

"There is no question that Honest Company will point the finger at suppliers and say that they relied on certifications and validations from suppliers, and they will likely make a formal claim against them," Giali says.

Suits such as the one filed by Seed could take at least a year to play out. In the meantime, it's business as usual for the Honest Company.

On March 22, Honest and the San Francisco-based personal assistant service TaskRabbit announced a new partnership. When consumers use the TaskRabbit app to schedule a home cleaning, they now will be able to request an "Honest Clean"--meaning, a "Tasker" will show up to complete the job with only Honest-branded products. The service is available in all of the 18 U.S. cities where TaskRabbit operates.

"Honest and TaskRabbit share a consumer who is clearly passionate about her home and family. We wanted to find a company that aligned with our voice, and that connection [with Honest] is interesting," says Rob Willey, vice president of marketing at TaskRabbit. He also notes that the partnership is timely--in the spring, TaskRabbit's cleaning task business generally grows about 25 percent.

Willey declined to comment on the controversy involving Honest's product ingredients.

TaskRabbit, which has done other partnerships involving Amazon, Verizon, and other brands, told Inc. recently that it quadrupled its business in 2015 and anticipates becoming profitable this year. 

Published on: Mar 22, 2016