Update: Honest Company has responded to an inquiry from Inc. with the following statement:
"Our mission from day one has been to help people live happy, healthy lives by providing products that families everywhere can trust. We are constantly looking at ways that we can further improve our customer service policies and procedures. Online subscription cancellation is a feature we've been working on and plan to enable in the very near future as a way to provide our customers an easier way to make changes to their subscription preferences 24 hours a day/7 days a week. We look forward to implementing these changes shortly. In the meantime, we always offer refunds to any customer who wishes to cancel, without exception, as well as a 365 day return policy."
If there's one thing parents of newborn babies lack, it's free time -- the kind of time you'd need to, say, spend 30-plus minutes on hold trying to cancel an unwanted subscription. Yet that's exactly what it takes to stop getting diapers from the Honest Company, apparently.
Gizmodo reports dozens of complaints have been filed with the Federal Trade Commission alleging Jessica Alba's Honest Company has been charging customers for a subscription diaper service under "misleading conditions."
"According to dozens of complaints filed with the FTC since 2014, people have been signed up for an Honest diaper subscription service with recurring payments under misleading conditions. And after they discovered they were being charged, trying to cancel was an absolute nightmare. Some people who tried the Honest Company's 'free trial' allege that they weren't even told that they were signing up for a subscription in the first place."
Honest Company told Gizmodo in a statement about the cancellation process, "By requesting that our customers call us directly, it allows us to have an open and honest conversation regarding the subscription process and product offerings." Yet when a Gizomodo reporter tried to call, instead of a conversation, he got put on hold for half an hour.
Honest isn't alone in being accused of making it almost impossible for customers to end their relationship with the company. As my Inc. colleague Salvador Rodriguez reported when he was with International Business Times, online services like Spotify and Netflix make it extremely difficult for users to delete accounts with the services.
"Experts say online companies' habit of storing account data indefinitely puts consumers at risk. If those services get hacked, as was the case with Ashley Madison, or purchased by other companies, customer information ends up in the hands of different people and organizations -- from the annoying to the downright nefarious," Rodriguez reported in November.
The latest controversy emerges as Honest is at a crossroads: Recent reports have indicated the startup is in early talks to sell itself to Unilever. A major disruption to its revenue, in the form of a change in the way it handles subscriptions, could have serious bearing on a potential sale price.
It also comes as Honest reportedly moves to reformulate its laundry detergent following reports in the Wall Street Journal that lab reports found the company included a chemical it had pledged not to use in the detergent. That chemical is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which the Journal reports is common in mainstream cleaning brands. Honest Company has claimed its products avoid ingredients in mainstream brands that the company believes are harsh or harmful to health.
Honest Company said in a statement about the reported reformulations:
"As a leading brand offering safe, responsibly-made, premium essentials for families and homes, The Honest Company is and always will be committed to progress and innovation across our expanding product portfolio. Our internal R&D team, led by Dr. Laurence Dryer, consistently works to innovate across our entire product line while adhering to The Honest Company's uncompromising safety standards. As part of this process, we are continuing to work on a new breakthrough cleaning line, including dish care, laundry and household cleaners, utilizing an advanced sugar-based surfactant technology to further improve the efficacy of our products. We remain committed to our mission of helping people live happy, healthy lives and providing products that families everywhere can trust."