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Avon: Pretty or Poisonous

Avon: Pretty or Poisonous

Avon is well-known for offering products door-to-door through its network of "Avon ladies." But those sales representatives bear the brunt when Avon products don't sell.

October 17, 2007 —

Avon has earned the reputation of being a model corporation for female employment. The company’s CEO is female, and women hold more than half of the executive positions and highest paid jobs. But when it comes to the rank and file sales representatives, Avon doesn’t look so pretty.

Direct-selling of Avon cosmetics has become a nightmare of left-over products that sales reps claim they have been forced to pay for. In 2004, a class action lawsuit was filed in California by four plaintiffs who claimed Avon had fraudulently boosted its financial performance by forcing sales representatives to pay for unordered beauty products, even after they had returned the goods to the company. The lawsuit was dismissed but sales reps continue to charge that Avon misleads women into thinking that they can earn big money by becoming an "Avon lady." The company uses Allied Data Corporation, a collections agency in Texas to harass and intimidate the sales reps into paying for the products they can’t sell.

The poor treatment of female representatives has been masked by Avon Foundation's charitable giving on women's issues, specifically its focus on breast cancer. In 2003, the Avon Foundation donated $10 million for research and programs to fight breast cancer. Even with this good deed, Avon can't catch a break. Investors have demanded that the company be more open regarding how much money is raised and how funds are used.

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