13 May 2019

How an essential oil company courted an Auckland school

From Checkpoint, 5:20 pm on 13 May 2019

An Auckland school which briefly used essential oils in its classrooms was offered discounts and deals by a US-based company, who said they could help with relaxing blends for parents in the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks.

Emails released to Checkpoint under the Official Information Act show weeks worth of correspondence between the principal of Milford School and a representative from the doTERRA company, that led to the school signing up to $2800 worth of the product.

Milford School principal Sue Cattell announced in the school's 14 March newsletter that all classrooms would be getting diffusers with essential oils. 

She said some classes had trialled the diffusers in 2018 and there was a noticeable difference in behaviour and illness reduction.

"Shortly every class will have a blend called OnGuard which supports immune function and a blend of Wild Orange which is uplifting for mood and energy. These oils are diffused in water and waft through the air - we hope to see wellness improve for everyone! We will hold a parent information session on this initiative later this term."

Emails show she had earlier been approached by a doTERRA rep, whose name has been redacted from the emails but who appears to be connected to the school.

The rep states they are often at the school's back entrance offering a sniff of Wild Orange to mums and new entrants having separation anxiety - and that it transforms their state instantly.

"This has been life changing for my family's health - my son no longer uses his inhaler for asthma and just applies the respiratory blend of eucalyptus and Peppermint Roll on blend to his chest," the rep said in an email. 

"The oils are scientifically proven with decades of clinical trials they are no longer for hippies!"

The doTERRA rep also offered deals to the school for using its products.

"If any teachers wish to get oils for their own health or home use, Milford School can earn 20 percent commission which potentially they can use to get some free oils for their classroom in future."

They also offered the opportunity for teachers to make their own blends.

"Our wonderful doTERRA community has been making peace blends and sleep blends to give all the Christchurch community after the tragic shooting. We all sent oils and blends down. 

"This is also something we can help any Milford teachers or parents with, especially the Muslim parents, but even Kiwi parents struggling mentally to switch off. Should we say something in the newsletter to get in touch with me or just set up a date and time to meet?"

But the oil plans came to a halt on the same day the diffusers made it into classrooms, after a parent sent a letter to the school warning the diffusers could impact their son's health.

"The principal made the decision without consideration of adverse health affects for students who suffer from allergies or who have asthma.

"I will not have my son exposed to these products in the classroom."

The parent also raised concerns about the company making the oils, doTERRA.

"If you Google this brand you discover the true nature of this business is as a multilevel marketing company - sometimes referred to as a pyramid selling scheme.

"Even if there were some legitimate basis to use essential oils in the classroom, as a parent, I would be deeply concerned about the involvement of this company. I would want to know who is behind the marketing and sale of these products to the school - funded by donations to the PTA - and who is profiting from the sale?"

Ms Cattell relayed this information onto the rep, saying she was gutted but had no choice but to leave the oils in the cupboards for now.

The structure for doTERRA's business shows a seven tier model, with those in the bottom silver ranking making an average $25,000 a year - and those in the top earning an average of $1,353,000 per year.

But the rep assured Ms Cattell it was not a pyramid scheme

"Pyramid schemes do not sell product they sell a dream asking people to put money in to they never get a return on, they are expensive to get in to and hard to get out of. doTERRA has 7.5 million customers so this is not an experiment... the heart of the company is philanthropic changing lives locally and globally."

Milford School's Board of Trustees chair said the placing of diffusers in classrooms was done with good intentions and the school community were advised prior to them being introduced. However, in hindsight there could have been further community engagement prior to the rollout.