When you go to a meeting to learn more about potentially joining a multi-level marketing organization, you expect to hear testimonials about how the product has changed lives. You should not expect to hear about how the company’s products have cured brain tumors and performed other impossible feats. At least, that’s what Herbalife says after undercover reporters from ABC News filmed Herbalife distributors doing just that.
“In direct response to the interview where Brian Ross brought to light instances of members making unauthorized product claims, the company began a significant re-training initiative,” a spokeswoman told ABC after the hidden-camera investigation [warning: auto-play video] aired. The segment was the product of a 6-month investigation where ABC reporters posed as Herbalife distributors and even bought in, spending $4,000 on products to gain a few levels and gain insight into the organization.
The most disturbing part of the ABC investigation, from the company’s point of view, was when distributors made medically dubious claims about the company’s products. One person told a reporter that a fellow distributor credited the company’s supplements with curing her brain tumor. Another credited their products with saving her health and helping her achieve her first pregnancy at age 40.
“What is happening there is a complete and absolute violation of our rules,” Herbalife president Des Walsh said during an on-camera interview after seeing this footage.
Whether they’re sold at a high-end health food store or out of your neighbor’s living room, all dietary supplements have to follow the same rules, per the Food and Drug Administration: they can’t pretend to be drugs. (Conversely, they can’t pass off drugs as supplements, either.) Herbalife claims that their training materials make this very, very clear to distributors, with messages like:
Nutrition club members may share their experiences from using the products, but the products are not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or medical condition, and under no circumstances should there be any statements, advertising or implications to the contrary.
And yet, distributors said these things to reporters. Could it be that people are willing to bend the rules and maybe even lie to close a sale? No, that couldn’t be it.