Young Living Sentenced For Harvesting Essential Oils From Endangered Plants

Image courtesy of Font del Vi

Essential oils come from exotic plants all over the world, but do the companies selling these oils have the proper permits to import and sell the products made from them? The company Young Living has been sentenced for importing rosewood oil and spikenard oil without permission, and must pay $760,000 for importing the products without permits.

“Protected species of plants”

The U.S. Department of Justice announced this week that Young Living, a company that sells essential oils through multi-level marketing, must pay a fine to the government of $500,000, restitution of $135,000, and a donation of $125,000 “for the protected species of plants used in essential oils.”

The company’s plea agreement says that some of its employees and contractors harvested 86 tons of rosewood in Peru between 2010 and 2014, distilling 1,899.75 liters of oil from the wood. That rosewood oil was worth between $3.5 million and $9 million. The harvesting of the trees and importing of the oil were both illegal under the federal Lacey Act.

The company turned itself in after conducting its own investigation of the rosewood imports, sending a written statement to the federal government about its possible violations of the law in importing that rosewood oil.

Young Living’s investigation found that in addition to the rosewood operation, another group of employees had imported oil from spikenard (a flowering plant related to valerian) that originally came from Nepal.

The company had acquired the spikenard oil from the United Kingdom, but the supplier exporting the oil didn’t have a permit under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to export it from Nepal or from the UK.

The oil was found to be unacceptable and shipped back, but that was yet another incident related to endangered plants uncovered during the company’s investigation of the rosewood incident.

“The acceptance of responsibility”

Federal law enforcement officials praised the company for investigating itself and coming forward voluntarily.

“While the natural resource violations by certain employees of Young Living were intentional and substantial, the Company’s decision to conduct an internal investigation, voluntarily disclose the initial violations to government enforcement authorities, and cooperate throughout the ensuing investigation is to be commended,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah John W. Huber said in a statement. “This sentence reflects both the seriousness of the offenses and the acceptance of responsibility and cooperation by the Company.”

What’s the Lacey Act, anyway?

You may remember the Lacey Act from a piece of news about Lumber Liquidators case a few years ago, where the company pleaded guilty to importing hardwoods that weren’t themselves endangered, but came from forests where endangered species of leopard and tiger live.

The law originally only applied to animals and was meant to keep Americans from hunting or transporting live animals across state lines. This protected over-hunted game animals from being transported and sold by commercial hunters, and also helped keep people from transporting live animals to another area where they might lack natural predators and become an invasive species.

A controversial 2008 amendment changed the law so that it now applies to importing plants, including trees, that are illegal to harvest in their country of origin without a permit.

Update: In a statement, which you can read in full on its website, Young Living said:

In late 2014, our new management team became aware of a situation that was identified by our compliance program in place at the time…

As part of Young Living’s commitment to comply with applicable laws and regulations wherever it does business, the company has developed a new comprehensive Lacey Act Compliance Program to help ensure that plant products come from legal and sustainable sources.

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