Some time ago, I discovered a section of Reddit called “Anti-MLM“. I’d heard of MLM before, but all I knew about it was the meaning of the acronym: multi-level marketing. I never understood what MLM was about or why they were considered shady.
I read the thread for fun and some laughs, but I learned quickly why MLM has the reputation it does. MLM is essentially interchangeable with “pyramid scheme”, but even the ones that (supposedly) aren’t pyramid schemes are no better. The basic concept is: you pay for a set of start-up supplies (beauty products, clothes, etc) and try to sell them while trying to persuade other people to sign up for the same company. A lot of MLM companies have “levels”, so the more you sell and more people you convince to join, the higher your level goes.
From reading that section (subreddit), it seems many of these companies target a specific group. They aim for people – especially women, it seems – who are unemployed, recently finished college, are stay-at-home parents, or are just struggling financially in general. While it’s undoubtedly immoral to prey on those who may be vulnerable, I’m more disgusted with the attitudes of the people who fall into these scams.
To an extent, I have some sympathy. I don’t have a child, but I do know what it’s like to struggle and scramble to keep your bills paid and stay afloat. However, many of the people who sign up for MLM companies are very patronizing and outright dishonest.
For starters, a common theme seems to be that a regular job is the “real scam”. When someone dares to question why they need to pay to sign up, the usual retort is that an ordinary job makes you pay to work there as well, via requiring you to buy a uniform. This is completely ignoring many jobs provide uniforms for free or have a loose dress code where there is no specific uniform. My job falls under the latter, and my uniform was $15 to $20, an amount I make in two hours of work. If you already happen to have clothes that fit the dress code before you start working, you don’t have to pay anything. Similarly, many consider college a scam as well. I do think the system of education (higher and lower) is long overdue for an overhaul, but that doesn’t mean college itself is terrible. There seems to be a common notion everyone with a regular job is miserably working from 9am to 5pm under a cold-hearted boss, or everyone who attends college is drowning in several thousands of dollars in debt while unemployed or underemployed.
What’s more egregious is many of the supposed benefits spouted about joining MLM companies often contradict. The biggest example of this is how they advertise you can “be your own boss” and claim they are “small business owners”. In the same breath, they scream the company they work for is not a pyramid scam. I don’t think anyone needs a business degree to figure out the obvious flaw there, but I’ll point it out anyway. You are not “your own boss” if you work for a company, let alone a business owner. People who work for MLM companies have bosses just like any person who works for genuine companies. Why would a business owner receive a paycheck from anyone? Payment from their clients for providing services, yes, but their clients aren’t their employees. Speaking of benefits, there’s usually no mention of the benefits a regular, full-time job provides like health insurance and paid time off. And of course, the people with regular jobs are the people they count on for their sales to begin with.
My favorite, however, is how they claim you can “make money from your phone anywhere, any time”. On the surface, that sounds great. However, many of the people who advertise this post about “earning money” from places like the pool, the beach, or just relaxing in bed. How are you relaxing if you’re working? When I clock out at work, I am done. I don’t have to think about work any more until the next shift. I don’t want to work while I’m on vacation or just having a nice day off. Chances are if I’m at the pool, I’m with my best friend or my boyfriend. I’d rather be in the water, swimming and having the time of my life with them, not posting ads from my phone while they have fun without me. Yet at the same time, there’s the claim that “you control your money”. In other words, you do have to work hard to profit from MLM. So, which is it? Easy money-making while having fun, or as much dedication as any other job? Also, if you have kids, how are you spending time with them while posting ads online most of the day? I suppose there’s nighttime when they’re sleeping, but doesn’t that kill the idea you do have to work hard at MLM?
However, something I happen to find infuriating is many of these consultants also advertise dangerous ideas. One I’ve seen a lot is ingesting essential oils, despite the bottles themselves having warnings that they aren’t to be ingested. I’ve also seen beauty products that notoriously caused damage instead of enhancing looks, but the consultants blamed the result on the buyers for “improper use”. That might be an excuse when it comes to a few people out of very many (and even then, you should still address those concerns), but not when it’s the majority. Apparently, there are some oils that can be ingested, but essential oils for scents aren’t those.
Perhaps the worst is that as a result of joining an MLM company, many of these people alienate their friends and family because they eventually do almost nothing except advertise. While that subreddit is often funny, it also has a lot of sad anecdotes from users who had to cut off friends or relatives because they never contacted them except to try to sell to them or persuade them to join. In worse scenarios, attempts were made to trick or bully them into buying or selling, and they were met with belligerence when they refused. A lot of the regular users of that section refer to MLM as a cult overall. I’m not sure how accurate that really is, but with how common certain elements are (regular jobs and all colleges are scams, assuming anyone who is in college or a regular job is miserable, treating all jobs as office types, willing to alienate their loved ones, refusal to admit some products are faulty, etc), it would indeed come off as a cult if it were more serious than advertising products you bought.
Something that also makes me cringe is a lot of these MLM consultants refer to themselves as “boss babes” or claim they are building an “empire”. I work at a job where we could wear rain boots and cat ears, and still be within the dress code because our bosses are light-hearted and not picky. Yet, unsurprisingly, no one does that because it looks too silly to be taken seriously in any work setting that’s not a daycare center. Five of my seven bosses (managers) are female and the moment “boss babe” came out of their mouths, I’d no longer take them seriously. That’s not to say we don’t have fun at work, but we do it off the clock and away from customers. The other annoying part of this is it calls attention to the “boss” being female. Why? Yes, I understand the need for women to be recognized in the working world, especially in certain fields that are still male by majority, but if feminism is supposed to mean men and women are equal, why is there a need to remind everyone you’re a woman? Isn’t the point that gender is irrelevant and shouldn’t be paid attention to? Personally, I don’t want someone to respect me because I’m a woman. Respect me because I work hard, or I’m kind, or I’m good at whatever I do. But not because I have two X chromosomes!
I do hope there’s someday a way to shut down MLM and pyramid scheme companies. I have personally never encountered a MLM recruiter, but if they are widespread enough to have the reputation they do, the best that can be done for now is warning people of these companies, especially those who fall under the categories these companies tend to aim for. While I lose sympathy the moment the consultants of these companies begin mimicking their tactics, I still do recognize they were likely pressured and had their vulnerable spots hit. I have bent to pressure and gotten farther in over my head than I realized before something finally forced me out. That may be just how most of the people who fall for the empty promises these companies spout have to get out of it. Hopefully, it’s before they have no one left.