Recently in Corporate Ethics Category
Not Organic Bouquet CEO Robert McLaughlin.
In the four days since the exchange below where I asked him to apprise me of progress in tracking down the supposed Colombian cyber-harasser and cooperating with law enforcement, I've heard nothing. He says he hopes he and I could "come together on a positive project" one day yet has taken no action yet to remedy my bungled order (what caused the criticism that led to the harassment in the first place), and continues to contradict himself or make outright false statements without seeming to see the need to account for them. Very weird, non-CEO behavior, which just makes it seem more and more like he was the supposed Colombian. [If links aren't working, try the end of the post.]
Below McLaughlin does rightly point out that I made a mistake. The apparent tracking of my online criticism of his company and attempting to bully me into removing critical comments seemed creepy and intimidating enough to be considered cyber-stalking, so that's how I described it. Apparently that was an inaccurate description, and since the exchange below I have described the behavior according to the legal terminology that the FBI points us to: electronic harassment and electronic threats. Cyber-stalking has to do with violent threats, while this supposed Colombian supplier was only threatening to "watch" and "follow" me and ruin any and all future employment prospects. My apologies for not yet understanding the correct terminology.
Since Mr. McLaughlin has been so inconsistent and unbelievable and taken so little action to convince me that he was not the one who conducted the cyber-harassment and threats, I still sincerely believe that it was him (or someone he allowed to write on his behalf or using his email address).
Monday, May 24, 2010, Kyeann Sayer to Robert McLaughlin:
I was equally surprised that my straightforward, factual comments on Sustainlane turned into a "war" in which I very patiently responded to long, bizarre and viscous attacks by someone representing Organic Bouquet. It's strange -- you seem to be using the fact that your company representative took such action to justify your having used that cyberstalker's arguments about me in your own Better Business Bureau rebuttal. I don't see how you can expect me to consider such rationalizations any sort of sincere effort to explain or take responsibility. Since you now admit that you used the cyberstalker's false, slanderous arguments about me and my intentions in your BBB report, how do you explain your writing yesterday that you didn't know anything about me or my intentions? What that you write am I meant to take seriously or find believable?
If you were not the cyber-stalker (given your overall lack of believability I still honestly doubt this), I am formally requesting that you take action commiserate with the seriousness of this situation. I will supplement the report I made to the FBI with your BBB report. I have asked Sustainlane for the IP information of the cyberstalker but they have not provided it. You should be interested in obtaining it yourself or work with law enforcement to do so since OB is legally responsible for what was written. From an investigative perspective, if you genuinely believe it was someone in Columbia, you must be able to narrow down who you sent the photos to and who of those individuals would have been instantaneously available to rebut my comments, and who would have been on the computer at that times of the comments. OB has commented on a review below mine; the company has a history of responding to comments on Sustainlane. If it was a supplier in Columbia, I can imagine that you would be as committed as I am to discovering who it was so we can report to the proper U.S. authorities which foreign agent acting on your company's behalf has threatened me. I would also imagine that the company would want to sever its relationship with a company or individual who would take such reckless, illegal action. That is the outcome I expect. These practical steps are the actions of a CEO who takes felony cyberstalking and intimidation seriously.
Please apprise me of your progress. I will continue to update my blog, reporting on how the company takes (or does not take) responsibility for such a serious crime and how federal law enforcement responds to my report. What I have written so far includes the facts surrounding what happened, my analysis of them, and my opinions regarding them. If you find a factual error please let me know. I have posted links to your responses, and pasted parts of them into posts, so readers can judge for themselves. I will not be intimidated by cyber-threats, or any baseless effort to equate my legal on-line writing with them.
I formally request answers to my consumer questions about the sustainability of your growth model and how it has affected domestic employees and the company's overall environmental impact. Just as the public personal attacks seemed designed to deflect such questions, I suspect that your continued vagueness relates to a lack of desire to answer those questions. You might also still want to send me a correct order and credit my SkyMiles account -- these are concrete actions (rather than vague pronouncements about a "positive project") that would demonstrate sincerity now and would have eliminated your company's need to respond illegally to a negative review in the first place.
On Mon, May 24, 2010 at 3:34 PM, Robert McLaughlin wrote:
I appreciate your reply...to be honest I don’t know what to make of all the emails and blogs...... No one representing this company has blogged or posted, no one had been asked or paid to post anything, its a normal process for us to forward pictures to our third party fulfillment centers and suppliers when emails are received good and bad..there are so many employees in that 3rd party chain and I don’t know where things went from there, but as I mentioned, I told everyone to stop when you sent the links. Either they deleted the posts or you did, but it seems to be gone...I have no control of whoever posts, but I’m happy they’ve stopped.
Regarding my BBB response, I have to admit that I was suspicious of how a poor service issue could explode into a war between a disgruntled customer and others on a blog at our expense...my apologies, I have no proof of anything other than what you stated.
I can assure you we have looked at our internal processes and customer service to see where this could have been avoided....this entire situation goes so much against the grain of the good nature of this company that I’m shocked at this result.
I understand your freedom of speech and to post as a consumer or advocate that received poor service, but I do ask Formally that you remove all misstatements such as Organic Bouquet or myself being cyber stalkers or supporting cyber stalkers...those are false statements and equally egregious as the posters you have a problem with....and I appreciate your attention to the details.
Such a regretful situation and we really need to move forward..I would hope that could come together on a positive project one day
All the Best
Very weird, non-CEO behavior, which just makes it seem more and more like he was the supposed Colombian.
The apparent tracking of my online criticism of his company and attempting to bully me into removing critical comments seemed creepy and intimidating enough to be considered cyber-stalking, so that's how I described it.
Apparently that was an inaccurate description, and since the exchange below I have described the behavior according to the legal terminology that the FBI points us to: electronic harassment and electronic threats.
After ignoring for ten days the fact that someone claiming to represent Organic Bouquet committed the federal crime of cyberharassing and threatening me, CEO Robert McLaughlin has finally offered a strange and unconvincing response.
Again, this is a free speech issue. We're talking about a company purposefully targeting and threatening a vocally dissatisfied customer and attempting to bully her out of exercising her right to criticize the company. What is so scary about questions surrounding whether OB's PR matched its practices, or whether its current growth trajectory was sustainable? All of these questions should be fair game for a company that represents itself as "green" and "socially conscious." McLaughlin seems to have responded not because he was concerned about any illegality or how these threats were affecting a former customer, but because I blogged about him.
To put his response in context, after a terrible product and customer service experience, I had written a review of the company on Sustainlane.com. On May 13, venomous cyber-harasser Andes B. wrote in response.
My rep at Organic Bouquet sent me your pictures. In those picture [sic] I can see tulips obviously from another company and receipts from local grocery stores where you obviously bought other flowers as part of your research on flower companies. You’re a disgrace and should be reported to the appropriate credible journalist organization for breaking the code of ethics and acting in a manner that is unbecoming of an American or international journalist.
I had sent pictures of the second set of wrong and wilting flowers I received to personnel at Organic Bouquet and was amazed that someone in Columbia supposedly already had them, and was ready to comment on my reivew within hours of my having written it. I immediately sent a link to the cyber-harassing threats to Mr. McLaughlin and wrote to him:
Healthy tulips from my own yard, the roses you sent that never opened in the background, and some receipts amount to some sort of scheme to sell an article? Bizarre. Can't you fight your battles directly with facts rather than having me personally attacked?
Mr. McLaughlin ignored my message and chose not to address the fact that someone was advocating on behalf of Organic Bouquet in a felonious manner. He took no steps to assure me that the threats were empty, or would cease. Instead, the day after he was notified of the illegal online threats, he elected to use the same arguments in his rebuttal to my Better Business Bureau complaint:
Ms. Sayer is a freelance writer with a history of aggressive behavior in search of a major headline. She provided pictures not only of flowers she received from us, but in the background what appears [sic] to be flowers from other sources as well. It is my suspicion that she is doing research for a story and she has attacked us on blogs…
So at this point McLaughlin has been notified of the cyber-harassing and has received my clear denial about my order having been part of any weird scheme related to a story. He chooses not to address the fact that while I posted a truthful account of my experience with the company and raised questions about its growth model using facts gleaned from publicly available articles, someone representing OB cyber-harassed, smeared and threatened me. Rather than objecting to the attacks in any discernible form, he used my online review as evidence of my supposed scheming for the Better Business Bureau.
And today (Sunday), apparently after someone notified him about my post regarding the cyber-harassing and threats, he has finally been bothered to address the issue. He writes, in contradiction of his own Better Business Bureau filing:
I understand you had a regrettable consumer experience for which I attempted to reconcile with you..... The exchanges you had with a person online claiming to be our supplier is not condoned or requested and certainly not me in anyway. [sic].
So, again, he doesn’t condone them, but doesn’t address why he failed to inform the cyber-harassed and threatened customer of that, or why he used the cyber-harasser’s arguments himself. He doesn’t address how this commenter happened to have the pictures that I supplied to the company. He continues, strangely:
I don’t know anything about you.... what your intentions are or were..... I assumed from your original email that you received poor service for which I personally tried to help you resolve....very regrettable that we were unsuccessful in making things right for you....and your actions and back and forth posts do leave me perplexed as to your motives.
Huh? So, he has told the BBB that my ordering my Mother’s Day bouquet from OB was some sort of grand, journalistic scheme. He knows that I have a copy of his filing. Yet, he tells me today that he doesn’t “know anything about me” or “what my intentions are or were.” Despite this claim, he was certainly confident enough to make up information about me and assign motives to me in his BBB report.
Mr. McLaughlin seems very confused. I asked him to clarify these points. I’m still interested in having my questions about downsizing answered as well. Since all of this seems to have been a smokescreen to avoid answering those questions, though, I’m not holding my breath.
[Continue reading for working links.]
What is with "progressive" companies like Whole Foods, TreeHugger, and now Organic Bouquet using weird/dirty tactics to deflect criticism? (If the links don't show up on your browser, you can find them at the end of the post.)
This very strange situation wouldn't have been something to write about here except that what should have been a dispute over a commercial transaction settled through legitimate channels quickly devolved into a civil liberties issue. Rather than use facts to dispute my claims, Organic Bouquet chose to attack me personally and use threats and intimidation in an effort to cyber-bully me out of criticizing the company.
The short version of the story is that after a really horrible product and customer service experience I took a number of actions, including writing a negative review of the company on Sustainlane (again, active link at the end of the post). In response to the review, someone claiming to be one of OB's Colombian suppliers wrote a bunch of nasty comments attacking me personally and eventually threatening that "Our association of floral exporters in Colombia, California and Ecuador need to follow you and advise your every potential employer of your inability to be fair and objective in your reporting." This person had copies of pictures that I had sent the company (to show the sad and pathetic state of the second order of wrong flowers they sent), and used them to concoct a story about my motivation for complaining.
Somehow, readers were meant to believe that my whole motivation for making a Mother's Day order and then complaining when it was wrong (and then the replacement order was wrong, and the company refused to do anything about it because it had issued a refund I didn't request), was all some sort of complex plan to "get a big headline." Weird, since I have made three other recent orders from the company without event or complaint because the company did not mess them up. The company itself has to perform pretty craptastically to get me to the point of feeling the need to speak out.
So, I reported the totally creepy comments to the FBI since they are so clearly a violation of federal law and in my now three-year long history of near nonstop harassment and intimidation no one has been so sloppy and careless as to carry it out in such an obviously illegal and traceable manner. At that point it seemed clear that the commenter was writing on behalf of Organic Bouquet, but I thought it might be someone hired to make positive comments for the company on blogs, or to defend criticism of the company and that this person went too far. Though I definitely thought OB was of course legally responsible since this person was acting on their behalf, I wouldn't have dreamed that the CEO himself would possibly pathetically disguise his identity in an effort to defame me in defense of the company.
Then, I received Mr. McLaughlin's rebuttal to a report I had filed with the Better Business Bureau. It was written the day after the online threats and contained the same weird accusation about my pictures supposedly illustrating that I was ordering multiple bouquets of flowers from different companies as part of a story I was supposedly writing. I couldn't believe it. Really, the same person had to have written it or to have had access to the same arguments and definitely the same pictures. I wrote to OB PR and Mr. McLaughlin himself for a confirmation or denial that he was the cyber-harasser, and received no response. [Update 5/24/10: Finally, ten days after being notified of he illegal cyber-harassing and threats, apparently in response to this post, Mr. McLaughlin offered a very tepid and unconvincing response.]