In one of the boldest advertising efforts in recent memory, British cosmetics company Lush has launched a campaign accusing U.K. police of unethical practices in undercover investigations. Police allies and government officials have lambasted the ads, and some critics have called for a boycott, but the company has stood by its point.
The ads, which have appeared in Lush’s U.K. shop windows and social media pages, feature a split photo of a British police officer both in uniform, and “undercover” with a beard and nose ring. The campaign’s tagline is “Paid to Lie,” and its stated intent is to highlight British police efforts to infiltrate activist organizations, which allegedly stretch back to 1968.
The brand, which specializes in high-end organic, handmade soaps, has been promoting online conversation about the issue around the hashtag #spycops, and has also published audio programs on the issue through its Soapbox podcast channel.
While it isn’t clear what sparked Lush to launch in this ad campaign, it isn’t the first time the company has taken a stand on hot-button issues. In fact, the U.K.-based company — which has outposts all over the world — frequently takes public, and some would argue extreme, political stances. Those have included support for the guerilla anti-whaling operation Sea Shepherd, and the Pro-Palestinian group OneWorld. The latter move earned Lush boycott calls from several pro-Israeli groups.
The U.K. press has been quick to amplify claims that the campaign is “anti-police.” Lush, however, says in a followup statement they are not criticizing “real police work done by those front line officers who support the public every day.” Rather, they say the campaign is meant to highlight abuses by one “small and secretive subset of undercover policing.”
The abuses Lush is criticizing have already been investigated by the U.K. government. In 2015, the BBC reported the British Home Office had uncovered “more than 80 possible miscarriages of justice relating to undercover policing.” Those included police who allegedly had relationships with female activists while operating under false names assumed from dead children. Those explosive findings make the issue particularly relevant to Lush’s presumably mostly female clientele.
Nonetheless, police representatives and government officials have attempted to muddy Lush’s message, framing it as disrespectful to police and calling for a boycott.
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British Home Secretary Sajid Javid has also described the campaign as “not responsible.”
The Police Federation, a staff association for police in England and Wales, has also asked the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority to intervene, but that effort has reportedly been rebuffed.
At least one Lush competitor, Bomb Cosmetics, has taken the opportunity to chip away at the beauty chain, taking shots at Lush on social media and launching a pro-police fundraising campaign.
Lush is probably wise to stick to its home turf in addressing the contentious topic of undercover policing. But it would find plenty of reason to critique law enforcement’s treatment of political activists in the U.S., including the FBI’s notorious attacks on civil rights leaders through the Cointelpro program.