ANALYSIS: Woman Who Combined Ethics with Business

The Birmingham Post (England), September 11, 2007 | Go to article overview

ANALYSIS: Woman Who Combined Ethics with Business


Byline: By John Ashton

Dame Anita Roddick achieved a prominent place in the national consciousness by managing to combine ethics with business.

Her Body Shop cosmetic chain began in a dingy shop in Brighton and went global, making a massive success of selling "green" cosmetics to the masses.

From the beginning, the former teacher who used to work for the United Nations in Geneva scorned hype and claims made by the multimillion pound cosmetic industry for their youth enhancing, lavishly packaged products.

Instead she relied on "natural" ingredients in plain jars that in the early days had handwritten labels and were refillable.

The first shop opened in 1976 with the help of a pounds 4,000 loan and was painted green to cover up damp walls. The empire went on to comprise some 2,000 stores in more than 50 countries with scores of millions of customers.

The early patrons were pensioners delighted to recognise old fashioned wartime style ingredients like glycerine and beeswax.

Younger customers soon followed, drawn by her virtual market garden of fragrances and ingredients from cucumber cleansers to strawberry exfoliators at cheap prices while supporting her platform of rejecting animal testing and embracing ethical trading practices.

Crucially she caught the tide of the just emerging green revolution and its demand for eco-friendly products.

Through the shops, and in her own right, she championed a galaxy of causes from Third World debt to body fascism.

She characterised customers as: "Vigilante consumers. People who are bored to tears with retailing and all its pretence. They are ethical watchdogs who demand to feel not only in sympathy with the product and where its ingredients come from, but with the company that makes it. They are very aware and very powerful."

It was a power she harnessed to enormous commercial success and it enabled her to pull off the quite considerable feat of having a public company which was accountable to shareholders for profits but still retained its campaigning principles. Proving that beauty could have an effect that was more than skin deep was probably her greatest achievement.

She saw the shops and the company as a way of achieving her goal of social and environmental change, launching campaigns in shops and mobilising customers to reject animal testing on cosmetics, against child labour and exploitation in the Third World, supporting Fair Trade, Greenpeace, and human rights.

Over the years petitions were put by the cash tills and shop window displays were controversial, challenging and entertaining, tackling everything from sexism to ageism.

"Of course the company through the shops must make money and profit," she said. "But the main purpose is to work towards environmental and social change, and to promote the advocacy of human rights. …

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