Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business
 

feature

‘she put a bomb under the business world’

October 2007

What lasting influence did The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, who died last month aged 64, have on business behaviour? EP asked a handful of specialists for their views.

John Elkington, co-founder and chief entrepreneur, SustainAbillity
Let me take just one milestone that Anita was responsible for hauling upright during The Body Shop’s heyday.When SustainAbility began its work on corporate reporting in the early 1990s, the field was seen as peripheral – with only a few casualty companies (among them Monsanto and Norsk Hydro) disclosing on a voluntary basis. Today the whole area of sustainability and non-financial or extra-financial reporting is increasingly centre stage – and the moment I knew this was the future was when, in 1996, I saw The Body Shop’s Value Report. It was vast, inevitably hit the top spot in our 1996 Engaging Stakeholders reporting survey, and set an immediate benchmark. Just taking this single example, it is clear that she and her team helped transform the way firms thought about transparency, accountability and the corporate social agenda. No small achievement.

Barry Clavin, ethical policies manager, Co-operative Bank
If you ask most people in the UK to name an ethical business, they’ll tend to say the Co-op or The Body Shop, and I think that’s because Anita put ethics and campaigning at the heart of her business philosophy. Yet the Co-op did it over 150 years and with the support of our millions of members. She did it, to all intents and purposes, on her own. And even more so, she did it with a public limited company on the stock market.Anita was a pioneer and risk-taker, and she was campaigning on ethical issues long before they were common on the high street. If UK consumers are particularly sensitive to ethical issues, that’s partly because of her tireless work on animal welfare, human rights and the environment. She went against the tide for a long time and her campaigning was brave and honest – she railed against anti-ageing creams, for instance. For that alone she is irreplaceable.

Robin Bines, founder of Ecover UK and natural products industry entrepreneur
Anita had a sharp eye for profitable business. From the very early days of the first Body Shop in Brighton when we ground up aduki beans in the Infinity Foods flour mill – she sold it on at more than 100 times the price as ‘Japanese Washing Grains’ – it was clear she had what it takes to succeed.

But making money was just a means to an end for Anita; she wanted to create change. The huge profits that were being made – any normal cosmetics company would have spent them advertising their miracle wrinkle-vanishing creams – were instead channelled into promoting fair trade and recycling; fighting animal testing and nuclear power; protecting the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta and the world’s rainforest; developing social and environmental auditing; investing in wind farms to power the shops and factory, and setting up producer co-operatives around the world – incredibly this is just a small part of what was achieved in the 1980s alone. It was a masterclass in mainstream radical marketing and customer buy-in.

And if the products weren’t always the best around, so what? They were a lot better for you than most of the smelly stuff on offer elsewhere and made you feel part of the movement for change. The Body Shop’s activities put a bomb under the business world, with an air of anarchic chaos driven from the top. Just look at the changes she fostered, even in the corporate agenda. There’s not many who bow out with a CV like that.

Michelle Thew, chief executive, British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection
The fact that the high street is now beginning to follow her pioneering and inspirational lead on ending cruel and unnecessary animal testing of cosmetics and toiletries is real testament to her vision: that affordable, safe and quality cosmetic and toiletry products which aren’t tested on animals can be sold on a mass scale on the UK high street. Anita was an inspiration. She showed that ethics and business can and should go hand in hand.

Robert Jones, brand consultant at Wolff Olins
Anita Roddick saw, decades ahead of others, how the social role of the corporation, and the social meaning of brands, are changing. She knew that a business needs a purpose beyond profit in order to get customers and employees committed to it – and she built that business. The Body Shop, for all its subsequent ups and downs, was one of the first companies with a big idea. And a big idea, in today’s brand-sceptical world, is essential for business longevity. The founder has died tragically and far too soon, but her creation lives on.

see also editorial, page twelve



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