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A new way of doing business
Interview with Anita Roddick
by Megan Jones

An interview with Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, whose success in the skin/hair care market has enabled her to share her vision of company-supported consumer activism in human rights, justice, and environmental sustainability.

Since the first Body Shop opened in Brighton, England, in 1976, this manufacturer and retailer of quality skin and hair care products has grown to more than 1,500 stores operating in 46 countries. The Body Shop charter states that it is the moral obligation of business to work towards sustainability, and that business should be held environmentally and socially accountable. A recent expression of the company's philosophy was its purchase of a 15 per cent stake in a wind farm in Wales. This investment in a renewable energy source has enabled The Body Shop, in effect, to put back some of the energy it takes out of the national electricity grid.

At the 1997 25th anniversary celebrations of the United Nations Environment Program, Anita Roddick, Founder and Chief Executive of The Body Shop, was recognized as one of 25 female leaders to have made outstanding contributions to the environment.

Ms Roddick recently visited Auckland, New Zealand, to share her vision of "Corporate Responsibility in the New Millennium" with entrepreneurs and business people. Share International correspondent Megan Jones asked Ms Roddick some questions during her visit:

Share International: You seem to be a firm believer in people taking a stand on what is important to them, recognizing that their opinions are valid and that they have a right to be heard. Do you feel that big business and national governments are listening more to public opinion?

Anita Roddick: I think we have shaped this whole new movement called 'vigilante consumerism'. Vigilante consumers are working with human rights groups, environmental groups -- the grassroots movement -- and are definitely challenging corporations. They are no longer challenging governments, because governments are inert and in the pockets of big business. The activists are taking action against the multinationals like Shell or British Petroleum, for example, and stopping Nike's use of sweat labour workshops in Indonesia. This movement is gaining momentum. But on the whole businesses do not listen to the consumer. Consumers have not been told effectively enough that they have huge power and that purchasing and shopping involve a moral choice.

SI: You obviously have a strong awareness of people power.

AR: Yes. I think we express that awareness by our shops being turned into "action stations". We have been creating a whole range of publications for developing the activist. All knowledge should be shaped into action and we have been proselytizing that for many years.

Excerpts from The Body Shop's Trading Charter:

We aim to ensure that human and civil rights, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are respected throughout our business activities. We will establish a framework based on this declaration to include criteria for workers' rights embracing a safe, healthy working environment, fair wages, no discrimination on the basis of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation, or physical coercion of any kind.

We will support long-term, sustainable relationships with communities in need. We will pay special attention to those minority groups, women and disadvantaged peoples who are socially and economically marginalized.

We will use environmentally sustainable resources wherever technically and economically viable. Our purchasing will be based on a system of screening and investigation of the ecological credentials of our finished products, ingredients, packaging and suppliers.

SI: How do you encourage consumer action?

AR: One way is by community activity and campaigns, using the shops to involve customers in a campaign, whether on human rights or animal issues, so that they actually put their time and money into the campaign.

SI: How are your employees involved?

AR: Individual employees are being encouraged to go out and help in the community. We have young employees whose work ethics involve active caring. Their work in the local community helps shape them as humanitarians, people who give back.

SI: Business is usually thought of as a very materialistic concern, but what you are doing is incorporating spiritual values such as respect, sharing and truth into the running of The Body Shop.

AR: It's about service, serving the weak and the frail, bringing the concepts of social justice into business. But actually putting them into practice is the key. They can't be just rhetoric any more.

From the April 1998 issue of Share International

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First published April 1999, Last modified: 15-Oct-2005