On the walls of the headquarters of The Body Shop hang precious reminders of the five tenets that lie at the core of the company. Colourful and backlit, they’re impossible to miss. They read: protect our planet, support community fair trade, activate self esteem, against animal testing, defend human rights. Note: they’re actions. There’s no passivity in the command to defend, protect, support, activate and work against.
This is exactly as founder Anita Roddick would’ve wanted things to be. After founding The Body Shop in 1976 while living in Brighton, Anita threw herself into growing the company before taking it in a new direction. In 1986, Anita teamed up with Greenpeace to support a ‘Save the Whale’ campaign. From there, Anita used her business to defend, protect, support, activate and work against cruelty of any sort wherever she saw fit, including providing the first grant to the International Missing Persons Helpline and funding the Big Issue for the first three years of its publication.
My visit to the HQ in Littlehampton started on a rather odd note. I had decided to walk from the train station in order to dispel a little morning fatigue. On approaching the building, I was quite frankly baffled by what I saw. The building is a pagoda, complete with green tiling and multiple tiers. There seemed to be no explanation for this peculiarity – I knew that Anita had commissioned the building and that she’d therefore approved the design. During a site tour later in the day, all was to be clarified; the building was the result of Anita’s eccentricity: ‘I don’t want a boring building, design me something that resembles a Chinese restaurant!’ she had instructed the architect.
With this zaniness came Anita’s willingness to think outside the box. From a prototype of a wind turbine installed on the grounds to the company creche, The Body Shop has pioneered from the off, using their clout as a multinational corporation to bring about positive changes in other spheres. This is a continuing mission, which was summarised rather pithily by Ethical Compliance Officer Mary Teakle on the day: ”business is a force for good, not to exploit people.”
This rule informs many of the decisions made by the team at The Body Shop. They buy from China in order to promote fair treatment of workers (”if you’re not there, you can’t make a difference”), work with brazil nut oil in order to incentivise those who work in the rainforest to preserve, not destroy, it (10,000 hectares of rainforest are saved yearly as a result of this initiative) and make Fairtrade workers share holders in order to support burgeoning businesses where they’re most needed. On selling The Body Shop to L’Oreal, Anita addressed controversy over L’Oreal’s animal testing policy by using her ethical values to influence the cosmetics giant. L’Oreal no longer tests any of its ingredients or products on animals.
After an attempt to make my own foundation (mixing black, red and yellow paste to make a flesh colour was harder than I’d thought it’d be) and blending an exfoliant, I made my way back to the train station buzzing. While reading my notes on the commute back to London the reason for this became clear. I’ve always enjoyed using cosmetics immensely, but using them with the knowledge that such a huge company were doing their utmost to improve the lives of others really sweetened the pill.
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