Friday, June 17, 2005

A message from Dame Anita Roddick, The Body Shop Founder

At 9 o'clock on Saturday, 27 March 1976, the first The Body Shop opened its doors for business at 22 Kensington Gardens, Brighton. I started The Body Shop simply to create a livelihood for myself and my two daughters while my husband, Gordon, was trekking across the Americas. I had no training or experience and my only business acumen was Gordon's advice to take sales of £300 a week. Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that's exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking. Running that first shop taught me business is not financial science, it's about trading: buying and selling. It's about creating a product or service so good that people will pay for it. Now 28 years on The Body Shop is a multi-local business with over 1,980 stores serving over 77 million customers in 50 different markets in 25 different languages and across 12 time zones. And I haven't a clue how we got here!

It wasn't only economic necessity that inspired the birth of The Body Shop. My early travels had given me a wealth of experience. I had spent time in farming and fishing communities with pre-industrial peoples, and been exposed to body rituals of women from all over the world. Also the frugality that my mother exercised during the war years made me question retail conventions. Why waste a container when you can refill it? And why buy more of something than you can use? We behaved as she did in the Second World War, we reused everything, we refilled everything and we recycled all we could. The foundation of The Body Shop's environmental activism was born out of ideas like these.

I am aware that success is more than a good idea. It is timing too. The Body Shop arrived just as Europe was going 'green'. The Body Shop has always been recognizable by its green color, the only color that we could find to cover the damp, moldy walls of my first shop. I opened a second shop within six months, by which time Gordon was back in England. He came up with the idea for 'self-financing' more new stores, which sparked the growth of the franchise network through which The Body Shop spread across the world. The company went public in 1984. Since then, I have been given a whole host of awards, some I understand, some I don't, and a couple I think I deserve.

Businesses have the power to do good. That's why The Body Shop's Mission Statement opens with the overriding commitment, ‘To dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change.' We use our stores and our products to help communicate human rights and environmental issues.

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For me, campaigning and good business is also about putting forward solutions, not just opposing destructive practices or human rights abuses. One key area where my business and personal interests naturally combine is through The Body Shop Community Trade initiatives. It all started in 1989 when I attended the gathering at Altamira of Amazonian Indian tribes protesting against a hydro-electric project which would have flooded thousands of acres of rainforest, submerging native lands. There had to be something practical I could do to help these people preserve their environment and culture. Nuts? Specifically Brazil nuts, which the Indians gathered sustainably from the forest and which when crushed produce a brilliant oil for moisturizing and conditioning. This first trading relationship with forest people, unused to any real commercial activity, was fraught with pitfalls and dangers. But 13 years on we're still trading with them and have even set up a Green Pharmacy project producing remedies based on traditional knowledge of forest plants – reducing dependency on inappropriate and expensive modern pharmaceuticals.

Every year I travel to a number of our projects. In November 1999 I visited our long-term partners Teddy Exports in southern India and GPI in Nepal and our new partners, the Chepang indigenous people who grow herbs for our Ayurvedic range. In January 2001 I visited the 130 sesame seed oil farmers in Nicaragua who receive a fair and stable price for their seed. As a result the farmers have built up a sustainable business that as well as offering marketing clout, runs a subsidized store, a credit union, and employs a Cuban agronomist specializing in organic methods. The deal with The Body Shop isn't going to make the farmers financially rich, but it does enable them to maintain their chosen way of life and through co-operation achieve autonomy. I'm immensely proud of our efforts to make fair or community trade relationships more mainstream. The Body Shop now has 42 such projects in 26 countries and we aim to develop more.

The Body Shop and I have always been closely identified in the public mind. Today, it is impossible to separate the company values from the issues that I care passionately about – social responsibility, respect for human rights, the environment and animal protection, and an absolute belief in Community Trade. But The Body Shop is not, and nor was ever, a one-woman-show – it's a global operation with thousands of people working towards common goals and sharing common values. That's what has given it a campaigning and commercial strength and continues to set it apart from mainstream business.

Though I no longer sit on executive committees, I still spend time on The Body Shop business. I source new products during travels abroad, work as part of the creative team and spearhead campaigns. And I constantly question myself: How can I bring values into an industry that is certainly not values-laden? The only way I can do it is to perhaps bring back an idea for a trading initiative with an economically impoverished community in Mexico or Africa, or find inspiration for a new company commitment, just as my 1990 trip to Romania spurred the Romanian Relief Drive (now called Children on the Edge) and a visit to Glasgow led to our partnerships with Soapworks, a local factory that produces our soaps. I also hold great hopes for The New Academy of Business, a masters degree course at Bath University, which I helped to launch in 1997 with the aim of reforming business education for the new century.

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