From Dana's Guests

A Tribute to Anita Roddick

Anita Roddick

I remember reading her book Body and Soul and being transformed. I can’t remember what made more of an impression on me, the fact that she started The Body Shop in her kitchen while taking care of two babies, or the fact that she was so doggedly committed to fair trade and environmental issues.

Anita Roddick was an icon. She was a woman who was far ahead of her time and the legacy that she leaves behind speaks with clarity about who she was and the way that she lived her life, while inviting us all to re-examine ourselves.


A Famous Speech by Anita Roddick at the International Forum On Globalisation's Tech-In

Seattle, Washington - November 27, 1999

We are in Seattle arguing for a world trade system that puts basic human rights and the environment at its core. We have the most powerful corporations of the world ranged against us. They own the media that informs us - or fails to inform us. And they probably own the politicians too. It's enough to make anybody feel a little edgy.

So here's a question for the world trade negotiators. Who is the system you are lavishing so much attention on supposed to serve?

Anita Roddick, Body Shop Founder, Dies at 64

By Sarah Lyall, The New York Times
Published: September 12, 2007

LONDON, Sept. 11 — Anita Roddick, the crusading entrepreneur who used the Body Shop chain of cosmetics stores she founded to promote causes like ending animal testing and supporting the environment, died in Chichester, England, on Monday. She was 64. The cause was a brain hemorrhage, her family said.

A woman of fierce passions, boundless energy, unconventional idealism and sometimes diva-like temperament, Ms. Roddick was one of Britain’s most visible business executives, and not just because of the ubiquitous and instantly recognizable Body Shop franchises. Working on behalf of numerous causes — the rain forest, debt relief for developing countries, indigenous farmers in impoverished nations, whales, voting rights, anti-sexism and anti-ageism, to name a few — Ms. Roddick believed that businesses could be run ethically, with what she called “moral leadership,” and still turn a profit.

At times, her anti-establishment philosophy seemed to clash with her stature as a successful businesswoman. She joined the front lines of protesters at the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle in 1999, for instance.

“Anita did more than run a successful ethical business: she was a pioneer of the whole concept of ethical and green consumerism,” Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, wrote in The Evening Standard on Tuesday. “There are quite a few business people today who claim green credentials, but none came anywhere near Anita in terms of commitment and credibility.”

Anita Lucia Perilli was born in Littlehampton, England, in 1942, to Italian immigrants who ran a cafe and who put their four children to work there after school and on weekends. Her parents divorced when she was a child, and her mother married her husband’s cousin Henry, who died of tuberculosis several years later. When Anita was 18, her mother told her that Henry was, in fact, her father; she had been the product of a passionate extramarital affair.

Ms. Roddick said later that she had always felt closer to Henry than to the man she had thought was her father, and that the news made her feel “as if an enormous weight of guilt had been lifted from my shoulders.”

After her application to drama school was turned down, Ms. Roddick worked for a time as a secondary school teacher and then quit to travel to Tahiti, Australia and South Africa, among other places, where she absorbed customs and ideas she would later apply to the Body Shop.

“When you’ve lived for six months with a group that is rubbing their bodies with cocoa butter, and those bodies are magnificent, or if you wash your hair with mud, and it works, you go on to break all sorts of conventions, from personal ethics to body care,” she once said.

She married Gordon Roddick, a Scottish poet, in 1970, when she was pregnant with their second daughter. When her husband later announced that he wanted to fulfill his dream of traveling on horseback from Buenos Aires to New York (and that, by the way, it might take a couple of years), Ms. Roddick took out a modest loan and in 1976 opened the Body Shop, her first, in Brighton.

The shop sold just a handful of creams and hair-care products; its walls were painted green, to cover the damp spots. But it proved an unexpected success and the business began to grow, helped, too, by Mr. Roddick, when he came back from his trip. “He’s the doer, I’m the dreamer,” she once said. Within 15 years, Body Shop stores had blanketed Britain and moved beyond, eventually numbering more than 2,000 in about 50 countries.

Ms. Roddick, who rejected conventional marketing, was so recognizable with her wild hair, wild public pronouncements and unbusinesslike demeanor that she was probably her own best advertisement. She used her stores to spread her philosophy and promote causes, and urged franchise owners and customers to join in.

In 1990, she helped establish the magazine The Big Issue, produced and sold by homeless people. She also set up Children on the Edge, a charity for children in Europe and Asia, and said she planned to give away most of her fortune.

More recently, she had been campaigning to raise awareness of hepatitis C, which she contracted from a blood transfusion while giving birth to her younger daughter.

The Body Shop went public in the mid-1990s, and the company was sold to the French cosmetics giant L’Oréal for about $1.14 billion last year. Although the Roddicks had stepped down from managing the company in 2002, they remained on as nonexecutive directors and reportedly made about $237 million from their 18 percent stake.

The sale drew criticism from environmentalists who said that, among other things, L’Oréal had yet to ban animal testing. But Ms. Roddick said she hoped that the Body Shop would spur L’Oréal to behave more ethically.

In 2003, she was made a Dame of the British Empire. She is survived by her husband and their two daughters, Samantha and Justine.

Among the great contradictions in a woman whose life was full of them was her tendency to scoff at the kinds of products her company sold.

“I have never felt that beauty products are the body and blood of Jesus Christ,” she once said. “Nothing the Body Shop sells pretends to do anything other than it says. Moisturizers moisturize, fresheners freshen and cleansers cleanse. End of story.”

We can ask the same question of the gleaming towers of Wall Street or the City of London - and the powerful men and women who tinker with the money system which drives world trade. Who is this system for?

Let's look more closely. Every day, the gleaming towers of high finance oversees a global flow of two trillion dollars through their computer screens. And the terrifying thing is that only three per cent of that - that's, three hundredths - has anything to do with trade at all. Let alone free trade between equal communities.

It has everything to do with money. The great global myth being that the current world trade system is for anything but money.

The other 97 per cent of the two trillion is speculation. It is froth - but froth with terrifying power over people's lives. Reducing powerless communities access to basic human rights can make money, but not for them. But then the system isn't designed for them.

It isn't designed for you and me either. We all of us, rich and poor, have to live with the insecurity caused by an out of control global casino with a built-in bias towards instability. Because it is instability that makes money for the money-traders.

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest," said John F Kennedy, "- but the myth - persistent, persuasive and unrealistic." Asking questions can puncture these powerful myths.

I spend much of every year travelling around the world, talking to people in the front line of globalisation: women, community farmers, children. I know how unrealistic these myths are. Not just in developing countries but right under our noses.

Like the small farmers of the USA, 500 of which go out of business every week.

Half a century ago there were a million black farmers in the US. Now there are 1800. Globalisation means that the subsidies go to the big farms, while the small family farms - the heart of so many American communities - go to the wall.

Or the dark, cramped factories where people work for a pittance for 12 hour days without a day off. "The workers are not allowed to talk to each other and they didn't allow us to go to the bathroom," says one Asian worker in that garment factory. Not in Seoul. Not in Sao Paulo. But in San Francisco.

We have a world trading system that is blind to this kind of injustice. And as the powers of governments shrink this system is, in effect, our new unelected, uncontrollable world government. One that outlaws our attempts to make things better.

According to the WTO, we don't have the right to discriminate between tuna caught without killing dolphins and tuna caught by those who don't care, don't worry and don't try.

According to the WTO, we have no right to hoard patented seeds from one harvest to plant the following year.

According to the WTO, we have no right to discriminate against beef with growth hormones.

According to the WTO, the livelihoods of the small-scale banana farmers of the Windward Islands are worthless - now facing ruin as the WTO favours the big US exporters

The truth is that the WTO, and the group of unelected trade officials who run it, are now the world's highest court, with the right to overturn local laws and safety regulations wherever they say it 'interferes with trade'.

This is world government by default, but it is a blind government. It looks at the measurements of money, but it can't see anything else. It can recognise profits and losses, but it deliberately turns its face away from human rights, child labour or keeping the environment viable for future generations.

It is government without heart, and without heart you find the creativity of the human spirit starts to dwindle too.

Now there will be commentators and politicians by the truckload over the next week accusing us of wanting to turn the clock back. They will say we are parochial, inward-looking, xenophobic and dangerous.

But we must remind them what free trade really is. The truth is that 'free trade' was originally about the freedom of communities to trade equally with each other. It was never intended to be what it is today. A licence for the big, the powerful and the rich, to ride roughshod over the small, the weak and the poor.

And while we're about it, let's nail another myth.

Nobody could be more in favour of a global outlook than I am. Internationalism means that we can see into the dark corners of the world, and hold those companies to account when they are devastating forests or employing children as bonded labour. Globalisation is the complete opposite, its rules pit country against country and workers against workers in the blinkered pursuit of international competitiveness.

Internationalism means we can link together at local level across the world, and use our power as consumers. Working together, across all sectors, we can turn businesses from private greed to public good.

It means, even more important, that we can start understanding each other in a way that no generation has managed before.

Let's be clear about this. It's not trade we're against, it's exploitation and unchecked power.

I don't pretend for a moment that we're perfect at The Body Shop. Or that every one of our experiments work out - especially when it comes to building trading relationships that actually strengthen poor communities.

We are absolutely committed to increasing our trade with communities around the world, because this is the key - not just for our future, but the planet's. It means that they trade to strengthen their local economy for profit, but not because their very survival depends on it.

Community trade will make us not a multi-national, but a multi-local. I hope we can measure our success in terms of our ability to show just what's possible if a company genuinely opens a dialogue with communities.

Heaven knows, we're not there yet. But this is real life, and all any of us can do is to make sure we are going in the right direction, and never lose our determination to improve.

The trouble is that the current trading system undermines anybody who tries.

Businesses which forego profits to build communities, or keep production local rather than employing semi-slaves in distant sweatshops, risk losing business to cheaper competitors without such commitments, and being targeted for take-over by the slash-and-burn corporate raiders. Reinforced by the weight of the WTO.

It's difficult for all of us. But if we are going to change the world then nobody - not governments, not the media, not individuals - are going to get a free ride. And certainly not business, because business is now faster, more creative and far wealthier than governments ever were.

Business has to be a force for social change. It is not enough to avoid hideous evil - it must, we must, actively do good. If business stays parochial, without moral energy or codes of behaviour, claiming there are no such thing as values, then God help us all. If you think morality is a luxury business can't afford, try living in a world without it.

So what should we do at this critical moment in world history? First, we must make sure this week that we lay the foundations for humanising world trade.

We must learn from our experience of what really works for poor countries, poor communities around the world. The negotiators this week must listen to these communities and allow these countries full participation and contribution to trade negotiations.

The rules have got to change. We need a radical alternative that puts people before profit. And that brings us to my second prescription. We must start measuring our success differently.

If politicians, businesses and analysts only measure the bottom line - the growth in money - then it's not surprising the world is skewed.

It's not surprising that the WTO is half-blind, recognising slash-and-burn corporations but not the people they destroy.

It's not surprising that it values flipping hamburgers or making sweaters at 50 cents an hour as a valuable activity, but takes no account of those other jobs - the caring, educating and loving work that we all know needs doing if we're going to turn the world into a place we want to live.

Let's measure the success of places and corporations against how much they enhance human well-being. Body Shop was one of the first companies to submit itself to a social audit, and many others are now doing so.

Measuring what really matters can give us the revolution in kindness we so desperately need. That's the real bottom line.

And finally, we must remember we already have power as consumers and as organisations forming strategic and increasingly influential alliances for change. They can insist on open markets as much as they like, but if consumers won't buy, nothing on earth can make them. Just look at how European consumers have forced the biotech industry's back up against the wall.

We have to be political consumers, vigilante consumers. With the barrage of propaganda served up to us every day, we have to be. We must be wise enough so that - whatever they may decide at the trade talks - we know where to put our energy and our money. No matter what we're told or cajoled to do, we must work together to get the truth out in co-operation for the best, not competition for the cheapest.

By putting our money where our heart is, refusing to buy the products which exploit, by forming powerful strategic alliances, we will mould the world into a kinder more loving shape. And we will do so no matter what you decide this week.

Human progress is on our side.


Part One of Anita's personal and professional autobiography (Part Two was "Business as Unusual"), "Body and Soul" tells of Anita's wild youth as the child of Italian immigrants in a small English seaside town, her hippie adolescence and early adulthood, and the strange circumstances which brought her to start the tiny handmade cosmetics shop in Brighton which would become one of the most successful retail operations in the world. The book also details the foundations of The Body Shop's foray into corporate activism for fair trade, human rights, and against animal testing.

Click here to buy Anita Roddick's book, Body and Soul: Profits with Principles -- The Amazing Success Story of Anita Roddick & The Body Shop

Head back to the top.