Rebel with a cause

The Nation - Sunday, March 07, 2004

Nearly three decades since founding the Body Shop, Anita Roddick is still championing activist causes worldwide.
Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop and an avid campaigner for workers’ rights and environmental issues, loves to quote author Dorothy Sayers: “A woman in advancing old age is unstoppable by any earthly force.”

Indeed, the 62-year-old Roddick continues to push her fiery spirit to the fore.

Her cosmetics empire is thriving. The Body Shop now has 2,010 shops in 52 countries (32 outlets in Thailand).

But her retail chain wasn’t on her mind when she visited Bangkok and Chiang Mai last week.

She came to speak at an International Peace Foundation forum to promote the Kingdom as a centre for dialogue and international understanding.

Greed is one of the biggest problems in corporate culture, Roddick observed at the IPF’s “Bridges – Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace” meeting.

“I’m a renegade business leader, an activist for peace, trade justice and human rights,” she said.

“In the world’s financial centres, like New York and Bangkok, we see beggars on the streets and we don’t give a damn. The greatest catastrophe is poverty. But what we have is ‘spiritual poverty’.”

Roddick is involved in more social movements that she can count. They cover a vast range of concerns: politics, economics, the environment, science and culture.

In the corporate world, the bottom line too often overrides other values, she says, such as love, care, kindness and compassion.

The profit motive has resulted in child labour abuse, the operation of sweatshops and countless other problems, Roddick says.

She should know. Before founding the Body Shop in Brighton, England, in 1976, she worked as an activist in the Women’s Rights Department of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva.

There are many “questions that have never been raised in business,” she says, like “how do we bring fulfilment to the workplace or the community at large?”

Roddick says companies should begin with the workplace.

Most of the employees at one of her manufacturing plants don’t like bananas, but they have to peel tons of them to make banana extract.

Roddick came up with the idea of making the workplace more fun with bananas: Each morning, the staff rides banana-shaped vehicles to the factory like children on a merry-go-round.

 “Business has to be more humane,” she says. “Big business has a huge responsibility to use trade, not just to make money but also to have a positive influence in the world.”

Roddick is keen on “community trade”, making sure that profits flow back to the communities where the raw materials are produced.

Buying products from people in remote areas of Central America and Africa may make the Body Shop’s products more expensive, but Roddick say it’s important to provide people everywhere with jobs and ensure that they get an honest wage.

 “Glasgow, Scotland, was chosen for our soap factory because we knew the area had extremely high unemployment,” she says. “Choosing Glasgow made our soap 30 per-cent more expensive, but we provided jobs for 120 permanent staff and put 25 per-cent of the profits back into the community.”

Roddick doesn’t have a pat answer as to why she has such a passion for social concerns.

“It’s the whole experience that makes me who I am,” she quips.

But on her website, she notes that she has long been an outsider drawn to other outsiders, perhaps because she was the child of an Italian immigrants in an English seaside town.

Roddick also has a strong sense of moral outrage which was awakened when, as a child, she read a book about the Holocaust.

And, she says, the frugality her mother exercised during World War II turned her into an environmental activist who believes in refilling, reusing and recycling, one of the strongest messages of her Body Shop brand.

Although there are only a handful of women in world’s male-dominated corporate culture, Roddick doesn’t feel that women should be opposed of feel they are better than men.

“But I believe women can bring to the business world a sense of feeling and story telling.”

She suggests that people take their responsibilities seriously. Business owners and people working in marketing and advertising should strive to solve social problems. Consumers should think before going to local markets and buying products.

“I’ve never been one to go around telling people to buy another strawberry bubble bath. My thing has been: Don’t bloody buy it. Buy something that gives someone else some freedom or economic independence,” she says in an on-line interview at

Despite Roddick’s sentiments, some critics question whether people in remote areas have received fair compensation from The Body Shop.

“But her environmental campaigns of reusing, refilling and recycling are still a good example to follow,” says one shopper in Bangkok. “For a business to start doing something good is better than doing nothing at all.”

As a peace activist, it’s interesting to learn how Dame Anita keeps her inner peace. Surprisingly, it isn’t through meditation, yoga or spa retreats.

“As you get older, you’re more radical,” she says. “It’s my turbulence, my outrageousness that gives me peace - the fact that I know I have been on the right path.”

Aree Chaisatien The Nation ---------------------------------

Against violence The Body Shop on Friday launched its latest themed campaign “Stop Violence in the Home”.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the Body Shop (Thailand) has raised the issue of violence against women. This year’s focus is violence in the home.

Of 1,021 respondents to a Body Shop survey, half said they had seen or experienced violence from family members or lovers. And six in 10 reports to the Bangkok police in 2001 were related to violence in home.

The “Stop Violence in the Home” campaign wasn’t dictated by the mother company in England, says Weeramon Purapati, marketing manager Earth Care Co.

“Using the theme of helping society, it was the fruit of our in-house research on the real problems we have here in Thailand. This is coupled with the fact that most of our customers and employees are women. So we favour problems concerning women the most.”

General manager Somsri Sommativong denies the campaign was a tool to increase The Body Shop’s sales.

“Each campaign we have organised has not had any impact on the figures. It is more of educational tool; a service to society.”

All proceeds from the Bt100 membership fee to the campaign support activities like gender-education workshops for non-governmental organisations that are dedicated to women’s issues and women’s polices.

Information about stopping violence against women is available at the Body Shop outlets nationwide and from the website