Although the idea of social consciousness may now seem like a common consideration for businesses, when Anita Roddick opened her first The Body Shop store, squeezed between two funeral parlours in Brighton, UK, in 1976, she was decades ahead. This, as international director of campaigns and corporate responsibility Christopher Davis points out, was part of her ability to foresee what was coming next.
The now-famous founder has since been awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for her human rights work and a DBE (Dame Commander of the British Empire) for her environmental work. Anita also amassed at least 20 other high-profile honours, from 1996 Philanthropist of the Year in the UK to a United Nations Environment Programme mention. She passed away in 2007, aged 64.
“Stop Sex Trafficking was the last campaign we built with Anita,” says Christopher. “She was amazing at seeing what was coming on the public agenda – social or environmental – way before anyone was talking about it. She said, ‘We need to do something [about sex trafficking]; this is what’s happening.’ The day before she passed away, we worked on the campaign together. We changed 23 laws around the world and collected 260,000 signatures in Australia alone.”
It’s a legacy that has lasted for those who, like Christopher, are committed to the fundamental ideals pioneered by Anita and The Body Shop as an ethical beauty brand, championing products without animal testing and eschewing anti-ageing marketing (they do have skincare ranges with anti-ageing benefits, but say their intent is to promote a positive attitude to ageing rather than sell products loaded with false promises). Just this year, they announced a bold new CSR strategy plan with 14 new measurable targets to reach by 2020, from ensuring 100 per cent of natural ingredients are traceable and sustainably sourced to ensuring 70 per cent of total product packaging doesn’t contain fossil fuels and helping 40,000 economically vulnerable people get work.
Like Apple and other brands largely built on the cult of personality, The Body Shop has continued after the passing of its famous founder, with chairman and CEO Jeremy Schwartz now at the helm.
“It’s a privilege to lead a company founded by someone so original and energetic as Anita Roddick,” says Jeremy, who leads a global workforce of 22,000 employees. “Anita’s spirit of creativity and entrepreneurship is very important to me personally, and something I like to encourage. We can make anything happen if we want it enough and that’s how Anita worked too.”
Yet he recognises that while once The Body’s Shop’s campaigning was a point of difference, now there are companies eagerly ‘pinking’ (breast cancer branding), ‘greening’ (environmental branding) and ‘rainbowing’, as seen at the recent Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. He argues that corporate social responsibility is the new black.
“There’s a lot of corporate talk about, ‘We are the most ethical,’” he says. “There is an armament company selling a pink gun for breast cancer! It’s bizarre. We are transparent. Transparency is about telling who we are and being accountable.”
The wider mantra of The Body Shop is ‘Enrich Not Exploit’ and as the company celebrates its 40th birthday this year, it’s clearly the mother of the conscious beauty industry.
According to Business Wire, within the wider US$460 billion dollar cosmetic market, organic products are an industry trend that is a response to “growing concerns on the long-term effects due to usage of cosmetics.” The report also tipped a focus on packaging, which for The Body Shop is particularly relevant given their investment in the innovative eco-plastic AirCarbon, made out of recycled methane. Think of it as The Body Shop’s birthday present to itself, alongside the hemp cream. There’s more to come, with the company’s ‘biobridges’ – which build biodiversity to regenerate areas that are degenerated and have threatened species – to be launched in June this year.
“We decided, we could look at what the planet needs and construct our strategy that way. We are custodians of the business and we need to honour [Anita’s] achievements and build on them. If we had made another choice, she would have said, ‘You can do so much better,” Christopher explains. “We have a responsibility as The Body Shop to be trailblazers in sustainability. It’s our heritage. But that’s not enough. The planet is in such a state. There’s no point being incremental now. We have to gear a company to what the planet needs and to be profitable. That’s what Anita did that was so different. You can be full-profit, and be a force for good.”