I interviewed the late Anita Roddick, then the lived-in
face of the Body Shop (and subsequently a dame), for
Third Way on the 5th January 1996.
been allegations that her business practice fell a little
short of her rhetoric, and the word was that they
were true. Whether I managed to convey any such doubts
I don't know, but I was a bit disconcerted when she
subsequently had the interview reprinted and circulated to all the Body Shop’s
How do you account for the phenomenal success of
the Body Shop? Can anyone do it, or did you identify
and exploit a unique market?
Thats a great term for somebody whos been to
business school. I never have. We didnt even know about
the word market, couldnt even spell it.
The original Body Shop was a series of brilliant accidents.
It had a great smell, it had a funky name. It was positioned
between two funeral parlours that always caused controversy.
It was incredibly sensuous. It was 1976, the year of the heatwave,
so there was a lot of flesh around. We knew about storytelling
then, so all the products had stories. We recycled everything,
not because we were environmentally friendly but because we
didnt have enough bottles.
It was a good idea. What was unique about it, with no intent
at all, no marketing nous, was that it translated across cultures,
across geographical barriers and social structures. It wasnt
a sophisticated plan, it just happened like that.
But do you think that anybody who put your business values
into practice, in whatever market, could see the same kind
I think that most people who found companies are a different
breed: theyre outsiders. Entrepreneurs have often had
a diminished childhood: they often have been forced into adulthood
by the loss of a parent or whatever. They have absolutely
no interest in money, none whatsoever. Its just the
cheekiness of an idea, and the extension of your personality.
The company that you found yourself has your thumbprint on
it: its an extension of yourself. And you have to shape
it the way you want. Maybe that is part of it. Its my
life, an alter ego.
Even people who admire your values are surprised that you
chose to apply them to the cosmetics industry. If you want
to change the world, why start with something essentially
What would be the right thing to have applied them to? Armaments?
The petrochemical industry? The drug industry? You know, these
are the multinationals that control the world. I think you
start where people have a sense of their own worth.
Cosmetics isnt about changing an identity, its
about celebrating who you are. Every tribe that Ive
visited has a ritual of the body, whether its a ritual
of cleaning or covering or whatever. The ritualising of your
body isnt part of Western culture.
I think the criticism comes from a very paternalistic male
viewpoint. This industry that Im in forget the
fact that its now very much controlled by men at its simplest level is about gardening, about preparing
the body, about storytelling.
This is a totally useless industry if you talk about the
products as if they were the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Theyre not. If you look at what the industry does to
denigrate women, where womens flesh is seen as gross,
where the bodies of people my age are not seen as either sexual
or sensuous because were supposed to be beyond childbearing,
then bloody right its a frivolous industry. No, its
a dangerous industry, because it cultivates no self-worth
and no joy. But if its about caring and using the body
as play, its wonderful.
The conventional cosmetics industry promotes as beauty
a kind of spurious glamour, and promotes as health a kind
of illusory youth. How do you define true beauty and health?
I dont think they ever promote health. The transnational
corporations promote a very Caucasian, very young view of
perfection. There is no celebration of cultural diversity,
only the Western notion.
Its only in the last two centuries that weve
defined beauty as the appearance. To my mind, it is a dimension
of action, of vivaciousness, of courage. Its about energy,
its about compassion, its about all the things
that women should be celebrated for. Its not passive,
not a combination of high cheekbones and full lips. The notion
that beauty is only a physical combination of features is
If its vivaciousness and energy, whats that
got to do with skin care? You can be vivacious and energetic
and have skin like a rhinoceros.
Thats why I never define beauty, and you dont
see photographic images of flawless people in the Body Shop.
We dont sell the product as sex and glamour. Were
so puritan in how we describe things, we only say the products
will cleanse, polish or protect the skin or hair, end of story.
I think it makes for a very shallow society if all we do
is look at what the fashion industry or the beauty industry
shape as a model of beauty, and these are the products
to make you look like that, rather than celebrating
what women have done.
Theres such a poverty of praise in our society, towards
women anyway. Women arent taught how remarkable they
are. We have so much denigration of women. Go back to the
Inquisition: three million women burnt at the stake because
they were herbalists, or midwives or something like that.
Its a cultural history which the cosmetic industry is
doing nothing to change.
People seem to be rejecting their bodies increasingly,
only now not because they are gross and carnal
but because they are not as perfect as machines. The papers
are full of cyber sex, and men are catching up with women
on both cosmetic surgery and anorexia. Do you think we are
becoming an anti-body culture?
I think we are, definitely. Historically, the notion of beauty
has been one of discord: things that dont always look
the same are astonishing. A sunset that isnt the same
as every other sunset takes your breath away. But the notion
of discord, of imbalance, in the body, is now seen as eccentric.
We are assaulted by 30,000 ads a day, women more than men.
Every newspaper, every magazine, every billboard, when its
geared towards women, its about control. If you can
control the shape of women, you can control their thinking
as well. On every level, the cosmetic industry is about perfection
but the subliminal message is, We can control
what you look like. Every nose job, every facelift looks
the same: theres almost this need for homogeneity. It
is so anti-life, anti-celebration.
Its not only anti-body. We are such a cynical society,
controlled by the media, and the media want to sell whatever
there is to sell. Its not about honest information,
its about creating fashions and needs now. And
we are a society assailed by fears: a fear of sex, because
of Aids: a fear of intimacy, because thats seen as too
sexual: a fear of communication.
And yet whenever you try and stop that communication, people
will find their way through it hence the internet.
Thats got to be one of the most bizarre phenomena of
our time, the search for that community.
In [your book] Body and Soul, you wrote, By the year 2000,
any company that does not operate like the Body Shop will
have a hard time operating at all. Do you still think
I dont think by the year 2000 we will be seen as as
marginalised as we were. Five years ago, when I went to Harvard
to talk about social responsiveness and social responsibility,
the notion of business as a community, the notion of spirituality
in the workplace, I was like an alien. Now, I get invited
to talk on those subjects.
What I didnt know when I wrote the book was the power
of the transnational corporations. By the end of the century,
there could be less than 50 controlling 90 per cent of the
worlds trade. I had no idea. And thats where I
dont think what I said five years ago will necessarily
be accurate, unless there is a revolution where consumers
are more vigilante, more demanding to know about the practices
of these large, faceless organisations. Otherwise, I think
the large corporations are just going to have their way and
will in fact control the world, because economics at this
stage overrides everything.
But, also, no company seems to have a moral agenda. The bigger
the company the more it divorces itself from the sort of redress
of grievances that you would get from me if I injured you.
Theres still no compensation for the thousands of victims
of Union Carbide in Bhopal. There is no compensation for the
Ogoni in Nigeria. And it all seems to be acceptable: the Sunday
Times says Shell is the best company for realising its
shareholders profits as if that is the most important
Are you saying you are now pessimistic?
I believe that the revolution of changing the nature of business
is going to be mainstream. I think its going to be in
the establishment way of thinking, in the business schools.
But I do believe the transnational corporations are surviving
in spite of this, and so I think I am pessimistic.
In 1993, you told the Congress of the International Chamber
of Commerce that business must not only avoid hideous
evil, it must actively do good. But why should it? Surely,
transnationals dominate the world because they are successful?
But theres a public consciousness rising. Shopping
is now a moral choice. People are not buying Nike because
they know Nike shoes are made in Thailand by young kids in
sweatshops. Unfortunately, the media dont deal with
that information, because that means assaulting their major
advertisers. So, you need the alternative magazines the New Statesman, the Multinational Monitor,
whatever. Thats where I think some real information
is coming through.
But I think change in peoples perceptions isnt
instant, its gradual. In this country, a lot of business
leaders are very establishment-thinking, very patriarchal.
They dont talk about feelings, they dont see the
necessity of social responsiveness. Now, how does that change?
By companies showing that you can still be profitable and
have a workforce that is celebrative, happy, doesnt
want to leave you. And you have more fun. Look at the Fortune
500. Who in the hell would ever want to follow any of those?
How do you instil public spirit into private enterprise?
You hire employees, but people come instead, and they come
with their own aspirations and they do not want to leave their
values at the workplace door. They want to be able to work
within their own beliefs, within a community of the workplace.
So, the politics of consciousness has very strongly been part
of the way we do business, bringing in radical ideas in terms
of how far a business can go when it acts like a non-profit
organisation and campaigns for human rights unheard
of in business.
But your workforce may be public-spirited, but it is self-selecting,
I would think so. The majority of people here are under 30.
A lot of them are female, whose ethics are about care.
But most politicians and businesspeople seem to regard
the average person as self-centred. Arent they?
They may be, but whats offered to them? Wheres
the inspiration in education? Ive had a look at the
business curriculum and its useless. Theres nothing
about human relationships; nothing about the development of
the human spirit which is what the best business leaders
should be doing, and are doing. Theres nothing about
community, nothing about creativity in the workplace.
Its not just finance and strategy. When a head franchisee
has a nervous breakdown, we know how to deal with it. You
cant go to business school for that, you deal with it
on a human level.
We have a whole Values and Vision Department here 40 people whose jobs are public affairs, human rights and
At the ICC, you advocated a corporate code of conduct.
How would that work? Surely, the people who cheat are always
going to do better?
But its happening, but in a very untraditional way.
Who would have thought, five years ago, that there would be
public outrage about the Brent Spar, or about the Ogoni?
I dont think any other established company has ever
challenged another company in the history of business (outside
of the ice-cream wars or whatever) as the Body Shop did Shell.
Its almost an unwritten law There but for
the grace of God
My company has broken the rules.
Hopefully, somebody else will. When you deplete the worlds
resources as large transnational corporations do, without
replenishing, without sustainability, theres going to
be a crisis.
Another thing: I dont think customers yet know the
power that they have within their pocket. I think there is
a new movement coming, a frugality movement. People are not
as wealthy as they were; they are more careful about their
money, and they dont want to spend it on crap. Theyre
looking for the story behind the product. This is all seriously
new stuff, and its usually a decade before it comes
into public consciousness.
Given that other high-street retailers now sell herbal
shampoos which are minimally packaged and not tested on animals,
and are cheaper, why should a conscientious consumer still
buy at the Body Shop?
I think its why not? I mean, if I was a conscientious
consumer I would be thrilled that the money that we have is
spent on issues like human rights, changing the nature of
international trade, celebration of women, working with setting
up initiatives like The Big Issue, supporting groups
like the Missing Persons Helpline. I would be thrilled
to know that a company isnt just quoting not tested
on animals but is actually changing the law on this
almost single-handed. I would be thrilled that the employees
spend sabbatical time working in Romanian orphanages or Albanian
mental institutions. Thats why.
Some hard-headed people might say, OK, buy your deodorant
at Superdrug because its cheaper and give the difference
directly to Survival International.
As long as they do that, fine. But I also think theres
something fantastic about the creation of livelihoods that
weve done with the franchise system. I dont know,
people have the choice.
Why should they want to buy from us? I think its because
were counterculture: we dont do things the normal
way, we have a huge sense of thoughtfulness about how we manufacture,
and why. Im astounded that any products ever get on
our shelves with the amount of tests we do. We should be putting
up a flag every time we get a product out, the quality of
our social agenda, how we manufacture and how we source, is
How do you draw the line between using your business to
promote ethical concerns and using ethical concerns to promote
Well, Id rather promote bloody human rights than a
bubble bath. Maybe I shouldnt be running this company.
For example, with regard to the Ogoni, the cynics might
say, The Body Shop is jumping on the bandwagon because
its good for the Body Shop.
Well, cynics I cant deal with, because they create
a web of assumption, then they fucking do nothing. We dont
jump on bandwagons. My travel is like a university without
walls: I go and live with indigenous groups and I come back
with issues that I think we can help them with.
We are eminently brilliant at publicising issues we
have thousands of shops around the world, we can leverage
millions of people. When we worked with Amnesty, for example,
we leveraged so many letters about the 30 prisoners of conscience
we were allocated that 17 were released. Thats brilliant!
Does it ever create a sale? The unfortunate thing is, it
doesnt. When people come in to sign a petition, they
dont then say, Oh, by the way, I want a moisture
cream. Peoples time is so limited. That is why
companies dont do it they do more chequebook
charity. Bringing activism within the store confuses many
The positive side is that the sense of pride the employees
have when they do this sort of work, when they go and stand
up for the Ogoni outside Shell, is equal to anything in the
world. So, the Body Shop brand is activism, as its been
for 20 years.
You like to quote Wendell Berry: The health of a
community depends absolutely on trust. How do you create
I think its about openness, its about transparency.
Its about doing the social audit that weve just
done for the first time.
I dont think any other companys done it in the
way that weve done it. We had 5,000 stakeholders, from
our suppliers to our staff to our employees to our shareholders
to the community in which were working to people whove
received money from our foundation, all telling us what they
think of us. Its more than a staff survey its
an assessment of our ethical behaviour.
Do you think the wider community trusts you?
They trust that the products are safe and are made with care.
They trust the environmental audit and the social audit that we make sure that we clean up our own mess. (We have
our own windfarm, to put the energy we use back into the National
They trust us to campaign, to continue to get the law changed
on animal testing. They trust us not to overhype the products.
They trust us not to sell the products through fear. They
trust us to work in the community and give back to
the community in terms of honesty.
You say that the Body Shop is about total honesty.
Isnt that a hostage to fortune?
But we say were striving to be the most honest.
Of course youre going to get a flurry from the press
saying, Five per cent of your suppliers think youre
corrupt or whatever.
Are you surprised by the number of hostile voices?
No, I am not surprised at all. If you wear a bullseye on
your back saying Im doing things in a different
way, youre going to get shot at. Were too
interesting a company not to take pot shots at.
You have said, The new corporate responsibility is
as simple as just saying no to dealing with torturers
and despots. Now, no one can say, Were not
going to trade with any country that Amnesty has a case against,
because youd end up not trading with anyone. How does
this work out in practice?
Well, first of all, you dont trade with governments,
you trade with people, right? You cant talk openly about
human-rights violations in Kuwait, and so thats why
you dont go in. But our franchisees in the Middle East
are interested in how they treat their employees, so its
never black and white: there are things you can do. Theres
this way of changing from within, this lovely notion of a
Are you happy to be trading with China?
No, Im not. I dont want the Body Shop to be in
China at the moment, because I dont feel that you can
change anything there, and the Body Shop is not just about
selling skin and hair care, its about campaigning. Were
doing very little trading in China now, but every project
that we have there our Fair Trade Department has audited.
Your slogan Extinct is forever is terribly
effective. What is it, do you think, that gives it its impact?
I think its the shock value. Our Christian belief has
made us feel that were in control of everything, and
I think thats a very dangerous belief. When we destroy
other species willy-nilly and we have no notion of what that
is doing to us, I think its the work of the bloody Devil.
We have no notion of reverence.
Why should you have any reverence?
Why should you not?
Some people might say, These things are just things
come to that, were just things as well.
But were not. Were part of this planet
which is not infinite. And I think this lack of respect and
care is so much part of the culture of need and I want
it now and it is always something
that is beyond yourself and your own spirit. Its this
or this or this that will make me happy. A change has to happen.
Do you believe in a Creator?
I believe in creation. I believe in a sort of cosmological
energy. I believe in the Spirit maybe its the
Spirit of creation. I believe in the notion of respect. Im
I dont know how to define God, and maybe I dont
want to define it, because its not the god of control.
But when you look at that amazing photograph of that new star
being created, you cannot but think that there is some force
or energy somewhere.
What the Christian religion doesnt do for me is give
me a sense of awe and wonderment. When I spend time with tribal
groups, I am in tune with a part of my nature that has taught
me about awe and reverence and wonderment at the fact of being
alive. Thats a celebration I dont get from the
ritual in the Catholic Church, which was how I was brought
How do you form your spiritual ideas?
It doesnt come to me by reading any book, like the
Catechism or the Bible. Its experience as a human being,
as who I am, the experience of the planet.
Its also about interaction. Ive just had my first
grandchild and the notion of birth is still a miracle. The
notion of love, people finding each other, is not a miracle
but it is a joy. The notion of thanks, you know, is a joy.
Just the notion of bloody being alive.
You talk a lot about doing good. Why should people do good?
Why should they not do good? is a better question.
I mean, whats the alternative? Doing bad, or doing nothing
(but doing nothing often is doing bad).
I enjoy myself doing good. Why should they do good? Because
it makes them, I think, feel healthier, feel better. I think
its all about themselves; its not about what you
do, its about how good you can feel yourself. Humans
are communicative animals. When you do good in a community,
the benefits get back to you. I cant believe that anybody
would want to do the opposite.
© Third Way 1996
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