Dame Anita Roddick
Founder of The
I was born in Littlehampton in 1942. As the child of an Italian immigrant couple in an English seaside town, I was a natural outsider, and I was drawn to other outsiders and rebels. James Dean was my schoolgirl idol. I also had a strong sense of moral outrage, which was awakened when I found a book about the Holocaust at the age of ten. I trained as a teacher but an educational opportunity on a kibbutz in Israel eventually turned into an extended working trip around the world. Soon after I got back to England, my mother introduced me to a young Scotsman named Gordon Roddick. Our bond was instant. Together we opened first a restaurant, and then a hotel in Littlehampton. We married in 1970, me with a baby on my back and another in my belly.
I started The Body Shop in 1976 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 30 years on The Body Shop is a multi local business with over 2.045 stores serving over 77 million customers in 51 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 recognisable by its green colour, the only colour that we could find to cover the damp, mouldy 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.
In 1993 I met a delegation of Ogoni people from Nigeria. They were seeking justice and reparations against the giant oil multinational Shell that was ravaging their lands through oil exploration and production. Working with other NGOs, we turned their campaign into an international cause celebre. Tragically, the Ogoni’s key spokesperson, Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni, were executed in 1995 by the Nigerian Government. But our campaign continued and eventually 19 other imprisoned Ogoni were released. In 1997, after 4 years of unrelenting pressure, Shell issued a revised operating charter committing the company to human rights and sustainable development. A year later, they launched their ‘Profits and Principles’ advertising campaign declaring their recognition of the interests of ‘ a much wider group of stakeholders in our business’. I like to think we had a hand in getting Shell to think about what it really means to be a corporate citizen.
In September 2001 I joined forces with The Body Shop and Greenpeace, and many thousands of other organisations and individual consumers in an international campaign against Exxon-Mobil (Esso), the world’s largest oil and gas company, and ‘No 1 Global Warming Villain’. This is the company that refuses to accept a direct link between the burning of fossil fuels and global warming, and that has turned its back on investing even a single penny on renewable alternatives, such as wind and solar.
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 moisturising 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 subsidised store, a credit union, and employs a Cuban agronomist specialising 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 29 such projects in 23 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.
The most exciting part of my life is now – I believe the older you get, the more radical you become. There’s a Dorothy Sayers quote I love, “A woman in advancing old age is unstoppable by any earthly force”. In November 1999, I flew to Seattle to speak out against the role of the World Trade Organisation and witnessed the ‘Battle of Seattle’. I’m fascinated by the publishing industry: in 2000 I published my autobiography Business and Unusual and in 2001 I edited Take it Personally, a collection of provoking thought pieces to challenge the myths of globalisation and the power of the WTO.
I launched my own website www.AnitaRoddick.com in 2001 and an activism portal www.TakeItPersonally.org in 2004. I am overwhelmed by the potential of the web to link like-minded people and move them to mass-action. We are excited to experiment in other media too — perhaps subversive billboards, or a television program, or other print projects. As someone once said, we are only limited by our imaginations.
Two of my greatest passions now are the campaigns we’ve undertaken as part of Anita Roddick Publications. One focuses on sweatshop labour by multinational corporations. We’ve joined forces with the National Labor Committee on this and helped foster creative resistance that has made some noticeable inroads. And we’ve joined with a group of human-rights activists to free the American political prisoners known as the Angola Three. These three men, who were black political activists in the 1970s, have served over 35 years in solitary confinement in Angola prison for crimes they did not commit. It is my intention to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to see that their story is told and they are set free.
With The Body Shop and Anita Roddick Publications, I will continue fighting for human rights and against economic initiatives and structures that abuse and ignore them. That’s a tall enough order to keep me busy for the next 30 years.
Worked in Library of International Herald Tribune,
Teacher of English and History, England
Worked in Women's Rights Dept. of International
Labor Organization (ILO), based at UN in Geneva
Owner and manager of restaurant and hotel in
Opened The Body Shop (Int. PLC) in Brighton,
Sussex, England in 1976.
1984 - present - The Body Shop International
1989 - present - The Body Shop Foundation
1994 - 2001 - Mother Jones Magazine - Foundation
for National Progress, USA
1996 - 1997 - Human Rights Watch, USA
1999 - present - The Ruckus Society, USA
2003 - present - Nuclear Age Peace Foundation,
1991 - present - Schumacher College for Human
1994 - present - Association for Creation Spirituality
1996 - present - Body and Soul (women &
families with HIV and AIDS)
1998 - present - EMMA (Ethnic Minority Media
2002 - present - Findhorn Foundation College
2002 - present - My Acre Of Africa, South Africa
Campaigns involved in with The Body Shop and
1985 - Stop the dumping of toxic waste in North
1986 - Campaign against whaling of sperm whales,
1987 - Acid Rain pollution, Friends of the
1987 - Published first 'Green' Diary, Friends
of the Earth
1980s - Against Animal Testing for cosmetics,
collected 4 million signatures through shops
1990 - The Body Shop Foundation set-up. Over
first 6 years of operation donated more than 3.5 million pounds
to 180 charitable groups
1990 - Set-up project to refurbish 3 Romanian
orphanages. Work extended into Albania and Bosnia
1991 - Funded Unrepresented Nations and Peoples
1993-98 - Ogoni Campaign against Shell and
1994 - Marked 50th anniversary of UN Declaration
of Human Rights, launched 'Make Your Mark' campaign with Dalai
Lama, in partnership with Amnesty International. 3 million thumbprints
collected in 34 countries. 17 prisoners of conscience released
1997 - Self-Esteem Campaign with its controversial
mascot, Ruby, exposes myth of the perfect body
2000 - The Body Shop Human Rights Award launched,
biennial award of $300,000 to selected grassroots groups fighting
for human rights globally
2001 - present - Challenging Exxon-Mobil, World's
No 1 Global Warming Villain and campaigning for renewable energy
for world's 2 billion poorest people, Greenpeace
2001 - present - Challenging Globalization/Free
Trade agenda of WTO, Trade Justice Coalition
2001 - present - Sweatshop Labor and workers'
rights in Free Trade Zones, National Labour Committee
2001 - present - Free the Angola Three
2001 - 2002 - Positive Energy Campaign with
2002 - The Body Shop Human Rights Award. This second award was on the issue of the right to housing.
2003- present - Help Stop Violence in the Home – Domestic Violence Campaign with Refuge (the UK’s largest single provider of accommodation and support to women and children experiencing domestic violence)
Campaign groups personally supported
University of Creation Spirituality
World Development Movement
People & Planet
Trade Justice Coalition
National Labor Committee
Body & Soul (HIV/AIDS)
Federation of Southern Co-Operatives (Poor
Black Farmers support group)
Free the Angola Three
Greenpeace, Challenging Exxon-Mobil, World's
No 1 Global Warming Villain and campaigning for renewable energy
for world's 2 billion poorest people, Greenpeace
Trade Justice Coalition, Challenging Globalisation/Free
Trade agenda of WTO
Amnesty International UK
Selected Awards Received
1984 - Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the
1988 - OBE - Order of the British Empire (Other
Buggers' Efforts, according to Sam, my daughter)
1991 - Center for World Development Education's
World Vision Award, USA
1993 - Banksia Foundation's Australia Environmental
1993 - Mexican Environmental Achiever Award
1993 - National Audubon Society Medal, USA
1994 - Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics,
1994 - University of Michigan's Annual Business
Leadership Award, USA
1995 - Women's Business Development Center's
First Annual Woman Power Award, USA
1996 - Women's Center's Leadership Award, USA
1996 - The Gleitsman Foundation's Award of
1997 - United Nations Environment Programme
(UNEP), Honouree, Eyes on the Environment
1999 - British Environment & Media Award
1999 - Chief Wiper-Away of Ogoni Tears, Movement
for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Nigeria
2001 - International Peace Prayer Day Organisation's
Woman of Peace
2003 - DBE (Dame Commander of the British Empire)