The Queen of Green: A Tribute to the Late, Great Dame Anita Roddick by Chynna Laird
To dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change.~ From the Body Shop Mission Statement
This is statement comes from the Mission Statement for the multi-million dollar Body Shop franchise founded by the late Dame Anita Roddick. The idea behind what the stores represent, as well as the woman behind the company, runs much deeper than delicious scented soaps. It’s provided a way to help communicate human and animal rights as well as important environmental issues.
Anita Roddick was born in the sleepy sea-side town of Littlehampton, England in 1942. Born of Italian immigrant parents, she was a self-proclaimed outsider and rebel who was always drawn to similar types of people. She had tremendous compassion for those who suffered or in need. In fact, when she was only 10-years old, she was “awakened to human outrage” when she read a book about the Holocaust. This is what most likely fueled her courage to speak out against human suffering later in her life.
She obtained her degree in Teaching (English and History) then traveled the world to learn more about life in other cultures. When she got back to England her mother introduced her to her future husband, Gordon Roddick. They were instantly attracted to one another and married in 1970 as she describes, “with one baby on my back and another in my belly.”
When her husband went “trekking across the Americas,” Anita decided to find a way to support herself and her two children while he was away. She’d had previous business experience under her belt from running both a restaurant and hotel with Gordon in Littlehampton. She was of the belief that running a business was about creating a product or service so good people would be willing to pay for it. Thus The Body Shop was born in 1976.
Dame Anita’s world travels proved valuable in her business. “I had spent time in farming and fishing communities with pre-industrial peoples,” she said. “and been exposed to body rituals of women from all over the world.” She also learned that being frugal is beneficial: “The frugality that my mother exercised during the war years made me question retail conventions.”
She wondered why retailers didn’t re-use containers or why they bought more than they could use. So in her shop, she reused, recycled and refilled where she could. The Body Shop’s environmental approaches were built around these ideals.
Dame Anita opened her shop when “going Green” was becoming big in England. Needless to say, her idea to open a shop just to earn a little extra cash exploded into one of the largest franchises out there. She opened a second shop six months after the first then got the idea to franchise. After 30 years, 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!
(A humorous side note is most people recognize The Body Shop stores for their green shelving and store colors. The idea wasn’t stemmed from the going Green mentality but more that it was the only color she found that covered the moldy walls of her first shop.)
But starting and opening Body Shop stores wasn’t Dame Anita’s only passions. She believed businesses had the power to do good and that many businesses out there weren’t embracing this power. And she had a lot to say about it.
In 1993, she helped the Ogoni people of Nigeria speak up for justice against Shell who’d ravaged their land in search of oil. She turned this into an international cause to be acknowledged and for the company to take responsibility for. In 1995, Ogoni’s key spokesperson, Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni, were executed by the Nigerian Government. Again, Dame Anita campaigned against this injustice and helped 19 other imprisoned Ogoni be released.
In 1997, Shell issued a revised operating charter committing the company to human rights and sustainable development as well as launching a “Profits and Principles” advertising campaign. Dame Anita seemed to have a part in Shell realizing their responsibilities as a corporate giant, especially when using other people’s land to achieve financial gain.
She joined other organizations, including Greenpeace, in another international campaign to bring the same enlightenment to Exxon-Mobil (Esso). These, of course, are only a few of the causes Dame Anita spoke up for. She felt that “campaigning and good business is also about putting forward solutions, not just opposing destructive practices or human rights abuses.”
Dame Anita was also a strong supporter of Community Trade and had 29 projects in 23 different countries involved in trading. “The deal with The Body Shop isn’t going to make the farmers financially rich,” Dame Anita said. “but it does enable them to maintain their chosen way of life and through co-operation achieve autonomy.”
She was proud of how her Body Shop enterprise grew beyond her and that it’s become “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.”
Dame Anita spent the later years of her life traveling the world in search of sources for new products. She found new and modern ways to express her passions: She published her autobiography, Business and Unusual, and edited, Take it Personally, a collection of provoking thought pieces to challenge the myths of globalization and the power of the WTO, in 2001. She also launched her own website (www.AnitaRoddick.com) in 2001 with an activism portal (www.TakeItPersonally.org) in 2004. The Blog on her site is still active and buzzing with people equally inspired to make a difference in the world.
In the last years of Dame Anita’s life her two greatest passions were the campaigns she undertook as part of Anita Roddick Publications. One focuses on sweatshop labour by multinational corporations and the other joins a group of human-rights activists to free the American political prisoners known as the Angola Three. (Full details are on her website, including how you can give your support.)
Sadly and suddenly, Dame Anita died of a massive brain haemorrhage on September 10, 2007. Her family stated that she’d been taken to hospital earlier that evening after she’d been complaining of a headache and collapsed. The irony is Dame Anita had been living with cirrhosis of the liver from Hepatitis C for thirty years and never knew until she did a blood test two years previously. (She contracted the disease from a blood transfusion she’d received after the birth of her daughter, Sam.) So, while she spent her whole life speaking out for others her own body was slowly deteriorating. Did it ever let it get her down? Never:
“What I can say is that having Hep C means that I live with a sharp sense of my own mortality, which in many ways makes life more vivid and immediate,” she told BBC news in July 2008. “It makes me even more determined to just get on with things.”
In 1988, at the age of 18, I got my first real job in a tiny Body Shop in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At first, the job meant nothing more to me than a way to pay my rent. But as I learned more about Dame Anita and where The Body Shop stemmed from, it became so much more to me than “just a job.” In fact, I found I began to speak out on causes close to her heart, such as animal rights, violence against women and other basic human rights. She was a true inspiration: To those who believe their voices are too small; to women who think they aren’t strong enough; to those who don’t think their opnions matter; and to anyone fortunate enough to work in one of her stores.
God bless you Dame Anita Roddick and rest in peace.
“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.” (From Anita Roddick’s website.)
Please visit Anita Roddick’s website (www.AnitaRoddick.com). Be inspired, make a donation, support a cause she loved or just get to know the woman behind the enterprise. Anita didn’t like people who were “armchair supporters.” She believed the only way to make a difference is through action!