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Anita Roddick of the Bodyshop - biography and video interview about CSR

by | reviewed 17/07/2023
Dive deep into the life and legacy of Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, and her candid views on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Discover how she transformed beauty retail and challenged the norms of business ethics and watch her exclusive interview on the evolution and shortcomings of CSR.

Anita Roddick: The Rebel Behind The Body Shop

A pot of green-blue face mask changed the face of beauty retail forever. That face mask, and the ethos behind it, was the brainchild of the indomitable Anita Roddick. Born to immigrant parents in a bomb-damaged Littlehampton in 1942, Roddick was destined to challenge the status quo and reimagine the beauty industry.

Early Life

Anita's early years bore little resemblance to the glamorous world of beauty. Born Anita Lucia Perella, she was raised by Italian immigrant parents in a post-war Britain. The struggles of these years instilled in her an insatiable curiosity and a fierce drive.

Journey to Entrepreneurship

Anita's journey before becoming a beauty mogul was as colorful as a tub of her strawberry body polish. From teaching English in Israel to traveling the world with her beloved husband Gordon, Anita’s adventures exposed her to the indigenous beauty rituals that later inspired her products. But the creation of The Body Shop in 1976 was almost accidental. A way to make ends meet while Gordon trotted off on a 2-year horse trek from Buenos Aires to New York, she began mixing and selling her own beauty products in Brighton.

The Body Shop Phenomenon

What set The Body Shop apart wasn't just the naturally-inspired products, but the ethos behind them. Long before 'ethical consumerism' became a buzzword, Anita's stores touted cruelty-free products, championed fair trade, and launched campaigns on human rights, animal rights, and environmental protection. Her early slogans, like "We always have and always will stand up for animals," set the tone for a brand that was about far more than just cosmetics.

Battles and Controversies

As much as she was a beacon of ethical business, Anita's journey was not without challenges. Critics claimed The Body Shop's products weren't as natural as advertised, and the brand faced accusations of plagiarizing the design and concept of an American store. Anita addressed these issues head-on, admitting to mistakes but always defending her and her company's intent and principles.

Legacy and Later Years

Anita's zeal extended beyond beauty. She was a passionate advocate for many global causes, notably leading the charge against human trafficking. In 2006, her empire merged with L'Oréal in a deal that was met with raised eyebrows. Some saw it as a betrayal of The Body Shop's values since L'Oréal was not cruelty-free. But Anita viewed it as an opportunity to change the industry from within. Anita passed away in 2007, but her legacy continues. Today, The Body Shop stands as a testament to her vision, a global brand that puts ethics at its heart. Anita Roddick was more than a beauty mogul; she was a rebel, a visionary, and a relentless advocate for change. She transformed not only the way we buy beauty products but also how we think about the ethics behind them. In a world where profit often trumps principle, Anita Roddick's journey reminds us that business can be both successful and soulful.

Anita Roddick on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), I don't think it is working. It think its, its been taken over by the big management houses, marketing houses, been taken over by the big groups like KPMG, like Arthur Anderson. Its a huge money building operation now....Anita Roddick
A still of a video interview with Anita Roddick, founder of the Bodyshop. In the interview she shares her views on corporate social responsibility
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is huge in businesses today. What is it really about? Watch Anita Roddick of the Body Shop talk about the issues with Social Responsibility, what it means to her and the impact of bringing the 'corporate' into social responsibility.

Watch Anita Roddick of Body Shop talking about the problems with CSR

Watch on YouTube

Video transcript

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), I don't think it is working. It think its, its been taken over by the big management houses, marketing houses, been taken over by the big groups like KPMG, like Arthur Anderson. Its a huge money building operation now, and I think maybe, its the word corporate. When I was part of the architects of the responsibility in business movement, that was so different. That was an alternative to the international chamber of commerce. It was a trader's alliance, but it had progressive thinkers and progress academics, it had, it had, you know, ummm... people who were philanthropists. It worked alongside start up business that were really creative, like the Body Shop then, like Ben and Jerrys, that had a social purpose. No a lot of the thinking came out of the 60s. Came out from the anti-war movement, came out from the grass roots movement. So much of our thinking was influenced by the Scandinavian business practices. And so much of my thinking came out because I was learning about the Quakers who were extraordinarily good at running a business, but never lied, never cheated. You know, put more money back into their enterprises then they took out and had a social purpose. So the beginning - the architect for that new thinking which was really simple how do you make business kinder, how are you embedded in the community, how do you make community a social purpose for business.

Things happened, you know, I dont think we in that movement, we took our eyes of the ball. We didn't… we were getting to be umm… so in love with each others voice and each others networking that we didn't see what was going on. We didnt see the whole growth of the corporate globalization we didnt see the immense power that business was playing especially in the political arena, we didnt look at the language, the economic language which was about control, which was about, you know, everything had to be about the market economy. We were just flouing (sp?) around in our own thinking. And so what, we took our eyes of the ball and when we put it on the ball again we thought, you know, its been hijacked this social responsibility in business, and it became corporate social responsibility. And it was a huge money earner, for these big management companies like KPMG, Arthur Anderson, like Price Waterhouse Coopers all of those, they were making shed loads of money by doing a system of analysis, about how you measure your behaviour. But it was no good it was like this obsession for measurement, and it wasnt ever showing you how you could put these ideas into practice and they never told you a truth. A truth that nobody wants to discuss, if it gets in the way of profit, business arent going to do anything about it. So we still have rapacious government, ah, rapacious businesses, you still have businesses in bed governments. You still have governments inability to measure their greatness, by how they look after the weak and frail. You still have government whose only true measurement of success as economic measurement, and you still have businesses that can legitimately kill, can legitimately have, you know board room murder; can legitimately have a slave labour economy, so that all of us in the west, primarily in the west, or all of us who are wealthy, are guaranteed a standard of living to which we are used to. And then you have the complicity of the media, you know, who dumb us down consistently, by saying nothing is more important than entertainment, and celebrity, and by the way youve got to keep purchasing. So I think the Corporate Social Responsibility movement has to got to have a bit more courage, and I dont think anything will happen until we get the financial institutions to change.  And so that were not measured by this one standard, this unimaginative, financial bottom line, when we are measured by a bottom line. When we are measured by a financial bottom line, that does include human rights and social justice and workers justice and if we start listening to the real forerunners on the planet the environmental movement, the social justice movement to help shape our thinking, then something will change. But for me corporate social responsibility in my life, for what its, I think its shi(t?), I dont think its worked and thats a shame, because its controlled the language and its hijacked the language.

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