I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything from the Body Shop. In fact, I remember being turned off by the overpowering fog of fragrance that emanated from the first location of the store that I noticed.
But I recall being impressed by reports I’d hear over the years about the environmental and social consciousness of Body Shop founder Dame Anita Roddick, who died yesterday after suffering a brain hemorrhage, and how she sought to have the company reflect and embody her ideals. (Roddick championed rainforests, opposed animal testing, crusaded for the rights of indigenous peoples and initiated trade agreements with them ... the list goes on.)
The company has also seen its share of denouncements, with critics arguing that it has not lived up to its stated ethics (one such critic, Jon Entine, has published a number of articles on the subject).
Last year, the Body Shop’s sale to cosmetics powerhouse L’Oréal—which uses animal testing and one-quarter of which is owned by corporate persona non grata Nestlé—heralded a drop in popularity for the company and prompted boycott calls. Ethiscore gives the Body Shop a “very poor” rating of 4.5 out of 20, citing the retailer’s “profiteering from pollution” and its use of potentially harmful chemicals and ingredients tested on animals.
Still, reading Roddick’s obits today, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by her life and work. She was clearly a passionate woman who genuinely cared about the causes she publicized; she was blogging about one of those causes, the situation of the American prisoners known as the Angola Three, on her site as recently as five days ago.
Whether or not the Body Shop ultimately betrayed its ideals, Dame Anita Roddick was a pioneer who succeeded in getting the notion that businesses can be ethical as well as profitable on much of the world’s radar. She helped create the conditions and momentum for much of the fine work being done today in the realm of responsible consumerism. And for that, I am thankful.