The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick on why big businesses must clean up

The Body Shop founder slams big business for its lack of ethical trade

The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick was well-known for her passionate championing of community trade and social justice issues, and in this video for Startups, she reveals the true extent of this passion – naming and shaming organisations she feels are the worst culprits.

Roddick says she is “thrilled” that the internet is in place to educate her and others about the true extent of large organisations’ unfeeling attitude towards the poor and disadvantaged in developing countries. “I am so thrilled with all the bloggers,” she says. “It’s where I get my own information from.”

The socially-conscious entrepreneur says that these blogs and publications like The Ecologist play a vital role in “shaming and naming” the huge, multi-national organisations whose relentless PR machines churn out a “phony” façade of social awareness. “Nothing could be slicker than Shell, BP, Exxon Mobil, and all the phony foundations and think tanks that they have,” says Roddick. “What bugs me are the foundations that give less than 1% of their billions [to charity].”

However, Roddick sounds a more optimistic note by reminding us that people – and organisations – do change. She tells the audience of an Israeli saying – “the fish stinks at the head” – to illustrate that people can change by experiences, although it is “hard in a polished organisation”. Roddick explains that change must go deeper than a vacuous PR exercise – companies should engage in community trade initiatives simply because it is “the right thing to do”.

She cites the example of when Stuart Rose took the helm of Marks & Spencer and decided, against the prevailing economic sense at the time, to only sell fairtrade coffee. “He did more by brandishing that in his shops than any of us in the so-called fair trade movement could have done,” enthuses Roddick. “I am thankful when the big boys come in and play, because they get a public awareness, and a language, that few people understood.”

However, Roddick says she will “withhold” her sense of celebration, despite being at an age where “any approximate solution” is cause for optimism. She attributes this to one company in particular – US retail giant Walmart – which Roddick “can’t get my head around”. “They still deal in slave labour,” she asserts.

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