E-mail: email@example.com © Jon Entine July 1996, July 2003
A SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL AUDIT OF THE BODY SHOP:
Anita Roddick and the Question of Character
The Body Shop has been perceived in some circles as a model of corporate social responsibility. Yet, for years its claims were never seriously scrutinized. It had prospered in large measure because of its reputation that it operates at a higher ethical level than other companies. Founder Anita Roddick used to have a sign posted in her office claiming that The Body Shop was ‘the most honest cosmetic company’ in the world. The Body Shop’s only real product is honesty, as it sells commodity beauty products. But what is its standard of integrity?
Entrepreneurial companies are a reflection of their leadership. This study highlights the tension between Body Shop’s charismatic, quixotic leaders and its stakeholders who are hungry for organizational integrity. Originally prepared because of many legal threats by various Body Shop lawyers (I was never sued, though I was the focus of a vicious public relations attack costing Body Shop hundreds of thousand of dollars coordinated by Hill & Knowlton, of tobacco lobbyist fame), focuses on Roddick’s character and the company’s culture.
Sources include more than 150 current and former employees and franchisees, associates of the Roddicks, environmental groups, scientists, trade organizations, and government investigators (more than 50 on tape). A very partial list of inside sources:
– Two Former CFOs
– Former General Counsel
– Three Former Directors of Communications
– Four Former Quality Control Managers
– Former Director of Environmental Affairs, US
– Former Director of Social Inventions, UK
– The Body Shop PR Director, 1978 – 1986
– Chief Cosmetic Scientist, 1976 – 1987
– Roddick’s best friend a first franchisee from the ‘70s
– Current and Former Franchisees in the US, UK, France, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Canada
THE RODDICKS ON THE BODY SHOP
“Why are we different: we respect the environment. We are against animal testing for cosmetics. We are committed to establishing non – exploitative trading relationships with indigenous people. We campaign for human rights. Our business is something that people – employees, customers, suppliers, franchisees – can feel great about, but only on one condition: The Body Shop must never let itself become anything other than a human enterprise.”
– Anita Roddick
“Quite simply put, we walk our talk.”
– Gordon Roddick, “1993 Annual Report”
“[BSI} is about total honesty…the precious First Amendment, the right to publicly debate the performance of any publicly held corporation, and the obligation that we who would measure social costs and benefits have to continue that process, holding ourselves accountable to the standards we set for ourselves.”
– Anita Roddick, 1994
“The Body Shop’s goals and values are as important as our products and profits. The Body Shop has soul. Don’t lose it.”
– Anita Roddick, “The Body Shop Charter”
SOURCES ON THE BODY SHOP
“Why did I leave The Body Shop and why am I talking to you? Let’s just say I can’t believe in a company that doesn’t ‘walk its talk.’”
– Former The Body Shop US President
“The company stinks to high heaven. I hope people will speak up and with attribution. I am, quite frankly, afraid of them. I felt like I was dealing with the Gambino family.”
– The Body Shop franchisee
“It’s a lot worse when you find out the robber who’s been stealing from you is the local cop.”
– Former Systems Manager
“I have two kids and I won’t let them use the products. I’ve seen their internal tests. They use the cheapest ingredients with so many chemicals that it irritates your skin. I feel so good about finally being able to tell somebody on the outside what’s really going on.”
– Former Manager
“It was like swimming with the sharks. They treat their own staff horribly. And they’re not truthful about what they say. They irradiate some of their products. They buy the cheapest ingredients and containers. Many of their products are from animals. They seem to have no hesitation about buying from repressive countries like China.”
– Former Manager
“I got a very aggressive letter from Gordon when they heard we were going with the story of how they stole the idea of The Body Shop from a store in San Francisco. It’s a gangsterish operation beneath its kindly exterior. This woman has lost touch with reality. She’s a clever PR operator who has held the press at bay. She doesn’t play by other people’s standards. She has steamrolled other constraints.”
– Former Editor, International Management magazine, England
“I don’t usually use this kind of language but there’s no other way to say it: they fuck over their franchisees. Fewer than a third are making any money at all and most of them are barely making it. The only way to save the company is to get rid of Anita. She’s a lunatic. And I’m one of the few who likes her.”
– Former US Franchisee
“I took the job because I believed in what I thought was The Body Shop philosophy. I’m so numb now it’s beyond being sad or angry. We regularly flush non – biodegradable chemicals down the drain. We don’t properly dilute caustic detergents. We still don’t properly recycle our plastics. We are told to skip bacteria – testing on our cosmetics, which is illegal. Plus we are always cutting corners to save money. We don’t do long term stability tests on some of our products and they’ve gone rancid. But we don’t pull them from the stores. And don’t let anyone tell you the UK doesn’t know. We don’t do anything without clearance from England.”
– Recently Departed Quality Control Manager
“The franchisees are just innocent, idealistic women, suckered into believing they can make money while the company has one hand in their pocket. The Body Shop is not a typical franchiser. The franchise owner assumes all the risk. And the franchisees were provided deceptive financial projections. If I were a typical franchisee, I’d sue for fraud.”
– Former CFO
“The Body Shop appears to combine many of the worst aspects of franchise fraud. It definitely sells an image of the company far different than reality. That’s deceptive and maybe fraudulent. I’ve talked with franchisees from the US and Europe and it seems they were given misleading financial data. I referred this to the FTC because I think they’d have a terrific case. We’re going to cite it in briefings on franchise fraud.”
– Economist, House Committee on Small Business
“It’s a sweat shop. It’s a cruel organization, a mean – spirited company. Benefits are average, at best. Pay is 75% of what other cosmetic companies offer and here we work 60 – 80 hours a week. Workers are fired on Anita’s whims and get no severance. They have no daycare facilities. There’s not one minority franchisee. There are dozens of top managers in the United States and UK but only one is a female. It used to make all of us sick seeing the simpering in the media.”
– Former Manager
“They are an absolutely evil company. The Body Shop is a wonderfully orchestrated scheme. Commitment to the environment? That’s a laugh. In Paris, they used to pick up plastic bottles and dump them in landfills.”
– Former European Franchisee
“The Body Shop talks about “family” and “openness” and how “employees come first.” The reality is they treat people like dirt. They treat people like crap. I’ve never seen a place with worse morale. I was on the phone all the time with franchisees crying about losing their shirt.”
– Former Customer Service Manager
“We were never asked to do an environmental audit. It was just an inexpensive review. Even so, we could see their waste water system is not adequate. They’re cosmetic filling operation is quite bad. Very bad. If their plant was operating in the United States, the EPA would shut it down. We turned down the chance to do the review the next year.”
– Arthur D. Little Company Auditor, UK
“Did they ever break the law? Well, they illegally recorded conversations with disgruntled employees and franchisees. They broke antitrust laws by sending around “price police” forcing franchisees into making their prices illegally uniform. They regularly made questionable representations of potential franchisee profits. They don’t comply with US labeling laws. They were literally booted out of their New Jersey headquarters to North Carolina because local environmental officials had given them so much grief about illegal discharges of wastewater. Is that enough?”
– Former Executive
“When we hear Anita say, “We walk our talk,” we cringe. Anita is a schizophrenic. She’s sociopathic. Nothing is the way it seems with The Body Shop. She’s taken the program we helped The Body Shop set up and tried to subvert it.”
– Twin Trading, fair trade organization
“The lie is what upsets me. They’re not helping the Kayapo Indians. It’s all a show. First world wages? They pay first world wages all right – the same dirt-cheap wages other first world companies pay. They’re worse than United Fruit. Anita Roddick is lying about how she helps the rainforest but who would believe some Brazilian activists.”
– Brazilian, Director of Amanakáa, Amazon relief agency
“The Body Shop is a vulture when it comes to social responsibility. Many of us in the environmental and development movements in Europe are embarrassed. We’ve been attracted to the success and high profile of The Body Shop but got our wings burned. Even now, it’s hard for different agencies to see the whole picture, especially with the media taking what Anita says at face value. If we don’t watch out, the public will find out about The Body Shop’s record and become profoundly skeptical about business with high-flying ethical claims, and we’ll be partly responsible by not calling the company to account earlier.”
– Director of New Consumer, UK ethical research organization
“I hated Anita. Everybody here did. Jilly Forster [Director of Communications and a Board member] was a little dictator. For a company that professes to be open and creative, it was pathetic. We knew there were terrible problems with the company but our hands were tied. We were embarrassed by Body and Soul but we bought it already edited and were not allowed to make any changes or even fact check. From what I saw, the company seems like a complete mess. If you ever wanted to do a book on The Body Shop, make sure you run it by us. I know our editors would be interested.”
– Publicist for Anita Roddick’s autobiography Body and Soul
(1) The Origins of the Company
CLAIM: Anita Roddick “decided to open a small shop in England selling the kind of simple, natural skin and hair care preparations she had seen being used by women of other cultures on her travels around the world.” (The Body Shop brochure: “The Business of The Body Shop”)
The Body Shop originated not in Brighton in 1976 but in the Bay Area of San Francisco in 1970. Sisters-in-law Jane Saunders and Peggy Short opened a tiny shop housed in CJs a converted auto garage on Telegraph Avenue selling cosmetics with natural-sounding names in simple plastic bottles of varying sizes. They called it The Body Shop. It was an overnight success. People would stop by as Peggy and Jane cut and wrapped freshly made soaps and poured hand-labeled individual bottles of lotions and perfume oil. Within months, they opened another store in Berkeley and a third in San Francisco at Union Square.
In 1970, young Anita traveled to San Francisco with then boyfriend Gordon to visit his best friend, David Edward. Edward’s former wife, Alma (now Dunstan-McDaniel), remembers dragging Anita to a favorite shop, filled with tie-dyed decorations and redolent with incense. “That was the place to buy shampoo and body cream,” Alma says. She recalls Anita buying armfuls of hand-cut soaps, loofah sponges, and cosmetics in small plastic bottles with hand-written labels.
This story has been confirmed by more than a half dozen independent sources, among them Roddick’s best friend at the time, Aidre Vaillancourt (who became the first franchisee and a board member), her first cosmetic advisor Mark Constantine, and her long-time PR director Janis Raven.
The Body Shop’s name, store look, product line, marketing concept were copied directly from the Berkeley Body Shop. Vaillancourt recalls excitedly pouring over early Berkeley catalogs with Roddick in 1975, a year before Roddick opened her shop. Roddick’s early catalogs issued in the late 70s, with hand-drawn illustrations of plants and advice on how to use the products, are an almost exact copy of the Berkeley The Body Shop’s price lists and mail-order catalogs from 1970 – 1976. Roddick made the plagiarist’s most telling mistake – when she copied the Berkeley The Body Shop catalog, many times word-for-word, she even copied the original catalog’s grammatical errors. The Berkeley catalog says “we have set prices at reasonable levels by avoiding expensive, gimmicky advertising and by presenting products in modest, attractive packages.” Roddick’s BSI says it will sell “moderately priced products with no hype or advertising and minimal packaging.” The Berkeley The Body Shop says “all our products are biodegradable and made to our specifications; bottles 20¢ or bring your own.” Anita wrote: “all our products are biologically soft and made to our specifications; bottles 12p or bring your own.” Even the product category listings are largely identical. “For the Hair,” “For the Bath,” “Creams,” “Lotions,” “Oils,” and even the category “Special Items” were featured in the Berkeley catalog six years before Roddick came out with her copycat version.
Anita Roddick suggests that she pioneered the recycling movement in cosmetics. The Body Shop (UK) claims “we are the first skin and hair care company to encourage customers to bring back their used packaging for recycling” and offers its US customers a 25 cents per bottle price reduction at its “Refill Bar.” The Berkeley The Body Shop says in its original brochure in 1971, “you might bring an empty bottle (a The Body Shop first) for a price reduction for lotion, shampoo or whatever.” Customers got 10 cents off per ounce.
The similarities do not stop there. Roddick’s distinctive script on her first sign and its green color matched almost exactly the type and color of the sign over the original Berkeley Body Shop Union Street store. The original Body Shop sold its cosmetics in “Boston round” plastic bottles with black tops – the exact type later used by Anita Roddick. The Berkeley The Body Shop sold its lotions by the ounce so people could buy only as much as they needed; Roddick originally offered her cosmetics by the ounce so customers could buy only as much as they needed. Most of Roddick’s early products were made from recipes developed by Creighton’s, an English cosmetic manufacturer, for Crabtree & Evelyn. Her synthetic oils were made by another manufacturer.
Over the years, Roddick came out with many “new” products first introduced in Berkeley. They both offered hand-lettered plastic bottles filled with lotions with exotic, natural-sounding names: Avocado Cream, Glycerin and Rose Water Lotion with Vitamin E, scented glycerin soaps and perfume oils, and unique specialty items such as loofah natural vegetable sponges. The Berkeley store offered Four O’clock Astringent lotion; Anita’s store sold Five O’clock lotion. Over the years, there have been dozens of similarities.
A particularly telling knockoff is Roddick’s Japanese Washing Grains made with ground adzuki beans. The product was actually created by the Berkeley The Body Shop. The Korean woman who made the kimonos that were sold in the shop shared with Jane and Peggy a family recipe utilizing adzuki grounds as a facial scrub. The Berkeley The Body Shop developed the product with her advice – Roddick did not, as she has claimed, come up with the product in a visit to Japan. In fact, the proprietor of a natural food store across the street from Roddick’s first store said she used to buy the adzuki beans for her product from him.
BSI delayed moving into the US, Japan and Israel for many years because the Berkeley store owned the rights to the name. By 1987, Peggy and Jane still owned their modest but very successful chain of shops, then numbering six. For years, Short and Saunders remained unaware of the brazen heist. As a result, when the Roddicks approached them in 1987 to buy the rights to the Body Shop name for $3.5 million for the rights to The Body Shop trademark in the US, Japan and Israel, they jumped. They renamed their shops Body Time–and agreed to a gag agreement, which carried the threat of legal action. Only later did they stumble upon the copycat brochures. The Berkeley women sold the trademark because they didn’t went to face an expensive and protracted legal battle over a company with deep pockets. The original The Body Shop is now called ‘Body Time.’
“What really got them angry,” says a colleague of the Berkeley sisters “was the ongoing deception Anita’s lie that she originated the idea, the green color scheme, the products, all the things that gave the company its unique identity. Never in our wildest imagination did we think that Roddick, with all her claims about being so honest, would keep this fabrication going.”
The Roddicks steadfastly deny “any knowledge” of the original sin, often brandishing a quote from the founders–issued before they got hold of the copied brochures, and well before their representatives contacted me–that Roddick “didn’t rip us off”. That brings a blunt response from Alma. “That’s bullshit, because I took her [to the original]. She had a number of those products in her suitcase to go home. She made sure she had one of each. It was a lie from the start. Anita ripped them off.”
Roddick’s fabrications extended beyond her founder’s myth. She concocted an elaborate fable that she came up with the idea of putting cosmetics in recyclable, refillable plastic containers to cut down on waste. She embellished this story with tales about sourcing arcane potions on her world travels: pineapples from Sri Lanka for her facial wash, cocoa butter from Hawaiian natives, foot lotion developed on request of the London Marathon. According to early executives, Janis Raven and Mark Constantine, and Aidre Vaillancourt, Roddick fabricated these stories – originally with some innocence – to provide interesting stories to sell products and attract press attention.
Taped interviews with Constantine in 1994 give some insights into the background of Anita Roddick and her myth making. Constantine and I have talked at least a half a dozen times, including twice since this story broke in August 1994. Before publication, he reviewed all his quotes used in my articles in context. They were adjusted and readjusted by him to make sure all nuances were accurate. He then approved them again. What follows are just two of many examples [the tapes are available for any interested researcher]:
MC: “Did you have a chat with [the Berkeley The Body Shop] about that? What did they have to say about that?”
JE: “Well, they’re under a gag order, a confidentiality agreement.”
MC: “Well, they’re not the only one.”
JE: “Oh, I know that. Are you under a gag order?”
MC: “Uh huh. (laughter)”
JE: “I figured you might be.”
JE: “Did Anita say she had brought back potions from India or something?”
MC: “I’m not going to comment or discuss all that stuff (belly laugh). We [Mark and Janis Raven] would provide the cosmetics and how to talk to the press and we just stayed in the background, which was fine by me. We had a great time.”
MC: “I certainly never talked about how she came up with any of those things. I basically, if she said something, then I just kept quiet.”
JE: “Did she really believe it when she was saying it to you?”
MC: “I don’t know. It certainly rankled with me a lot. I can remember doing, I mean, it got to be a joke, Mark Constantine hit on my head from the pineapple tree… coconut tree. It was just, I certainly wasn’t there supporting those statements, not at all.”
MC: “I was fully aware that she didn’t, hadn’t had the idea about wandering in Polynesia.”
MC: “The wonderful joke with Janis Raven was always, was when I said “Janis, can’t you do something about Anita.” So she said, ‘What do you mean?’ So I said, ‘you created all this bloody publicity thing, you made….’ have you ever heard of Frankenstein? It’s just like, you create the monster you can’t control.”
The Roddicks have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep Frankenstein’s monster in the closet. When the British magazine International Management interviewed Gordon Roddick in 1986 about the rip-off, he heatedly denied “any knowledge” of the Berkeley Body Shop, saying, “We have a different approach. Their products are sold from behind the counter in the US.” Mark Johnson, the former editor of International Management and now an executive with the PR firm Burson-Marsteller, says Gordon threatened him in an attempt to quash the story. “It’s a gangsterish operation under cover of a kindly exterior,” he says. Fearing a suit, Johnson toned down the article. As recently as November 1995, he reaffirmed this account.
British newspapers, which have flirted with printing aspects of BSI’s history, have been threatened by an ever-ready phalanx of solicitors. In 1991, the editor of the Mail on Sunday received a number of threatening letters from Lovell White Durrant, The Body Shop’s legal team (which formerly represented the notorious Robert Maxwell): “Our clients…take pride in their principled approach to business….Your actions suggest that our clients have acted dishonestly and unscrupulously, and this untrue allegation is extremely damaging…. There is no truth whatsoever in any allegation that Anita Roddick stole the idea for The Body Shop from someone else. In summary therefore, the damage which would be caused by the Mail on Sunday article would clearly be substantial.” Cowed by the pro-plaintiff libel laws in the UK, the Mail killed the article.
(2) The Products of The Body Shop: Natural Cosmetics?
CLAIM: The Body Shop says, “Natural ingredients are the heart of every product.”
The Body Shop is considered the pioneer ‘natural’ cosmetic company. Teenage girls and young women – even Princess Diana who made a highly publicized visit at the opening of a BSI manufacturing plant – buy its products because “they are natural.” Yet, they are not, at least by any reasonable measure. As one noted cosmetologist said, “If you called The Body Shop “the Shoddy Bop” you’d get a better idea of its product quality and reputation.” The cosmetic industry refers to Body Shop products and lines by Bath & Body Works, Nature’s Elements and similar mass merchandisers as “alibi formulations,” synthetic compounds combined chemically with a tiny sprinkling of natural ingredients.
Yet, mainstream publications such as Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, Forbes, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and hundreds of other magazines and newspapers throughout the world have uncritically reinforced BSI’s green image. There is rarely a hint of the confusion – seemingly encouraged by The Body Shop – which muddies the debate over natural products.
“Natural” is not always better in cosmetics. The decision to use or produce natural cosmetics is not based on safety or efficacy. In fact, many natural substances can cause severe allergic reactions and are far less effective or safe than well-tested synthetics – one reason why synthesized chemicals are developed. Furthermore, “natural” has no universally accepted meaning in the food or cosmetic industry. Because of quirks in labeling laws, a “natural” ingredient that the consumer assumes is 100% natural may be derived from petrochemicals and synthesized chemicals. Almost all natural cosmetics contain synthetic preservatives and likely have artificial fragrances and colorings. Many cosmetic firms which sell natural or “naturally-based” products, especially The Body Shop, use a myriad of nonrenewable synthesized (and sometimes substitutable) artificial ingredients.
The casual customer who picks up The Body Shop’s brochure “What is Natural” might mistakenly think she is getting a helping hand in deciphering these hieroglyphic-like claims. The brochure opens with an attack on mainstream cosmetic firms, charging them with cynically exploiting the word “natural”:
“The cosmetic industry has run amok with “natural” claims. These claims may be misleading: products may have only a tiny element of natural ingredients or they may have been so heavily processed that the original natural ingredients no longer retain the properties of which they were chosen.”
BSI itself uses only “tiny elements of natural ingredients” in most of their products – usually a small fraction at ineffective levels. But Roddick positions BSI as the one company that does things differently and tells the honest-to-goodness truth.
“We can’t and shouldn’t be grouped together with the myriad of other companies crying “natural!” Because as you probably know, we’re not like other companies.”
When Roddick opened in 1976, her cosmetics were made with mineral oil, petrolatum, carbomers, isopropyl myristate and other nonrenewable petrochemical–based ingredients. Those ingredients are still in today’s products. Roddick’s line of “natural” perfumes is based on petrochemicals. According to Aidre Vaillancourt, her perfume oils were made by adding synthetic fragrances to cooking oil Roddick bought at the local grocery. In the following years, Constantine developed a new line of cosmetics containing some natural ingredients. Still, the most innovative part of Roddick’s The Body Shop was the natural–sounding names; she had a terrific flair for marketing. BSI never listed ingredients on the labels in those years, and despite its claims that it is a leader in disclosing product information, many of its products sold outside the US still do not.
As the company evolved from a hippie storefront in Brighton into a growing English concern and finally into an international cosmetic company, its values and marketing concerns changed significantly. Synthetic ingredients were introduced as preservatives to provide long-term stability of its products. Roddick filled her products with bright dyes and artificial fragrances. Over time, the brightly colored, heavily fragranced lotion became as much a part of the company’s trademark as its natural reputation.
After Constantine left the company in the mid-1980s, taking many of his formulas with him, BSI started buying more off-the-shelf industrial-type recipes. The Body Shop now uses many of the same synthesized ingredients as its mainstream, drug store-level competitors. Cosmetic scientists, suppliers and industry watchdogs say the most significant difference between BSI and most cosmetic companies is marketing: unique names and its socially responsible image. One natural products distributor says “take the name “The Body Shop” off the labels and substitute the name “Payless Drug Stores” and you get an idea of their quality.”
How honest is The Body Shop? BSI claims it “absolutely refuses to compromise” its principles simply to make a “natural product,” bases its products on natural ingredients” and only uses “man-made substances” such as preservatives “to keep our products fresh” (as do all cosmetic companies) and fragrances and colorings to make products “as enjoyable to use as they are to create” (even though some “natural” cosmetic firms do not use certain synthesized colorings or fragrances).
Roddick’s catalogs have frequently been filled with suggestive media quotes: “The Body Shop is green all over,” its products “promote health and well–being,” “there’s a fruit product to try,” it carries “a kitchen of things for the skin,” offering “indigenous beauty secrets,” with a “natural approach to skin and hair care.” In its environmental statement, BSI mis-states that the only non-renewable chemicals used in its products are mineral oils. The media recycle these misleading quotes, perpetuating the “natural” myth.
In fact, Roddick’s Body Shop regularly uses many ingredients derived from nonrenewable petrochemicals. BSI justifies using dyes and fragrances by saying skin and hair care products should be “fun…as enjoyable to use as they are to create.” Many scientists believe that some petrochemical-based ingredients have mild to severe comedogenic properties – they block the pores – and do not recommend them for blemished skin. BSI also regularly irradiates – it treats with radiation to kill microbes – its Japanese Washing Grains, Coconut Oil Shampoo, facial washes and other products. Radiation is generated from nonrenewable uranium that cannot be safely disposed of and has a half-life of millions of years. Its products could be reformulated without these nonrenewable ingredients – a direct contradiction of the claims in its brochure that it will “endeavor to use only ingredients from renewable sources…without negatively impacting the natural environment.” In other words, The Body Shop again deceives its customers.
In the mid-1980s, its own franchisees from Switzerland, Germany and Scandinavia where the green movement is most sophisticated, began complaining to headquarters about the exaggerations and misrepresentations. Their complaints prompted BSI to suddenly drop the phrase “natural products” from its promotional literature and use the euphemistic “naturally-based.”
What do consumer activists and natural product experts think about The Body Shop? Paula Begoun is author of a number of bestsellers on cosmetics including Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me:
“Their water-soluble cleansers don’t rinse off without the aid of a washcloth, the toners contain irritating ingredients such as alcohol and some of their moisturizers contain ingredients that can cause blackheads. Several of their products also contain the preservative 2- bromo-2-nitropane-1, 3 diol and a [pH adjuster] called triethanolamine. When these two ingredients are present in the same cosmetic, they can be very irritating and dangerous on your skin.” [They form a possibly carcinogenic nitrosamine.]
Zia Wesley-Hosford is the author of many consumer books including Putting on Your Face: The Ultimate Guide to Cosmetics, and Face Value: Skin Care for Women Over 35. In one of her newsletters, she discusses “Products to Avoid,” focusing on The Body Shop:
“I selected seven basic skin and body care items and found that they all contained at least two or more of the following ingredients: isopropyl myristate, mineral oil, petrolatum, sodium lauryl sulfate and triethanolamine. These ingredients are of no benefit to the skin whatsoever. They can sensitize, irritate, and strip the skin and cause breakouts. Body Shop uses a tremendous amount of non-renewable ingredients. The Body Shop may be surprised to learn that there are many environmentally-conscious cosmetic companies offering well-made skin care products from natural, renewable sources that benefit the skin.”
One of America’s leading natural ingredients expert, Debra Lynn Dadd, has written six books including Nontoxic, Natural and Earthwise. She says BSI’s products are not natural enough to be included in her book:
“They use outdated and unnecessary chemicals and deceptive brochures and product names. Consumers can easily find more natural shampoos, soaps and lotions that are safer and less expensive.”
FDA regulations require that cosmetic ingredients be listed on labels in descending order of concentration – up to the 1% mark. Below 1%, companies can list them in any order they choose. Usually a product hits the 1% mark at the fourth or fifth ingredient. If there are, say, fifteen ingredients, the sixth ingredient listed – if it’s below 1% – may actually be the fifteenth ingredient in concentration. This is important because only tiny fractions of botanical–based ingredients are used in many of BSI’s products. BSI implies it sets the highest standard for disclosure of ingredients. Let’s look at a few of its most popular products:
The Body Shop ingredient guide in shops says this hair gel is based on an ancient custom: “girls from Hamar in South Ethiopia traditionally styled their hair with ochre, butter and acacia gum””
– PVP/VA copolymer (nonrenewable): PVP is a polyvinyl-pyrolidone, from petrochemicals. VA is vinyl acetate.
– Triethanolamine – (nonrenewable): Made by reacting ethylene oxide and ammonia.
– Propylene Glycol – (partially nonrenewable): Glycol is made from plants; propylene is made by a complex process from petrochemicals. Can block the pores.
– Benzyl Alcohol – (nonrenewable): From petrochemicals.
– Carbomer 940 – (nonrenewable): Thickener made from petrochemicals. Can cause eye irritation.
– Glycerin – (probably nonrenewable): Chemically made from plants, animals, or a mixture.
– Fragrance – (probably nonrenewable): From petrochemicals. May cause skin irritations.
The Body Shop’s Hair Gel does not contain even one of those ingredients from Hamar on which it says this product is “based.” It is based on South Ethiopian ingredients in the same way nylon is inspired by silk: it is 100% made from water and petrochemicals.
ELDERFLOWER UNDER EYE GEL
A cool gel containing elderflower and witch hazel to tone, refresh and help protect the delicate skin around the eyes.
Elderflower water, witch hazel distillate, glycerin, triethanolamine, SD alcohol 40-B, Carbomer 940, Imidazolidinyl, Methylparaben.
Product contains a volatile alcohol – SD alcohol 40-B, which can produce an irritating fume as it evaporates, thus cooling the skin (this is how it makes the claim “a cool gel”). This ingredient is known to be a volatile organic compound – VOC – that means it gives off fumes as it evaporates. VOCs are included on a list of potentially dangerous ingredients in California when used in products such as cosmetics.
Witch hazel distillate is also composed of volatile substances. These fumes can cause tearing and swelling of sensitive skin around the eyes. The witch hazel and the alcohol are used to create much of the cooling effect. The gelling system – Carbomer 940 and triethanolamine – is derived from petroleum.
The product claims to “tone” and “protect.” What is meant by tone is not clear. The formula does not appear to be designed to protect the skin in any way except perhaps the glycerin, which might help prevent some dryness – but the dehydrating effects of the volatile alcohol would probably counteract any hydration the glycerin could offer. The glycerin is probably in the formula to help keep the gel from drying out in the container and to help the product glide onto the skin more smoothly.
CARROT MOISTURE CREAM
The container reads that the product is good for “all types, especially dry and blemished skin. Contains carrot oil with B-carotene that helps to keep the outer skin layers healthy and supple. Use either as a night cream, or as a daytime moisturizer. Contains lanolin.”
Water, isopropyl myristate, sweet almond oil, glycerin, magnesium aluminum silicate, stearic acid, carrot oil, lanolin alcohol, triethanolamine, beeswax, cetearyl alcohol, Imidazolidinyl urea, fragrance, methyl paraben, propyl paraben, FD&C Red no. 4, FD&C Yellow no. 5.
This is a typical, off-the-shelf, drug store quality formula. According to cosmetic scientists, isopropyl myristate is a comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredient when applied to the skin of about 30% of the population. Its combination with almond oil, stearic acid, lanolin alcohol, cetearyl alcohol and beeswax which are fatty materials with mild to severe comedogenic properties is not highly recommended for blemished skin – one of the skin types for which the label says it is recommended. Although FD&C Red no. 4 is on the FDA list of permanently approved colorants, it is not approved for use around the eyes where this cream might likely be used. Isopropyl myristate and magnesium aluminum silicate are not in broad use by higher-end cosmetic firms indicating this is an older formula. There are several ingredients that could be used as alternatives or the product could be reformulated, perhaps using a lightweight moisturizer that doesn’t leave a waxy after-feel.
(3) The Products of The Body Shop: Quality Control
CLAIM: The Body Shop has state-of-the-art testing facilities and a commitment to the highest quality control standards. It says in its corporate training video “all raw materials are micro-biologically tested and subjected to our latest analytical techniques.”
Despite the impression that it has cultivated, The Body Shop has spent very little money on quality control, especially when compared to its competitors. BSI evolved as a classic “bathtub” firm with little product research or testing. Industry scientists, including BSI’s Mark Constantine, say it still uses formulations that have been phased out by more innovative companies. BSI is renowned in the cosmetic industry for its use of outdated, industrial, off-the-shelf recipes filled with unnecessary petrochemicals – despite claims it will never use non-renewable resources when renewable alternatives are available. I could find no expert who described its cosmetics as anything more than over-priced drug-store quality products. One favorite industry nickname for The Body Shop is “The Shoddy Bop.” At least three of my sources are BSI suppliers:
In a BSI training video for new franchisees and employees, Roddick claims that the company follows the highest quality control standards. Quality control standards are actually set by the industry itself, not by any government agency. In the US, they are called Good Manufacturing Practice or GMP; the Food and Drug Administration will only take action against a cosmetic company when it believes a product may threaten the safety and health of consumers – for instance, if an eye gel is found to contain an ingredient that might cause infections or serious irritations.
The FDA made an unannounced visit to its New Jersey production facility in 1992 after customers sent 167 complaint letters about BSI’s eye gel: “here has been a “high frequency of complaints after use of this products,” the FDA wrote.
In August of 1993, I began receiving unsolicited calls from Body Shop quality control managers at its relocated production facility in North Carolina, some of whom were still with the company, detailing a variety of product contamination problems. Eventually, I talked with almost the entire quality control department. What follows below are a tiny fraction of my many sources:
– Scott Tackach – QC (still working for The Body Shop at the time)
– James Endman – QC (still working for The Body Shop at the time)
– Rich Koberlein – QC/head of assembly and filling
– Barry Hudson – QC/production supervisor in charge of filling
– Marilyn Gettinger – product development
– Larry Smith – head of purchasing
– Pat Porter – purchasing, sourcing of containers
– David Brook – environmental director
– Rick Heller – systems and computers
– Steve Goldstein – product planning
After interviewing many of these quality control workers, the FDA made three visits to BSI’s North Carolina facility in 1993, the first two on October 7 and 8. FDA agent Amy documented that Body Shop has knowingly sold tainted shampoos and foot lotions (which is not an FDA violation since the health of the consumer is not directly threatened – but it is an industry violation). Hobgood made a third unannounced visit on November 12 to further document the numerous industry violations. She went on the record that former VP Paul Alvey and quality control manager Shabbir Haidermota lied about a number of quality control issues. Among the information uncovered by the FDA in these various unannounced visits (according to documents supplied by the FDA and those obtained through the Freedom of Information Act):
BSI’s microbial sampling procedures violate GMP. It ships its raw bulk cosmetics from the UK in 1,000-pound plastic containers. In this type of container, bacteria striates first at the bottom. Industry standards require testing from the top, middle and bottom of all bulk shipments. Under the direction of UK Director of Production Eric Helyer, technicians were directed to sample only from the very top. According to four former quality control workers, this technique is deliberately utilized to reduce the possibility of a positive bacteria reading; samples from the middle or bottom are far more likely to show contamination. The FDA documented this inappropriate procedure in one of its October 1993 visits.
In past years, The Body Shop executives periodically ordered the quality control department to skip microbial tests on raw, bulk cosmetics – a direct violation of GMP. Occasionally it abandoned normal sampling procedures on every product. Workers were instructed to fill each bulk product into bottles and send a sample of each cosmetic to a local testing lab. But before the test results came back, it regularly shipped out the cosmetics to stores – a violation of standard industry practice. Companies are supposed to wait seven days for the results to come back before bottled products are shipped out.
Body Shop knowingly sold contaminated banana shampoo in the late summer of 1993 after playing Russian roulette by skipping standard micro-testing for months. In August, a bulk shipment of raw banana shampoo had arrived in North Carolina from the UK. As with all bulk shipments during this period, no bacteria testing was performed. On August 27, the shampoo was bottled as batch #239N and sent out to four regional warehouses, and a sample was sent to the testing lab. BSI shipped the shampoo the day it was bottled – it did not wait the week-to-ten days it would take before the results would come back. It had prematurely sent out cosmetics many times this summer and each time won the gamble. This time, it lost.
The warehouses, unaware that the bottles had not been tested, immediately began distributing this tainted batch to stores, which began selling the shampoo. Meanwhile, on September 3 in North Carolina, the results came back positive. They indicated bacteria levels 1,000% above acceptable industry standards for e coli, pseudenoma and enterobacter gergoviae. (According to a lab, that reading is as high as a sample from a toilet bowl.)
The Body Shop executives did not recall and destroy the product as required by industry standards. The stores were told nothing when BSI discovered the contamination. They innocently kept selling the contaminated product. The only action taken by BSI was to notify its warehouses to “hold” what was left of batch #239N.
According to sources and internal memos, BSI still hoped to release the rest of the shampoo for distribution and sale. To do so, however, it needed a negative reading for its files. A second sample sent to the outside lab indicated bacteria levels 400% above acceptable standards. The Body Shop still did not issue a recall. Top executives then ordered a third test – they were determined to keep sending out samples until one tested acceptable so BSI could technically justify releasing the rest of the tainted batch for distribution and sale.
The deception fell apart before the results from the third test came back. On September 21-22, The Body Shop’s lawyer, Rita Murphy-Johnson, grilled employees to find out who was leaking information to the FDA and the press. In the course of these interrogations, a quality control employee told her about the tainted shampoo and other problems. The next day, BSI issued a recall of the unsold batch. Innocent franchisees in Louisiana and in the west ended up selling more than 150 contaminated bottles between August 28 and September 23.
According to sources from The Body Shop’s quality control department and from Mark Constantine, large quantities of its Pumice Foot Scrub were regularly sold with unacceptably high bacteria levels. When the product was rolled out in 1992, managers in the US complained to the UK about bacteria levels which ran from 20 to over 100 units per million – two to ten times acceptable industry standards. The product was sent out to be irradiated but that changed its color and consistency. With the pressure of the worldwide roll out, Eric Helyer ordered the product shipped anyway.
The Body Shop’s eye gel has had a troubled history. The FDA inspection in 1992 found “a high frequency of complaints for allergic reactions after use of this product,” and noted 167 complaint letters. In a separate problem, franchisees have complained a number of times about mold that forms in the eye gel container. In 1990, The Body Shop Technical Manager Patrick Love wrote to an Asian franchisee:
“We…confirm molds are present,” Love writes in November 1990. “However, we have also tested the product and found that it has not been affected by the mould that is present on the cap. All we can say at this stage is that the product remains unaffected and is therefore safe for use.”
The Body Shop has knowingly violated GMP by skipping “swab” tests on its filling machines that measure bacteria counts. It is supposed to take fresh counts each time a new cosmetic is filled – that would be two to three times a day. According to quality control personnel, The Body Shop was taking swabs once weekly until it was cited by the FDA in 1993 and changed its policies. That means unsanitary filling machines might have tainted many products with active bacteria.
Facial oil products regularly turn rancid. Quality control sources say customers have found three different colors of many oils because the ingredients degrade so easily, yet the products were not recalled or reformulated. Milk Bath also regularly turns rancid on store shelves. Eric Helyer has not authorized long-term stability tests because they are so costly. Sources say Helyer switched from a UK to a US manufacturer early in 1993 but did not order stability tests because they would have interrupted shipments to stores.
Contaminated Chamomile Shampoo (#L253N, 8.4 oz. and 4.2 oz. and #L288N, 2 oz.), Seaweed and Birch Shampoo (#M057N, 16.8 oz.), and Raspberry Ripple Bubble Bath, rejected and returned to the UK in 1991, were heat–treated and sent back to the US in August 1993. Helyer ordered the shampoos to be packaged in Christmas baskets so color changes caused by the contamination and heat treatments would not be noticed – a violation of industry practices. The products were on store shelves in the spring of ‘94, and sold to consumers.
Öko-Test, a respected German green/consumer magazine found formaldehyde in at least four BSI products in tests from 1991-4. German scientist Dr. Dieter Wundram who conducted the tests and later became a BSI consultant says he believes it is a byproduct of using large quantities of preservatives to mask bacteria problems. “Their products are filled with bugs,” says Wundram. There is no one there I can talk to. They don’t have a head scientist. They take none of my advice.”
In January 1996, Danish TV aired an exposé of two BSI products: carrot moisture cream and elderflower eye gel. Independent tests by the highly respected Miljoe-Kemi environmental research institute confirmed high levels of formaldehyde. It could cause allergic reactions and has been linked to cancer in higher concentrations.
Jojoba Oil (#N116N), mistakenly filled with Dewberry perfume, was knowingly sent to stores in April 1993. According to GMP, the oil and bottles should have been recalled and destroyed. Stores sent back hundreds of the “Jojoba Oil” bottles. BSI never issued a recall. Sources say this is not an isolated problem.
According to The Body Shop mail order personnel, it violates Good Manufacturing Practices in its preparation of its fragrances for mail order shipments. When customers order a fragranced perfume, the workers at the Cedar Knolls, NJ mail order facility are instructed to open a bottle of unfragranced lotion and add the necessary fragrance by hand.
The cosmetic industry is largely self-regulated. In the United States, the FDA requires only that companies warrant the safety of their products. The FDA only intervenes on a case-by -case basis if it believes the health and safety of the public is at issue. That’s rarely the case with shampoos or body lotions. The Body Shop franchisees say they get many complaints about irritating products although it is difficult to know whether they get more or less than other cosmetic firms. Mark Constantine maintains that contamination problems are frequent at BSI, although they are typical of many companies (It is difficult to know if BSI problems are more or less than other cosmetic firms.):
March 4, 1994 (tape interview):
MC: “As a margin reason I think they felt they couldn’t afford it [pull contaminated product off the shelves] so they definitely tried to reformulate them, or add preservatives, or do what ever they can. But like the banana shampoo and the pumice foot scrub, those things are regularly contaminated. They still are, even pumice foot scrub probably, I mean Anita was quite aware when she rolled it out that it was…that it was contaminated. They decided to do it anyway, I think…”
JE: “How could they do that though…”
MC: “Because I would say that is very normal cosmetic company procedure.”
(4) Animal Testing and The Body Shop:
CLAIM: The Body Shop is against animal testing.
Animal rights is a hot button issue. “Against Animal Testing,” The Body Shop’s trademark, appears on almost every page of its catalog, on T-shirts worn by its employees, and in most every article about Anita Roddick. Surprisingly, animal testing was not an issue for Roddick in the early days. Mark Constantine quotes Roddick as saying “why do we need this silly label, the only people who care about this issue are burned out ex-hippies” when he first suggested carrying the slogan “Not Tested on Animals” on products in the late 70s. Constantine prevailed, however, and over time, Roddick warmed to the cause.
None of The Body Shop’s early literature or publicity raises the animal testing issue. The early Body Shop was just one of many “bathtub” operators of the late 70s struggling to make a name for itself. It couldn’t afford any tests on its cosmetics, let alone sophisticated animal tests. Instead, it just bought products and ingredients evaluated and tested by other manufacturers. It wasn’t until 1987, when Roddick ran a promotional campaign with the British Union Against Vivisection, that Body shop became publicly identified with this issue. It soon developed a reputation for being a leader in the fight to end animal testing on personal care products. But many animal rights activists and cosmetic industry experts believe Roddick has exploited the controversy and stirred hysteria on a complicated issue for commercial gain.
It’s almost impossible to pick up a cosmetic today without finding “against animal testing” or some other version of The Body Shop claim on the label. Billions of dollars worth of cosmetics are sold by companies that have convinced consumers that their competitors take a hidden pleasure in torturing helpless bunny rabbits.
The truth as BSI and the industry know is far more complicated. Almost every cosmetic by every manufacturer – including Body Shop – contains preservatives, colorings, fragrances and other ingredients that, according to US, EU and Japanese regulations, must have been certified as safe – and therefore were almost certainly tested on animals. Most ingredients used in today’s cosmetics were tested years ago. Many companies sub-contract animal tests or find other ways to disguise their use of animal-tested ingredients.
The Body Shop has actually lagged behind mainstream companies in developing alternatives to animal testing. Revlon donated $750,000 to Rockefeller University as far back as 1980 to research alternatives to the controversial Draize eye test. In 1981, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association established the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing with a $1 million grant. Over the years, companies have kicked in millions more. One of Roddick’s favorite targets, Procter & Gamble, funded alternative testing as early as 1981. In 1988 alone, P&G spent $3.5 million on its in vitro research program, as much as Body Shop has contributed to charity throughout its entire history.
By 1986, the effort to reduce animal testing on consumer products had dramatically reshaped the industry. An FDA survey showed a 96% decrease in the use of the LD-50. The Soap and Detergent Association and Bausch & Lomb were already funding research on Draize alternatives. P&G, one of the largest personal product manufacturers, replaced the controversial Draize and LD-50 tests, and reduced overall animal testing by more than 99%. Over the next few years, Benneton and Avon dropped animal testing.
It wasn’t until 1987 – a year after the battle to reduce animal testing on products had effectively been won – that Roddick and The Body Shop began campaigning against animal testing. Like many entrepreneurs who capitalize on the hysteria, Roddick has spent almost no money to develop alternatives. In fact, The Body Shop today uses more, not less, animal-tested ingredients. In an internal memo dated May 19, 1992, its purchasing manager acknowledged that 46.5% of its ingredients had been tested on animals, up from 34% the year before.
Since 1987, the British Union Against Vivisection (BUAV) has been The Body Shop’s chief public ally on the animal testing issue. This alliance is an intriguing back room story. In 1986, the BUAV was largely on the sidelines on the controversy over cosmetics. It realized it was being shut out of an issue it had long claimed as its own. It wanted to become a player. The BUAV approached the highest profile company then opposing animal testing, The Body Shop.
The BUAV wanted the Roddicks to support a firm cut-off date policy. It was dismayed when they flatly rejected this proposal. What was the BUAV to do? Without BSI’s support and access to the media, the issue might pass the BUAV by, leaving a financially and politically impotent organization. Faced with this dilemma, the BUAV modified its position to back the five-year rolling policy even though its real goal was a ban on all animal testing. In return, BSI became its partner in 1987 and started including it in media events. The relationship brought the BUAV a tremendous amount of international exposure. The BUAV soon put out a popular guide on cosmetic companies that raised its profile even more, while The Body Shop issued a blizzard of brochures and “Fact Sheets” on its animal testing philosophy. Here is the typical claim:
“The Body Shop has always been against animal testing in the cosmetics industry. We do not test any of our ingredients or products on animals, nor commission others to do so.
The Body Shop operates an ingredients purchasing rule designed to influence suppliers to change their policy. If a supplier has tested an ingredient on animals for the cosmetics industry in the last five years, we will not use that particular ingredient from that supplier.
Every six months, all our suppliers are required to sign a declaration. If it is found that an ingredient has been tested or retested on animals, or the supplier fails to respond, The Body Shop stops purchasing that ingredient from that supplier.
Although we recognize that, realistically, most ingredients used in the cosmetics industry have been tested on animals by someone, somewhere, at sometime, we make sure that no animal testing is carried out by us, or in our name.”
It is almost impossible for a consumer to decipher what this really means. BSI’s policy is ambiguous with many caveats and misleading statements. Here are some relevant facts:
In light of the honesty gap, Body Shop’s high profile campaign rankled many European animal welfare groups and people in the cosmetic industry who have long suspected that it was twisting the debate to hype its image. The issue came to a head as far back as 1988-9, just as BSI was entering the world’s largest and most competitive market, the US. In an internal memo dated February 1989, board member John Jackson wrote Anita and Gordon about the building criticism of its “Not Tested on Animals” label:
“ (Not Tested on Animals) is a strong emotional marketing claim and we would cause more attention if we removed it from our products. Customers could ask why have they removed the statement. Were we misleading them in the past? Regarding the USA, we should identify what is the risk of putting this claim on our product. I believe we should put some statement on our products. With the leaflet stating our policy on animal testing, could we be accused of misleading customers? It will not be long before some journalist will ask the question “Why don’t you have the ‘Not Tested on Animals’ claim on your products in America?”
That summer, the German government dragged a The Body Shop into court over BSI’s “Not Tested on Animals” label and claims. After complaints from cosmetic companies and animal rights groups, the German government successfully prosecuted a franchisee for making unjustified and exaggerated claims that its policies, particular its animal testing practices, were ethically superior to other firms policies. As the grumbling grew louder during 1989, BSI junked its slogan and launched a massive public relations offensive with a new slogan – “Against Animal Testing” – making it appear as if it was actually strengthening its campaign.
Just how effective is its five-year rule? Its rule has few consequences, either for itself or its suppliers. Any supplier which tests on animals can still supply the chemicals it does not test to The Body Shop. New cosmetic chemicals are always being developed – and government agencies require that they be certified as safe. Does BSI use these new, tested-on-animals ingredients? Absolutely. Here are a few of numerous examples:
Under The Body Shop’s less-than-restrictive rule, there is no problem in using these chemicals – it just buys them from manufacturers who are not themselves testing these ingredients. Some of these suppliers are low-end firms that will not invest in safety reassurance tests. The rule also permits buying of a tested-on-animals ingredient from a manufacturer as long as the supplier represents that it was tested for something other than cosmetics. Many chemical manufacturers, including BSI suppliers, are not even licensed to test cosmetic ingredients; they test chemicals for medical and pharmaceutical use but supply them to cosmetic firms.
Vitamin E acetate is one such example. Hoffman-LaRoche had been supplying BSI with vitamin E acetate for years. In 1989, Hoffman-LaRoche performed animal tests on vitamin E acetate for medical use; it ran more animal tests in 1991 for pharmaceutical use as an ingredient for sunscreens. As of 1991, The Body Shop was still purchasing vitamin E acetate from Hoffman-LaRoche for use in its sunscreens.
Despite Roddick’s hyperbole, BSI has acknowledged internally that limited animal testing of some ingredients is necessary for years to come. In a 1989 memo to the Roddicks and the board, its head of product development wrote:
“Although safety of cosmetic and toiletries made from safe and tested raw materials can now be guaranteed by means of human and alternative tests, the technology of alternative testing for raw materials has not yet sufficiently advanced to guarantee product safety. Experts say that it could take up to 25 years or even longer before all the battery of tests required will have valid and approved alternatives.”
How does The Body Shop react when it discovers that one of its suppliers is testing an ingredient on animals for the cosmetic industry? Let’s look at one case involving its bath salts:
In 1989, the German manufacturer Heinrich Hagner supplied BSI with Lemon and Apple Bath Salts. On September 6, 1989, Hagner sent its form to BSI saying it did no animal testing on these products. At the time, other companies were testing fragrances and colorings used in bath salts on animals. On October 5, 1989, BSI manager Rita Godfrey wrote Hagner asking whether it too was doing such testing. The Body Shop, which says it relies on the honest representations of its suppliers, was told in a letter from Hagner dated October 26, 1989 “we do not carry out any animal tests nor have them carried out.”
By early 1990, Godfrey informed the board that Hagner could not supply evidence that it was following company policy. The BSI board took no action. It did not pull the product off the shelves, order its warehouse to dispose of the Hagner bath salts in stock or demand that Hagner buy the supply back. In a memo to board members dated June 19, 1990, nine months after first discovering the problem, Godfrey writes: “I understand that it has now been decided to delay the discontinuation of the present range of bath salts until 1991.” In other words, BSI discontinued the bath salt product line the next year but continued to supply its stores with the current stock of the “tested-on-animals” bath salts, a direct violation of its published policy. Godfrey goes on to write: “I recommend that an alternative supplier be found until the discontinuation next year.” The board apparently objected. BSI continued to distribute the bath salts from Hagner. In a memo dated July 12, 1990, Godfrey writes:
“In view of the fact that non–animal testing campaign is our strongest claim, Heinrich Hagner bath salts should no longer be used once our present stock has been finished. I believe we have in stock 154 x 25 Kg of Lemon and on order the following: Lemon 1840 Kg, Apple 1588 Kg. This should last until approximately the end of the year by which time an alternative can be found.”
BSI says in its literature “It goes without saying that if a supplier does not comply with our strict policy, we would immediately change our supplier. If no acceptable supplier can be substituted, then we would scrap that ingredient.” It clearly did not follow that unequivocal declaration in the case of the Heinrich Hagner Lemon and Apple Bath Salts. It did not cut off the supplier after it learned that its ingredients were being tested on animals, and even put in a new order as the internal debate unfolded. Fifteen months after it learned of the problem, The Body Shop was still distributing its Hagner tested-on-animals bath salts. Did Hagner face any fallout or repercussions for not being honest? Not according to The Body Shop rule, which claims that it will not buy chemicals from suppliers that test on animals – it will only stop buying that one ingredient, and then only until the “five years from testing” date is reached. In other words, the only sanction for a manufacturer which is caught violating the rule is a short delay in supplying the one chemical which falls within the “five years from testing” time period. That “sanction” usually amounts to a few months at most.
BSI’s five-year rule does not deter the company’s ability to use new, tested-on-animals ingredients. Chemicals are tested on animals at the beginning of the long evaluation process. Years can be spent evaluating and polishing the data. It takes approximately 4-5 years after animal testing is completed for the most potentially dangerous of chemicals to be warranted as safe. In other words, it can sometimes take almost five years before an ingredient goes from the “tested-on-animals” stage until it is available for purchase. That means The Body Shop or any company which uses the five year rule can follow the letter of the rule and still buy almost any chemical the day it hits the market. It usually would face no waiting period, or at most a few months. Manufacturers have little to lose and everything to gain by continuing to test on animals.
In the late ‘80s, as animal welfare groups started attacking this loophole, the BUAV responded to the criticism by drafting a new, tougher rule:
“To prevent attempts to undermine the criteria and the integrity of the companies adhering to them, the BUAV intends to ask all approved companies to make sure that all ingredients used by them have been available on the market for at least five years.”
This modification was significant. Starting the approval clock at the date of marketing means that a chemical manufacturer would have to wait five years after an animal-tested ingredient is first available for sale before it can even approach such companies as The Body Shop. In effect, that’s as much as five years longer than BSI’s rule. What happened after the BUAV adopted these new, tough criteria? The Body Shop debated then rejected the more stringent “five years from marketing” rule. Did the BUAV respond to this rejection by breaking off its relationship? No. Instead, the BUAV quietly stop pressing the issue and continued to publicly back BSI.
Today, the BUAV finds itself in a terrible bind. Called as a friendly witness by BSI in a 1993 court case, the BUAV stated unequivocally that it supports BSI’s “five years from testing” policy. But in interviews in August 1993, two BUAV officials acknowledged that they did indeed change their policy in 1989 to “five years from marketing.” The executive director said former board member John Jackson and Dr. Aran Puri were told about the policy change. Obviously, the BUAV’s testimony and its on-the-record statements conflict. The Body Shop has depended on the BUAV for its imprimatur of approval. The BUAV has tied its credibility to its support of The Body Shop; self-preservation and financial considerations appear to be behind the BUAV’s statements in court.
BSI executives are aware that they are boxed in by Roddick’s escalating hyperbole. At a private meeting with top The Body Shop executives in August, 1993, then BUAV Director Steve McIvor forcefully urged BSI to abandon what he said was its morally insupportable five year rule. The BUAV wanted an outright ban on the animal testing of ingredients. According to two sources, everyone agreed – except Anita Roddick who felt it would be a public relations disaster to reverse her position. Meanwhile, BSI continues to put out literature that its five-year rule is endorsed by the BUAV and the BUAV continues to publicly endorse The Body Shop. A few months after the meeting, McIvor inexplicably left the BUAV to work for BSI.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), now endorses a total ban on testing and has abandoned is support of the “five year from testing rule.” FRAME (Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments), which in the past had been sympathetic to The Body Shop, now publicly call its position a “complete sham.” FRAME, like most animal rights groups, opposes animal testing on cosmetic ingredients in principle but believes there are still no reliable alternatives to evaluate potentially carcinogenic substances. The RSPCA urges consumers to buy from other companies. The BUAV now stands almost alone among international animal rights and animal welfare organizations in supporting Body Shop.
So, how effective is Body Shop’s policy? The company takes elaborate steps so it can publicly state that it follows its rule. It requests that suppliers regularly warrant that they have not recently tested each ingredient. However, a former employee says some suppliers do not send in their statements and files are casually maintained. Sally Row, a student-scientist who worked briefly in BSI’s lab in 1991 says the company kept slipshod records and did not seem to enforce its animal testing policy. Most of BSI brochures are carefully written and technically “correct.” But its use of high decibel vitriol and misleading statements about other companies that are far more progressive in their testing procedures, and have devoted far more resources to developing alternatives, raises doubts about the integrity of its position.
In its brochures and press handouts, BSI maintains that its campaign has been enormously effective in getting suppliers to curtail animal testing. It claims that ICI Chemicals, a large multinational based in the UK, “changed its policy…and signed The Body Shop’s five year rule declaration.” A spokesman for ICI calls BSI’s statement “utterly ridiculous.” He says ICI has never been licensed to test chemicals for the cosmetic industry; it regularly tests chemicals on animals for other uses and will follow proper governmental procedures and test potentially dangerous chemicals on animals in the future.
In 1996, BSI revised its policies on animal testing. It now says it will no longer use an ingredient that was tested on animals for the cosmetic industry by its supplier after December 31, 1990. It will of course continue to use animal-tested ingredients developed for the medical or pharmaceutical industries but supplied to cosmetic firms.
(5) The Body Shop and Fair Trade
CLAIM: The Body Shop “ethically sources” its products and has an innovative Trade Not Aid policy that pays first world prices to third world workers. The Body Shop’s Trade Not Aid activities are “growing into a cornerstone” of its philosophy. Gordon Roddick says the next ten years will see “a huge development in this part of our business.”
According to Gordon Roddick, “Trade Not Aid” is the crown jewel of The Body Shop marketing strategy, sharing equal prominence with its “natural products” and “against animal testing” themes. Its fair trade claims are featured in its first advertisement, made with American Express. BSI has also gotten a tremendous amount of free publicity for supposedly creating trading links with economically depressed third world communities. The Body Shop’s literature implies that ethical sourcing is a significant and growing part of its business. In 1994, at the height of its self-promotions on fair trade, based on BSI’s own figures, “ethical trading” represented no more than 0.165% of its trade. Compare that with a fair trade organization such as Traidcraft, based in the UK, for which 31% of its turnover is from fair trade sources.
Nonprofit groups that set up many of these trading links for The Body Shop have become disillusioned with Roddick. The term Trade Not Aid has a distinct meaning in the fair trade subculture. Companies committed to Trade Not Aid don’t just buy products; they share expertise to help their trading partners compete on their own in a competitive international market. The goal is to nurture vibrant, independent businesses that are not dependent upon one western buyer. Not one BSI project fits these criteria.
It’s difficult to figure out what ethical sourcing, fair trade and Trade Not Aid mean to The Body Shop. For instance, Roddick was a key speaker at an International Chamber of Commerce meeting in Cancún, Mexico:
“The new corporate responsibility is as simple as just saying no to torturers and despots. The world applauded when the Olympics chose not to go to Beijing – we should listen to that message.”
Yet, even as Roddick was delivering her speech, BSI was sourcing millions of dollars of goods from China and other countries with a history of human rights violations. Over the years, Roddick has sourced almost all of her baskets from the mainland only stopped in 1995 after intense media criticism.
BSI’s trading policies are riddled with similar contradictions and misrepresentations. It claims it pays “first world prices” for its Trade Not Aid goods and “first world wages” to workers. In fact, it generally pays the going rate; in Mexico and in the Solomon Islands, it has paid below market. It could just as well be said that BSI pays “third world prices.” Critics from non-profit organizations say its third world trading projects are insignificant and patronizing – symbolic projects in photogenic, politically-correct locations, set up for mostly commercial ends. Reeling from mounting criticism, The Body Shop recently dumped its “Trade Not Aid” slogan and now uses the term “Fair Trade.”
The Ongoing Boys’ Town Fiasco
BSI’s fair trade programs have a not-so-socially responsible history. In 1987, The Body Shop began its much-publicized Trade Not Aid trading program. Its first product, footsie rollers made in India by the Boys’ Town orphanage, is perhaps the company’s most grotesque scandal.
As head of the fair trade company Traidcraft in the early 80s, Richard Adams had briefly carried a different Boys’ Town product, woodcarvings. He discovered that Joe Homan, the project’s director, was sourcing the carvings from sweatshops. He also discovered that Homan was molesting the boys and keeping the police at bay with a slush fund kept full by church agencies that were innocently sending sponsorship money. When Adams found out that the Roddicks had linked up with Homan, he was horrified. He immediately sent them a letter. “I never heard back,” he says. Two alarmed members of the Catholic order that had kicked out Homan years before also visited the Roddicks at their home. Still, nothing was done. This all took place in 1987- 88.
“Gordon was aware of Homan’s reputation,” says Anne Downer, who was a friend of the Roddicks and head franchisee for much of Asia. Earlier in 1987, the Roddicks had invited her to India for the christening of Boys’ Town. “I slept in accommodations close to where some of the boys lived. I was approached by one of the assistants to the project. He informed me about Homan’s behavior and the sexual molestations. He was concerned and extremely anxious that I inform Gordon and Anita. On my return to England, I went to Gordon and told him what had happened. “We’ve heard those rumors,” I remember Gordon saying, “but I don’t believe it.” He didn’t seem unduly concerned and didn’t seem to take it seriously.” If The Body Shop had cared enough to investigate the rumors, there was ample evidence of Homan’s sordid activities.
Over the next few years, as Homan went about stealing charity funds and buggering orphan boys, the Roddicks sent out glowing reports to their franchisees. “Joe’s work in The Boys’ Town is ceaseless, he cares for the boys and girls and they really appreciate what he is doing for them,” says one idyllic account in 1989. The roof caved in the next year when the story broke in the English and Indian press. The Roddicks first tried to suppress the story and then tried to turn it into a public relation’s advantage. “This story has not hit the Canadian Press yet but could erupt at any time,” read one memo. “It is important that you know your facts. Anita…blew the whistle on Joe.” A similar deceptive bulletin went to all of its American franchisees.
In 1990, Body Shop responded to the appeals of a Canadian woman who had visited the project, and resuscitated it under her directorship. BSI set up Teddy Exports down the road from Boys’ Town, and helped fund a school. The fiasco resurfaced in November 1995, when Homan was partially cleared of some charges in a British libel case. After the ruling, boys from his orphanage raided Teddy Exports and knifed some of the boys.
Here’s a capsule summary of The Body Shop’s other key “Trade Not Aid” programs:
Amazon Rainforest Bath Beads
The Body Shop has aggressively supported public campaigns to protect the rainforest. It produced an award-winning video called “Stop the Burn” about the pillaging of the rainforest. It says it offers rainforest Indians the opportunity to sell environmentally benign products rather than licensing their forests to Georgia-Pacific and other logging concerns. BSI now sells Brazil nut hair conditioner and two types of “rainforest bath beads” made from babassu nuts and Brazil nuts. BSI had claimed that its babassu oil beads were a Trade Not Aid product made with nuts harvested by Indians in the rainforest. Actually, they are made mostly from refined babassu oil purchased from the Croda Chemical Company. Babassu nuts are not even grown in the rainforest.
Its other rainforest bath bead product, Brazil nut oil beads, are made from nuts bought from Cultural Survival, a controversial organization based in Cambridge, Mass. CS now buys its nuts on the commercial exchanges (it also used to supply nuts from the commercial markets to Ben & Jerry’s for Rainforest Crunch ice cream). The commercial nut exchanges are supplied by some of the most rapacious, anti-environmental firms in Latin America including the Mutran family, which has been linked to killing union leaders in the southern Amazon, and employing slave labor. Not one nut used in the bath beads was directly sourced from indigenous cultures. Cultural Survival now acknowledges that the rainforest harvest has been a disaster, and has ended its support for the problem child it created to focus on more traditional indigenous rights projects.
The Kayapo Projects: Brazil Nut Oil Hair Conditioner and Bead Bracelets
In 1970, The Body Shop set up a project to harvest Brazil nuts for its hair conditioner that contains 1% oil. The project now employs about 70 out of 3500 Kayapo Indians in two of 14 Kayapo Indian villages. BSI is the world’s only commercial buyer of Brazil nut oil. Since there is no general market, it determines the price and therefore the income of the workers. Over the course of the five-month season, the average worker takes home $500- $850, yet BSI has said in its promotional literature that it pays “first world wages.”
The project was run by Saulo Petean, a white Brazilian, in partnership with a number of younger leaders, particularly Paiakan, the leader of one of the Kayapo villages. Roddick met Paiakan at the Altamira rainforest conference in 1989 and dubbed him “the next Gandhi” although he is very controversial. In January 1996, BSI fired Petean for reasons that remain unclear. Then in late February, one of the Kayapo Chiefs, Pykati-Re, sued the Body Shop for stealing the intellectual property rights of the natives. He and other leaders also accused BSI of misappropriating money set aside for health projects, cutting prices unilaterally, mismanaging the project, and reneging on a promise to pay for using of native images in its advertising.
Many of these problems are documented in a report prepared by the Institute of Development Studies in the UK for BSI. Finished in June 1995 as part of its social review, the report was suppressed by BSI, which also invoked a gag clause in the contract of the report’s authors, including lead researcher Patricia Stocker. The report also documents the negative consequences of another Kayapo project, bead bracelets, which was discontinued in early 1995 although the company still promotes the project as if it is ongoing. Since leaked to trade groups, the Kayapo study documents a history of questionable business and marketing practices. The study also reports that BSI has ended its program of sourcing bead bracelets made by Kayapo women.
These conclusions reinforce analyses by Cultural Survival, which initiated the harvest scheme, and independent anthropologists that believe it has been a disaster for the villages with only mixed economic benefits. The fad for Brazil nuts created by BSI, Ben & Jerry’s and others has disrupted the natives’ social order and is a factor in the plunge in Brazil nut prices that has cut revenues for other native nut suppliers including the Kayapo. University of Chicago anthropologist Terrence Turner says the project has provided a convenient cover for the Brazilian government to pull some medical, educational and other services. In desperation, Native communities – including the Kayapo – have actually expanded their concessions to miners and loggers.
Bath Mitts from Mexico
Bath cloths made from the maguey plant were developed and sold by the Berkeley The Body Shop years before the nonprofit group Twin Trading brought them to Roddick’s attention in 1991. Twin Trading says its relationship with BSI has been rocky from the start. BSI low-balled the price, paying the nonprofit group in Mexico $2.05 per mitt – less than the $2.20 paid by other buyers for a similar mitt. Twin Trading and the local nonprofit organization Xochipilli that run help run this project swallowed the difference. They now contribute their efforts at cost so as not to cut into the profits of the women workers.
Pauline Tiffen agreed to be interviewed at least eight times in 1993 and 1994, and much of it is on tape: “Anita Roddick is schizophrenic, she’s sociopathic; she took the project we set up and tried to subvert it” The program is run on a day-to-day basis by Peter Winkel, a Dutch anthropologist who shuttles between the villages and Mexico City. Winkel detailed problems during a taped April 1994 interview:
Sheabutter from Ghana
In 1995, Anita Roddick was featured in People magazine in Ghana touting yet another “Trade Not Aid” project. The Toronto Globe & Mail reports on January 3, 1996 local villages around Dalun took $20,000 in orders from the company a year ago. Villages that depended on revenues from selling sheabutter have since seen prices plunge 70%. After an initial purchase, the company stopped ordering yet local villagers kept processing going to meet BSI’s promises of future orders. And since BSI demanded that local villagers produce a variety of sheabutter that is not purchased locally, it cannot be sold. Ironically, the market for the raw nuts – which the villages were selling before BSI’s intervention – has gone up. The local economy is now devastated. The sheabutter machine in Dalun is broken, shrouded by tall grass. The half-built school is abandoned and overrun by grass. The Body Shop’s liaison in Ghana is now encouraging the villages not to rely on Body Shop.
Blue Corn Oil from the Pueblo Indians
The Body Shop’s poster campaign promotion for the Pueblo’s blue corn line featured a Hopi Indian woman wearing Zuni jewelry with Mayans in the background. BSI has purchased only a few thousand dollars of blue corn since the projects inception. In its first two years, the project has brought the Pueblos about $15,000. BSI claims to have provided the Indians a mill. The “mill” turns out to be a mill machine; BSI loaned the Indians $2000 which was paid back against gross receipts. Brook Industries hydrolyzes the blue corn powder for use in a facemask product. Its president, Geoffrey Brook, says the ingredient is used at such small amounts that it has no efficacy. “It’s all for show and public relations,” Brook says. BSI turned him down when he wanted to sell the hydrolyzed blue corn to other companies that could expand the customer base for the Indians so it could be a genuinely sustainable project. Brook calls Roddick a “modern-day colonialist” who exploits native cultures.
Organic Honey for Lip Balm from Tanzania
The Body Shop buys its lip balm pre-made from Autumn Harp of Vermont, which buys its ingredients from Cultural Survival, which buys from an English firm that sources from a cooperative in Zambia. The Body Shop lip balm contains about 10% honey. The Zambian cooperative says it is disillusioned with BSI since it has not followed through with promises of more business. Total estimated profits to the beekeepers over the first two years for honey sourced by BSI: about $1,000.
Nepalese Paper Project
BSI claims that it has “revived” the ancient craft of papermaking in the Katmandu valley by commissioning a range of hand-made paper products. Under the direction of consultant Mara Amats, the project turns out paper made from water hyacinth, recycled lokta and wild lokta. BSI buys about 40% of the low-end quality paper. The plant has grown from eight workers to over 200. At approximately the time Roddick linked with Amats, she also approached a nearby paper project financed through UNICEF which makes quality paper using lokta harvested in a unique, model, environmentally-sensitive manner. According to UNICEF, she then offered an unrealistically low price for its high-quality paper and the deal feel through. BSI promotes itself for contributing to a worker fund, yet according to Nepalese law, all firms are required to set aside a premium for worker activities. Its workers run UNICEF’s government-mandated community fund. The plant, which makes paper for BSI, has been criticized because it, not the workers, has controlled the fund.
(6) Charitable Contributions and Activist Campaigns
CLAIM: Anita Roddick says, “I don’t care a bloody thing about money,” and “We give most of our profits away.” The Body Shop claims it contributes more to charitable causes than most companies. In one brochure, it says it gives “an inordinately high percentage of pre-tax profits to often controversial charitable campaigns.” As recently as the summer of 1994, Roddick was quoted as saying: “so what else do I do with the money than give it away to groups and projects relevant and right for our times?”
Despite Roddick’s boasts, BSI has a history of hyperbolic representations about its charity record. The Roddicks own a castle in Scotland, a Georgian mansion near their headquarters and a flat in London. Husband Gordon has flown his polo ponies from South America to the UK and US on leased jets. How much have they actually contributed to charity? The Roddicks did not contribute during BSI’s first 11 years. Through fiscal year 1993, at the height of its rhetoric, BSI had given less than 0.89% of pre-tax profits to charity, less than half the US corporate average. What follows is the company’s exact contributions when my investigation commenced in 1993, and before it was embarrassed into dramatically increasing its charity:
BSI CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTIONS
YEAR $Contribution %Pre-Tax Profits
1976 0 0
1977 0 0
1978 0 0
1979 0 0
1980 0 0
1981 0 0
1982 0 0
1983 0 0
1984 0 0
1985 0 0
1986 0 0
1987 21,990 .42
1988 45,865 .62
1989 81,960 .36
1990 244,500 1.12
1991 336,000 1.12
1992 470,400 1.24
1993 288,990 .89
% of PRE-TAX PROFITS: .86%
[US AVERAGE: 1.5 – 2%]
Facing intense criticism, BSI has dramatically increased contributions, donating £771, 861 in fiscal year 1995. Some analysts mistakenly represent that money donated by The Body Shop Foundation comes from Body Shop. Despite the impression created by its name, documents show Anita Roddick and The Body Shop donated £25,000 to the Foundation – about 2.1% of total donations – until 1993. The Foundation had been funded almost entirely by two sources: Richard Branson of Virgin Records who has contributed £1,000,000 and independent franchisees who run their own charity drives. After its penurious charitable history was revealed in the press, and it faced sharp public criticism, BSI donated £480,000 to the Foundation in fiscal year 1995.
In its defense, BSI says it should be judged by its support of public causes, not by dollars figures. It has helped launch the cause-related marketing phenomenon and has sponsored campaigns with activist groups, usually by putting up posters in its shops and urging franchisees to contribute to causes. Many independent franchisees are committed to using their stores as a base for social campaigns and have done so at considerable financial cost. BSI was never involved in any “campaigns” until 1986 when faced with soft sales, it launched a “save the whale by buying The Body Shop jojoba oil products” tie-in with Greenpeace. It was The Body Shop’s first venture into social responsibility and it was a great commercial success, transforming Roddick from a quirky entrepreneur into a green marketer. She wanted to extend the joint promotion to Greenpeace branches around the world. Greenpeace International said no. Roddick herself refers to the feud in her autobiography.
Numerous taped conversations with Greenpeace International officials give some background to the falling out. For years, Greenpeace International would have nothing to do with the company although Greenpeace UK, which benefited from the commercial tie-ins, kept up its contacts. Nick Galley (head of PR) and Jonathan Smales (former head of Greenpeace) both went into detail about problems with BSI. One example:
1994 (tape interview) with Galley:
NG: “They were getting different receptions in every country that they went and some of them were more hostile to having The Body Shop in their countries. / What [Anita] didn’t understand was the environmental sensitivity vary from country to country and in some countries they really took exception to having anything to do with The Body Shop because of their use of certain chemicals. / Other Greenpeace entities [outside the UK) were much more sensitized to chemical pollution at that time and wouldn’t have anything to do with them.
JE: “Like Germany or Scandinavia?”
NG: “Yeah, yeah.”
In one of her three autobiographies, Roddick says that The Body Shop will only sell “products which hurt no one, which damage nothing. If customers realize the connection between certain products and major issues like the destruction of the rainforest, global pollution or the threat to primitive cultures, they will avoid those products.” Here are just a few contradictions surrounding BSI’s campaigns:
“American Express is involved in arranging financing for the destruction of our lands. That American corporate interests are using indigenous people’s plight for their advertising is inexcusable. That Body Shop’s ingredients are ‘environmentally friendly’ adds insult to injury.”
(7) Environmental Policy
CLAIM: The company is a model for green companies. It has published three groundbreaking environmental audits it calls “Green Books.” In its 1993 Green Book, The Body Shop says it will “ensure that environmental laws are complied with at all times and in the event of difficulties, they will be reported to regulatory authorities without delay.”
The press and many environmental groups have lauded Body Shop for voluntarily publishing “audits” of its environmental practices. In fact, they are not audits by the commonly understood term but are somewhat deceptive “reviews.” An analysis of BSI’s environmental practices and rhetoric suggests a superficial practice of responsible environmentalism, especially on the issue of sustainability.
The Body Shop first examined its production facility in Watersmead, England in 1989. Anita Roddick made a public commitment in her book to release that report. It was never made public. Insiders say the internal review found an embarrassing amount of wastewater and recycling problems.
The Body Shop, realizing it had made public promises that it might now be held accountable for, and shaken by the results of its review, hired an environmental director. It has since published three Green Books that it says are the first environmental audits ever published by a public company. In fact, they are not independently produced. The Green Books are internally collected and selectively presented reviews.
The first Green Book covered 1990 and was reviewed by Arthur D. Little, which was paid £4,000. The auditor, Dr. Ronald McLean says: “If the company was operating under US regulations, it would have faced huge fines or been shut down” for dumping non-biodegradable surfactants into waterways. The auditing company turned down an opportunity to do the second review. ERM (Environmental Resources Limited) examined The Body Shop’s second review in 1991-2 and was paid £4,000. It says The Body Shop’s recycling program was a “nightmare” and is not presented in context. Three years ago, Roddick publicly pledged she would publish environmental audits of her operations in the US, Hong Kong and Australia. To date, no audits have been published and none is now promised.
There are many environmental contradictions at The Body Shop. For instance, it prints its catalogs on ReComm Matte paper from Georgia Pacific, notorious for its environmental problems. GP is also a large harvester of rainforest timber. Sources say it switched to the GP paper in January 1993 because it is cheaper and glossier than the post-consumer waste recycled paper it was then using.
BSI’s product line is particularly problematic. Its cosmetics are undistinguished and filled with non-renewable petrochemicals which many firms have phased out. Over the years, it has phased out easily recyclable unbreakable glass containers for plastic containers made from petrochemicals, which are not recyclable in the vast majority of markets in which BSI operates. This move was made to save money on shipping costs but was promoted as environmentally progressive.
There are indications that BSI’s environmental standards at its UK headquarters at Watersmead have improved over the past few years, in part because of efforts by its current environmental director who’s hand has been strengthened by the recent controversy. Contradictions are widespread elsewhere. For instance, workers have complained about dangerous conditions at a packaging plant in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England. In the fall of 1993, Lisa Hayes responded to a glamorous ad in an English newspaper offering creative work opportunities at The Body Shop. It turned out a BSI franchisee was hiring people to wrap and pack Christmas baskets for near minimum wage. According to Hayes, workers were forced to work overtime without bonus pay and had no breaks. They were not supplied protective glasses or facemasks. “We all got eczema and rashes on our hands and face because of all the chemicals in the wrappings,” says Hayes. Everyone inhaled the shredded paper used to pack the baskets. Every time one of us coughed, shreds of different color paper came out of our mouths.”
BSI’s US operation has been plagued by irregularities. Government officials and David Brooks (he now works for the NJ Attorney General) who quit the company in disgust, report a pattern of problems:
“We had problems like the plant billowing foam that we traced back to Body Shop. The fact that it happened repeatedly is a conduct problem. Four times we traced the leaks to Body Shop but we also had other occurrences that we think came from them. I don’t think they could have discharged quantities that large by accident. And even if it was an accident, they were required by law to report it, which they didn’t.”
David Edward and Paul Alvey, the two top BSI-US executives at the time, knew about these problems. Eric Helyer one of BSI’s top executives in England also signs off quality and environmental policies. Helyer and his staff make regular visits to the US operation. Workers in the US say they had complained directly to Edward and sent letters directly to Roddick with no response. A number of workers have been fired because of “attitude problems” and “a lack of loyalty” after complaints were voiced, including one who went to the Food and Drug Administration with evidence of widespread quality control and environmental problems.
(8) Corporate Governance, the Financial Story and Franchise Relations
CLAIM: The Body Shop’s stock used to be lauded as the “shares that defy gravity.” BSI has been widely praised, and promoted itself, as a franchise-friendly company with “fewer than average” problems.
The Body Shop has grown quickly and held down its own risk by selling franchises at $350,000 – $550,000 and pushing wholesale products through the system. Franchisees become, in effect, managers-at-risk. This strategy works when sales are expanding. When the business matures – and same store sales have been flat-to-down on an inflation-adjusted basis around the world for years – the company’s profits are squeezed. This problematic financial reality, combined with the negative press, helped reacquaint the company’s stock with the laws of physics, sending it from a 1991 high of over 350 pence, and a1994 high of 263p, to a June, 1995 low of 107 pence – a loss of over $400 million in equity value, although the stock has recovered somewhat since.
Investors are apparently reacting to BSI’s loss of “glamour” status. In its most recent financial statement, pre-tax profits in fiscal year 1996 dipped to $49 million from $51 million while turnover increased 16%. The company has lost money for two years in a row in the United States. Same-store sales were also down over this period. By contrast, its chief competitor, The Limited’s Bath and Body Works, surpassed Body Shop as the largest merchandiser in the US of “natural-type” products, owning more stores and showing double-digit same-store sales growth.
What are the financial prospects for BSI ? BSI faces the expensive prospect of radically revamping its store designs and its aging product line. In January, Danish National Broadcasting reported that a distinguished Danish product laboratory had found formaldehyde in two best-selling Body Shop cosmetics, echoing similar findings by the German consumer magazine Öko-Test in numerous studies between 1990-4. In April, Women’s Wear Daily quoted an industry consultant as saying “You can’t offer low-end products at a premium price, which is where they are at.” The April 15, 1996 Fortune took note of BSI’s falling sales and resulting losses in the U.S., its frequent turnover at the managerial and vice-presidential levels, and the lack of a credible long-range operating plan. Fortune’s advice to investors: “stick to buying BSI soap – but not its shares.”
Franchisees are the public face and inner soul of The Body Shop. Many were attracted to the vision articulated by Roddick, are committed to a progressive corporate philosophy and are unaware of some of the contradictions of the parent company. The prospect of becoming a member of “Anita’s army” of socially conscious businesswomen has been one of The Body Shop’s greatest lures. Despite the current problems, a number of franchisees that signed on in earlier years and paid no or low franchisee fees got prime locations and remain prosperous. Newer owners, saddled with larger start-up costs and less-than–ideal locations are not doing nearly as well. They face stiff competition from a host of copycat “natural” cosmetic stores with lower prices and more flexible marketing strategies. Some analysts liken BSI to a sophisticated “pyramid scheme” with most of the risk shouldered by naive and idealistic franchisees.
In recent years, almost all of BSI’s profit growth has come from selling new franchises and designing and stocking stores for a per store fee of over $325,000. Its growth and prosperity is tied almost totally to expansion. 86% of its 1400+ stores are owned independently. In the past, the Roddicks have stated that they wanted to own only a few key stores while expanding through franchising. With the company unable to sell new franchises to maintain growth, the company has refocused its strategy to open more company stores.
The Body Shop attracted a lot of press attention in past years because of its stated commitment to screening potential franchisees for their progressive values. Applicants were required to fill out elaborate questionnaires with such questions as: “If you were a car, what would you be and why?” and “How would you like to die.” What role do values really play in awarding franchises? It’s difficult to know although there are many revealing indications. For instance, Gordon Roddick’s polo friends have been granted franchisees in Hawaii (the most profitable US shop), Chicago, Australia and other places. The rights to act as head franchisee in Asia was snatched from Anne Downer, the Singapore franchisee, and given to Justco, a department store conglomerate not known for its progressive policies. Gerald Rosenbaum, a failed clothing store businessman with a dicey reputation, was given the rights to the southern US.
The Body Shop has also granted franchises in many Middle East countries but not in Israel. Internal The Body Shop documents reveal that the company kowtowed to the Arab boycott so as not to offend franchisees in lucrative Arab markets. When the history of The Body Shop’s pro-boycott actions emerged during a legal battle in early ‘95, Gordon Roddick backed out of what promised to be an embarrassing court appearance in Tel Aviv and agreed to a permanent ban on BSI to sell products using The Body Shop name. BSI also paid over $300,000 in court costs and damages to its Israeli partner and accepted all charges against it.
The most questionable franchisee is Christopher Benbow who owns four shops in Florida. Benbow was the auditor at the UK accounting firm of Finnie & Co., which handled BSI’s accounts. In 1992, Finnie stripped Benbow of his partnership and forced him to resign when Stoy Hayward, the firm acquiring Finnie, reviewed the books. It turns out that Benbow, apparently in cooperation with the Roddicks and other BSI board members, had been washing personal expenditures (Caribbean trips and the Roddicks’ children’s private school expenses) through company accounts, in effect defrauding stockholders. Benbow apparently skimmed money off Finnie’s accounts as well. After he was fired, Benbow landed in West Palm Beach as a franchisee. He now has four stores– an apparent reward for his loyalty. Stoy Hayward and BSI refuse comment.
The Mills’ sisters in Washington DC are The Body Shop’s “star” US franchisees, offered to the press as examples of The Body Shop-US success story. They own six stores. Helen is a successful insurance executive and a friend of Anita. Mary Anne used to handle BSI publicity in the US and her husband, Dr. Jason Clay, headed Cultural Survival Enterprises, which sourced some ingredients for its Trade Not Aid programs before its collapse. The Body Shop cherry-picked the locations for the Mills’ stores. Yet, according to a former CFO and some of their friends, the Mills were recently in danger of losing their stores. They owe the Bank of New York almost $1 million and currently pay over $22,648 a month in principal and interest charges. According to these sources, the Mills have almost no equity in their stores and earn almost no return on investment.
The situation is worse for many other franchisees that didn’t start out with the Mills sisters’ built-in connections. Some are dipping into a lifetime of savings. Most have low profit margins while the product supplier – The Body Shop – is raking in millions in profits. Disgruntled franchisees that have been able to sell their franchises back to BSI have been forced to sign broad and probably unconstitutional gag agreements to intimidate them from talking to the government or press. With same store sales plunging in the US, The Body Shop has been unable to sell many new franchisees and has all but halted expansion plans in North America.
Franchisees in the UK, Canada, France, and Asia, among others, are embroiled in bitter disputes over a variety of financial, management and environmental issues. A number of franchises have closed down recently in France and Germany. In June 1994 The Body Shop paid its former head franchisee in Norway millions of dollars to settle a breach of contract suit. In the spring of 1995, it paid its former head franchisee in Singapore over $7 million to settle a conspiracy suit–in exchange for a gag agreement. Franchisees in France have long claimed that they were presented fraudulent data when they purchased their franchises; four suits are in progress. Franchisees in France say almost no independent Body Shop there is profitable.
In the wake of the press explosion in September 1994, The Body Shop hired a well-known director of investor relations, Gwen Gober, to try to mend fences. Gober had handled investor relations for years at Kingfisher. In early March 1995, Gober quit BSI in disgust.
Many of these problems might have been addressed if BSI did not have such an insular corporate culture and board structure. In the past, dissident board members were dismissed – two were in 1993. It never had an outside director until two were added in October 1994 – after three years of intense public criticism, although one left in late 1995. The Roddicks dominate the handpicked board. BSI’s board structure still fails even the minimum standards of corporate governance in auditing and management procedures as defined by the UK Corporate Governance reforms drafted in 1992. For years, BSI operated in violation of at least seven provisions of the Code of Best practices.
The Roddicks have been hoping for years to take the company private and operate the company as a charitable trust; they have long fantasized about taking the company private to insulate from the financial and ethical scrutiny that has proved devastating in recent years. The two non-Body Shop board members who feel the Roddicks are not adequately managing the current financial turmoil and needed to get a firm message from The City about the bleak prospects of getting funding for the scheme leading the Roddicks plan in October 1995. The non-BSI board members retained outside financial representation for investors to protect their interests. The reaction in The City was immediate and overwhelmingly negative – the investment community has already lost confidence in BSI’s ability to maneuver through difficult financial times ahead, and appears unwilling to lend the mezzanine financing necessary to take it private. In early March 1996, the Roddicks announced they were no longer trying to take the company private.
Over the past few years, the House Small Business Committee, which drafts new franchise laws, has received numerous desperate calls from franchisees from around the world. Dean Sagar, a senior economist for the Committee, says that BSI’s franchise agreement, though not unusual in the franchise business, is very one-sided. Sagar says its agreement is “the lowest common denominator” in an already sleazy business.
The Federal Trade Commission initiated a formal fraud investigation of The Body Shop in September 1993. BSI itself was notified in November 1993 of the investigation but lied to the press for over a year that it was not the target of an FTC probe. On March 29, 1994, FTC Commissioner Janet Steiger subpoenaed two former franchisees, an unusual step in the early stages of a fraud investigation. Detailed questionnaires were sent to current franchisees. Among the troubling issues raised by the House committee and addressed by the FTC:
In the past, BSI has provided prospective franchisees with what appears to be misleading profit and cost estimates, with projections of returns as high as 15-23%. Actual average returns for newer franchisees have been a fraction of typical BSI projections and has been negative in a number of cases. Some cost and profit projections have been based on The Body Shop-owned stores where many of the overhead costs are absorbed by the parent company. BSI also typically arranged for prospective franchisees to discuss their financial prospects with “head” franchisees who were given franchisees in the best locations and who pay 25% less for their wholesale products.
The Body Shop leaves out of its UFOC (Uniform Financial Operating Circular) information on its litigation history, an apparent violation of FTC statutes. BSI has made large payments in Canada and the US to settle intellectual property right claims, and is currently involved in litigation in a number of countries, including Canada (which sells franchises in the northern tier of the US), yet it has listed no cases in recent filings.
BSI supplies prospective franchisees with videos, articles and publications that claim that it is a leader in corporate social responsibility. New franchisees have purchased franchises based on this potentially fraudulent image. According to the FTC, articles presented to franchisees are considered legal documents.
The Body Shop appears to be the only franchise operation in the United States that competes with its own franchisees by issuing catalogs. Other companies that offer catalogs – for instance, Victoria’s Secret, Eddie Bauer’s and Sharper Image – own all their outlets. Radio Shack, one franchise operation that issues catalogs, does not offer mail purchases. Franchise experts say BSI cannibalizes its already fragile, independent franchisees.
After denying for months that the FTC was investigating the company, BSI now circulates a letter claiming that no problems were found. In fact, the FTC ended the investigation “at this time” as the company was radically revising its UFOC, the key document used by prospective franchisees and their bankers. In its letter in March 1995 ending the 18-month probe, the FCC says it should not be inferred that it either found or didn’t find instances of fraud. Since the FTC investigation began, BSI has all but ended franchising in the US.
NOTE: SEE APPENDED STORY FROM THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW, DECEMBER 2002, UPDATING BODY SHOP’S DETERIORATING FRANCHISEE SITUATION.
(9) The First “Feminist” Corporation – the Character of BSI
CLAIM: Anita Roddick says The Body Shop is an open, democratic, family-oriented corporation – Roddick calls it “the most honest cosmetic company in the world.” “We embrace everyone who works for The Body Shop and with The Body Shop as part of our extended family.” Roddick says she wants to keep her employees and franchisees for “50 years.”
What would happen if 60 Minutes aired the real story of The Body Shop? In early 1993, US communication manager Lisa Herling, frustrated by plunging morale, produced a video memo for top executives. The seven-minute 60 Minutes–like investigation portrays a company that overworks its employees, slights minorities, misrepresents the company’s commitment to social programs and offers no day care facilities despite representations by Anita Roddick. “Basically,” says the in-house exposé in one segment, “The Body Shop has no daycare policy at all.”
The Body Shop employees have long been upset by the large gap between public rhetoric and its private practices. In the past few years, BSI has lost more than two dozen top managers in Europe. In the US, its CEO, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, two Chief Financial Officers, Corporate Counsel, Product Planning Director, Product Development Director, Purchasing Head, Environmental Manager, two Communication Directors, Franchise Director, two West Coast Regional Warehouse Managers, director of Western training and many other top managers have either been fired, transferred or have quit. BSI has met with utter failure in its attempts to hire a new US CEO from within the cosmetic industry.
Former and current employees say The Body Shop continues to undergo morale meltdown. Employees are routinely fired with little notice or severance. Benefits are modest, even more so by the standards of “progressive” companies. (A joke around the company: “How can a The Body Shop worker get dental care? Say you’re a Kayapo Indian.”) The Body Shop has increased the number of part-time workers who are not paid full benefits, a process accelerated by its move to North Carolina, a right-to-work state. The BSI’s idealistic employees make less than industry standards; many get paid no overtime.” One employee said recently: “There are only two types of The Body Shop workers: those who are leaving and those sending out their résumés.”
Employees are fearful of raising internal problems after witnessing the dismissal of other “complainers.” In one telling example, creative services manager Dana Longstreet wrote a memo detailing a pattern of sexual harassment against female employees by top management. The memo, written in the fall of 1993, had been approved by her supervisor. But after it was circulated, chief executive David Edward allegedly reprimanded her. According to Longstreet, Roddick then sent her a fax dismissing her concerns. In January 1994, Longstreet filed a complaint on behalf of the women workers with the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Longstreet was then fired. In January 1995, Longstreet sued The Body Shop in federal court. BSI denied the charges but ended up paying a large settlement – in exchange for a gag agreement. In June 1995 a recently hired female executive sued BSI for sex discrimination after she was fired after telling the company she was pregnant.
To improve morale, in late 1993, The Body Shop hired Adizes, an EST-like corporate sensitivity company, based in Los Angeles. Adizes holds sensitivity training seminars for staffers and executives to open communication and hopefully improve morale. According to Adizes officials, The Body Shop has agreed to a three year, three million-dollar commitment. Many workers are outraged. “How about firing our incompetent management and giving us a raise instead,” said one. Adizes was finally fired in 1995.
Despite its morale problems, The Body Shop continues to attract a revolving-door cadre of loyal employees, overwhelmingly female and under 35. In the absence of critical information, many have come to view Roddick as an icon. BSI continues to maintain a public facade of openness and harmony among its employees.
The Roddicks have instituted a classic good cop/bad cop strategy to contain its credibility crisis. BSI, its lawyers, and its PR agency Hill & Knowlton, has reacted aggressively to silence employees, franchisees and journalists. It subjected a number of its workers in New Jersey and North Carolina to frightening interrogations on September 21-22, 1993. BSI executives and two lawyers grilled suspected “leakers” one-by-one for hours at a time. Employees were required to sign non-disclosure statements. When the Business Ethics story broke in September 1994, franchisees were “encouraged” to sign support statements or face the possibility of retaliation.
Body Shop has routinely used the club of the pro-plaintiff UK libel laws to intimidate journalists. Its outside counsel is in the UK is Lovell White Durrant – Robert Maxwell’s law firm and expert in threatening journalists to suppress damaging stories. The UK press has limited protections of free speech; truth is not a complete defense against a libel charge. The documentary program “Dispatches” lost a defamation suit in 1993 a tear after airing a tepid investigation about the hypocrisy of BSI’s animal testing policy. On a split jury vote, the Roddicks were each awarded £1,000 in damages – but £273,000 in lost profits and over £1.5 million in court costs. English journalists have been aware for years about threads of this story but have been intimidated by the realities of English libel law. The Telegraph, the Mail, the Times and the Independent have all dropped critical stories or refrained from following up leads fearing litigation. In the US, BSI retained Paul Weiss Rifkind, which paid a $45 million settlement to the government for its involvement in the junk bond fiasco and its representation of Centrust, the bankrupt Florida savings bank.
More recently, BSI began lashing out at organizations including Stephen Corry of Survival International, Richard Adams, Business Ethics magazine and National Public Radio. It threatened the Italian beauty magazine corporation Wenus Editzioni with libel for summarizing The Body Shop story in two of its magazines. A Danish liberal magazine, Press, also received numerous libel-like threats as it prepared a scathing critique of the company for an April 1994 article. When Business Ethic published its article, BSI sent two private investigators from the Argen firm, based in England, to Minneapolis for two weeks in August to shadow the executive staff. Two weeks later, the Roddicks illegally obtained the subscriber list of Business Ethics by setting up a phony charitable organization in cooperation with Hill & Knowlton, complete with a fake charity brochure. It then renewed a personal attack against the magazine and other critics. The Stevens-Knox Associates, which represents the mailing list on behalf of Business Ethics, called BSI’s actions “fraudulent, deceitful and illegal.”
BSI’s bombastic reaction to criticism and accumulating, consistently damaging evidence has led to sharp reevaluations of the company’s character by investment organizations. Franklin Research, a leading social research and investment firm, released a September, 1994 study saying it dropped BSI from its rating structure because “The Body Shop’s consistent use of character assassination” and its sometimes “less than impressive performance.” National Provident, one of the UK’s most respected ethical investment organizations, dropped BSI from its approved list. Social researcher and founder of Traidcraft, New Consumer and Out of This World, Richard Adams, who had effusively praised Roddick in two books, now had believes that Roddick and The Body Shop have systematically exaggerated or fabricated much of their history and are “vultures on social responsibility.”
ADDENDUM: 1996 SOCIAL ASSESSMENTS OF THE BODY SHOP
There are indications of limited positive change in some practices at Body Shop. Facing slowing sales, BSI broke with Roddick’s highly publicized “no advertising” pledge and is airing infomercials, working with Chiat Day in a $10 million ad campaign. Over the past two years, BSI has dramatically increased its charitable contributions (more money than the prior 18 years combined). It has established a “social audit” department, beefed up its environmental management team and hired an ethical trading expert to revamp its practices. Its franchising documents have been overhauled and the company is investing in new product development for the first time in years. During 1995, Body Shop underwent an intensive internal review of its operations, from its product line to its franchising practice and trade relationships.
Social Benchmarking – An Internal Review
As part of its self-analysis, Body Shop embarked on capstone benchmarking activities. In January 1996 it released a four-part internal survey document entitled Values Report 1995. This report attempts to go beyond a focus on investor relations and assesses BSI’s relationships with its other stakeholders including customers, franchisees, employees, the communities in which they operate and society at large.
Part one of the Values Report, a 32-page document entitled The Body Shop Approach to Ethical Auditing, describes the philosophy and methodology used for the three other reviews. It is based on similar work by the UK fair trade company Traidcraft with techniques developed by the New Economics Foundation of London, a social research group. The three reviews include “verifiers statements” issued by a variety of consulting/ research firms including NEF. The second and most extensive document is a 134-page internal “audit” entitled The Body Shop Social Statement 95. Although BSI’s stakeholders were sampled independently, BSI retained tight editorial control of the process. In some cases, criticisms contained in external reports commissioned for the project were not incorporated into the final statement.
The Guardian, among others, has characterized this effort as a collection of attitude surveys rather than a social audit. Nevertheless, it provides some insights into stakeholder attitudes. The report identified large gaps between the company’s self-image and how its stakeholders experience Body Shop.
Social Benchmarking – An External Review
During the firestorm surrounding the publication of “Shattered Image,” BSI Chairman Gordon Roddick was urged by a group of sympathetic but concerned US investors to seek an outside individual to assess the company’s social performance. After initially balking, Roddick hired Kirk O of Stanford. Hanson. Mr. Hanson has taught classes on business ethics and consulted for businesses on ethical issues. He is also a long-time social friend of the Roddicks and sits with Anita Roddick on the board of directors of several non-profit organizations that promote socially responsible business.
The Body Shop board of directors formally commissioned the Hanson report in October 1994. It was originally scheduled for completion in the summer of 1995, delayed until October, and then eventually presented to the board for comment in December. After refinements, and the addition of an exculpatory statement by The Body Shop, the report entitled: “Social Evaluation: The Body Shop International 1995” was made available to the public in April 1996.
The report correctly points out that there are no generally accepted methodologies for performing a social audit or assessment. A few companies, notably Ben & Jerry’s Homemade in the United States and Sbn, Denmark’s seventh largest bank, have utilized independent consultants to conduct subjective assessments of their social practices. No professional organization exists to provide guidance. Hanson states that BSI encouraged him to approach his assignment to advance the collective understanding of social auditing.
Independence and Contractual Arrangements
Hanson was hired as a consultant for 60 days of work, which included travel time, presentations to the board, research and writing. No information is provided about his stipend. Hanson states that this project dominated his non-teaching time from late 1994 through 1995 and provided most of his non-university income. Despite reassuring statement of independence, BSI was in a strong personal and economic position to influence the report’s tone if not the conclusions. For almost a year, Hanson had only one client and it paid a fixed fee for his evaluation. Although he was asked to arrive at an independent conclusion, he had already expressed his belief that Body Shop was a leading socially responsible company. Hanson also acknowledged that he had dinner with the Roddicks twice during his research, though he characterized them as “working” meals. Noting the close personal and professional relationships between the Roddicks and Hanson, a question must be raised about whether this can be considered an independent report.
For its part, BSI could have engaged any of numerous independent individuals with equal or superior qualifications, but no personal or professional conflicts of interest. And two of the largest US CPA firms have specialized departments that perform ethics evaluation services for their clients. Although quoted as an expert in business ethics, Hanson has not obtained a doctoral degree nor published books, monographs, or articles on social responsibility, corporate governance, business control, or auditing. His only known publications have been in the popular and trade press and not in refereed academic journals. His article “What Good are Ethics Courses?” which appeared in the September 1987 Across the Board was quoted in the Journal of Business Ethics. He does not appear to have formal experience or expertise in corporate governance.
Even after he had agreed to the commission, Hanson could have added a measure of independence by retaining a “board of experts” including experienced social auditors. Prominent accounting professor Marc Epstein of Stanford was listed as a consultant but he says that Hanson and Hanson alone determined its parameters and objectives, and supervised all of the research. After the engagement, but before the research phase, Hanson considered but rejected the idea of a review board but offered no rationale. Considering all of these circumstances, it is doubtful whether Hanson could comply with the independence standards of a professional body such as the American Institute of CPAs or any other professional association requiring objectivity.
As part of any professional engagement designed to provide independent assurance to the public, an auditor must control the scope of an inquiry and determine how evidence is gathered and evaluated. This was not done. Hanson states that he had “extraordinary access” to individuals at the company, but fails to identify what steps he took to verify this inside information. Hanson’s final report cites almost no numeric data or specific information, no statistical analysis, no footnote support and includes no bibliographic references.
The 28-page study is best characterized as a consultant’s analysis of the gap between the company’s image in various categories and its actual practices. Its design and layout resemble a marketing brochure rather than an academic study or formal audit document. Its claim to independence is further undermined by Hanson’s agreement to permit the Roddicks to add a foreword praising their own integrity. In sum, and in view of the less-than-rigorous presentation, this “Social Evaluation” seems strikingly similar to public relations documents that BSI has generated over the years. This conclusion is further supported by the fact that BSI and not Hanson published it.
An Auditor’s Mission: Objectives and Methodology
Over the past decade, guidelines have evolved to measure social and environmental performance including the CERES Principles, Caux Principles, TIAA-CREF Guidelines and ISO-14001. It is impossible to determine if Hanson drew upon or even was aware of these or similar guidelines. Although he states that the study draws upon “the work done by many others to develop criteria and standards of social performance,” none is identified except for his listing of Marc Epstein as a consultant. He offers no rationale for the methodological “system” he developed for this report. Hanson notes that the project had three stages: scope development, evidence collection and evaluation, and evaluation drafting. However, he does not explain what work was actually done in each phase.
The basic mission of an auditor is to define an objective, then gather evidence, evaluate the reliability of information, and test this information against the objective. By mentioning a seven-step work program, Hanson indicates that he is aware of the necessity for a formal procedure. However, since his report offers contradictory objectives, no details of what steps other than interviews were utilized, and few specifics to justify his findings, Hanson’s conclusions read more like personal opinion than objective analysis. In fact, his rating system – independent of the massive subjectivity of the available database on BSI and other companies – is rife with personal judgments.
Hanson says in his introduction that BSI requested “an examination of its social performance on those dimensions addressed in its Mission Statement and Trading Charter.” (Adopted 1994) Yet, no further mention is made of the Mission Statement although it is included as an Appendix. In the methodology section, Hanson says that his goal was “to evaluate the record of The Body Shop against the company’s own values and goals, against the practices of the most outstanding companies, and against the company’s claims regarding its social performance.” Without explanation, Hanson shifts his objective again, saying he will compare BSI to “comparable” companies or the “average company” in the UK and the US. At no point does Hanson define these terms or identify companies. By changing the focus of this study after it was commissioned, and being unclear on his objective, the reader is left in the dark as to what methodology was followed or why a revised methodology was developed.
The final report consists of scorecard rating in ten categories of social criteria broken down into 39 sub-categories. The categories are: company values and mission; relations with suppliers; trading with communities in need; concern for the environment; relations with shareholders; relations with customers; relations with employees; relations with franchisees; relations with community; relations with the public.
No explanation is offered for what appears to be a purely personal choice of categories. No hierarchy is assigned. BSI does reasonably well in a significant minority of the categories that reflect ambiguous social issues such as “human rights,” “advocacy of responsible business,” and “achieving social goals through franchisees,” although not of those social criteria are explained and there are no generally accepted definitions of these terms. It fares distinctly worse on categories measuring classic stakeholder issues such as franchise relations, corporate governance, responsiveness to customers, and integrity.
Hanson does not meet his daunting, if not impossible, goal of measuring performance issues. To meet his stated objectives, he would have had to:
* Ascertain the practical significance of BSI’s values and goals
* Analyze BSI’s performance against these values and goals
* Compare BSI’s performance against its claims and image
* Execute a comparable analysis of “outstanding” companies and compare those results with his analysis of The Body Shop
Since no accepted social criteria or database of social performance presently exists, this multi-part analysis would have required Hanson to execute dozens if not hundreds of social audits against which BSI would then have been contrasted.
Hanson also utilizes an idiosyncratic five star rating system, with “one star” being the worst rating and five the highest. He offers no explanation on what model this was based or how he would decide the number of stars to award in each category. Hanson gave two five-star ratings, 14 four-stars, 15 three-stars, six two-stars and one one-star. Product quality was not star rated. Hanson provides no explanation of why he believes his subjective judgments, given the illusion of objectivity by attaching stars, are more credible than evaluations by other academics or journalists. In the case of BSI, analysts have drawn significantly different conclusions – some more critical, some more positive – from similar data in almost every category.
Intentionality versus Practice
Hanson acknowledges the limitations of this social evaluation. The report, he writes, “ is dependent to a significant extent upon my own experience and judgment regarding good social practice.” However, he is not forthright in explaining his prism of analysis or personal biases, and he offers contradictory rationale for the scope and weighting of his data collection. He also restricted his interviews to a tiny sampling. Hanson had access to, but did not pursue, hundreds of top-level insiders, many of who had compelling evidence of overt ethical lapses across every part of Body Shop operations.
Hanson consistently confuses BSI’s stated intentions with its practices despite insisting in an interview that he guarded against assuming “good intentions.” In fact, this assumption is pervasive from the first category evaluated, “company purpose,” for which he awarded five stars. Hanson states that BSI’s “strong commitment to both commercial success and to social betterment is exceptional among larger companies.” But that is no more than a replication of Body Shop’s stated intentions. Hanson documents the company’s prosperity, and the remarkable private wealth of its founders is well known, but he provides no evidence for his assertion that society has benefited from Body Shop’s existence.
Hanson makes few documented distinctions between BSI claims of performance and evidence of performance. Analyzing the Company Values and Mission, he states “Anita Roddick is an extraordinary advocate for corporate responsibility and a vision of business as an agent of social betterment and change.” Those words read like a Body Shop public relations handout. How and why did he reach that conclusion? Meanwhile, Hanson mentions nothing about extensive criticism that Roddick exaggerates complex issues for commercial advantage, or that BSI’s integrity may well be undermining the movement for corporate responsibility.
Hanson praises a number of BSI initiatives but does not analyze them in context. He gives high grades for its stated commitment to human rights including its condemnation of companies that trade with China. Yet, Body Shop actively trades with China and has recently negotiated to set up shops in China as well as Cuba. He concludes that Body Shop is a pioneer in the field of environmental management without independent citation. BSI has published environmental reviews but so have hundreds of other companies, over more years, in far more detail, involving much more complex environmental systems. BSI’s environmental statements have been criticized for concealing data or presenting information out of context by the independent auditors who reviewed them.
In Body Shop’s 1994 annual report, Gordon Roddick called fair trade a “cornerstone” of the company. It is certainly a key dimension of its marketing strategy. Hanson perpetuates the myth that it is a leader by citing company data that it sources 2.2% of raw ingredients and 17.8% of accessories from third world projects. Yet in 1993, at the height of its Trade Not Aid promotions, fair trade represented 0.165% of turnover. Compare that with the for-31% turnover by for-profit fair trade company Traidcraft.
Hanson characterizes its trading schemes as “small and few in number” and have not been forthrightly promoted. Hanson provides only tantalizing hints. He contends, without any supporting information, that BSI’s fair trade problems are not deliberate attempts to take advantage of third world communities but problems can be blamed on “poor communication” and “poor management,” and he side steps its history of exaggeration.
Hanson makes only passing reference to one trading program, Body Shop’s flagship project with the Kayapo Indians in the Amazon from whom it sources tiny amounts of Brazil nut oil for a hair conditioner. Yet a detailed analysis was available that offered a window into the company’s character. Commissioned by BSI in 1995, the critical 56-page report by the Institute of Development Studies concludes: the extraction of Brazil nuts is unsustainable according to the Instituto Socio Ambiental (ISA); BSI misrepresents the for-profit trade link as a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) project; the fact that the relationship is commercial and different from the relationship that exists between a development agency and a partner producer is masked; most experts on indigenous affairs and sustainability believe BSI has benefited enormously from the strong positive image associated with the project and in direct sales of cosmetics, and some believe that the Kayapo are not being adequately compensated for use of their image in company marketing; the project has disrupted centuries-long social structures within the Kayapo. BSI also used to buy hand-braided wristbands but unilaterally discontinued that project to the consternation of Kayapo women.
According to the authors of the IDS study, Body Shop spent negotiated for months to soften the criticism, then decided to suppress the report entirely. It also enforced a gag clause in the authors’ contracts preventing them from discussing its conclusions. Although Hanson had a copy of the report, he never directly acknowledges the issues it raised or even the fact of its existence.
Although Hanson states that his social review was not limited to a specific period, he sporadically limits the scope of his analysis, which distorts his conclusions. This is particularly evident in evaluating its charitable contributions for which he awards four stars. The charity figures are grossly out of context. Although Hanson passingly mentions, “until 1993 the company contributed relatively little cash to charitable causes,” he never says just how little. BSI contributed zero dollars to charity in its first eleven years of existence. By 1993, when Anita Roddick was claiming that she “gives away” most of her profits and BSI brochures claimed it gave “an inordinately high amount of pre-tax profits to charity,” the company was averaging .89% – less than half the average percentage of donations by US companies, and less than one-tenth of some firms.
Traditionally, one of the key dimensions of corporate responsibility has been the integrity of products: their quality, how honestly they are marketed, and competitiveness of their prices. Hanson subsumes products under the category “relations with consumers.” He side-steps integrity question at the heart of Body Shop’s image by stating “there is no accepted standard of quality in the cosmetic industry.” That of course could be said about most industries since quality is to some degree a subjective standard. But there are standards of honesty. Although BSI has created an image that it is a premium quality “natural” cosmetic company, its products are based on commercial formulas, made with petrochemical ingredients and packaged in plastic bottles made from nonrenewable chemicals.
Consumer magazines and natural product experts have consistently criticized the quality of Body Shop products. Paula Begoun criticizes the company for using “irritating ingredients” such as alcohol, petro-chemical ingredients and the preservative triethanolamine, which “can be very irritating and dangerous on your skin.” Zia Wesley-Hosford notes that BSI’s products contain isopropyl myristate, mineral oil, petrolatum, sodium lauryl sulfate and triethanolamine. One of America’s leading natural ingredients experts, Debra Lynn Dadd, author of six books including Nontoxic, Natural and Earthwise, says BSI uses “outdated and unnecessary chemicals and deceptive brochures and product names. Consumers can easily find more natural shampoos, soaps and lotions that are safer and less expensive.”
The Integrity Conundrum
The Body Shop sells commodity products in an extremely competitive price-sensitive business. Its marketing point-of-difference – its brand identity – is integrity. Consumers buy BSI’s pricey shampoos and lotions because they believe they are high quality and natural and that the company practices what it preaches.
Although the integrity issue pervades every category, Hanson quarantines this issue to one section, “relations with the public.” He says Body Shop has a “pattern of exaggeration,” giving it low grades on accuracy of communication. He reserves his lowest, one-star rating for “openness” and “reaction to criticism.” This pattern of misrepresentation and defensiveness, whether conscious or not, goes to the heart of the integrity doubts that prompted the investigation in the first place. Although low integrity grades should shade every other category, Hanson does not give this sufficient weight.
Perhaps most troubling, Hanson consciously avoids the key character issue that sheds the most light on the character of the company and its founder. Anita Roddick has consistently misrepresented the facts surrounding the origin of her company. According to numerous interviews with Roddick’s best friend at the time, Aidre Vaillancourt (who became the first franchisee and board member), her first cosmetic advisor Mark Constantine, and her long-time PR director Janis Raven, BSI’s name, store look, product line, marketing concept and even future products were copied directly from the Berkeley The Body Shop.
So where does Hanson come down on this crucial issue of whether Anita Roddick has based her company story on fabrications and exaggerations? Hanson writes: “I found no evidence to prove the founders knew of a California-based company known as The Body Shop before opening their first shop.” In an interview, Hanson says that by “proof” he means that the Roddicks would not confess when confronted with this allegation. The Roddicks refused to explain how her first price sheet, issued in 1978 could be word-for-word identical with a catalogue issued seven years before in Berkeley. Hanson lamely acknowledges that there is extensive evidence but says that he “chose not to push the Roddicks” in this sensitive area. Hanson also avoided interviewing a number of early colleagues of Anita Roddick who were on record with compelling evidence that Body Shop had plagiarized the original Berkeley store and then fabricated stories of discovering exotic ingredients while traveling the world.
Perhaps the most significant omission from the Hanson report is his failure to address the effectiveness of BSI’s Code of Conduct. Ethics programs are recognized as one important internal mechanism for motivating behavior and accomplishing organizational goals. BSI’s Code states that it will “ensure care, honesty, fairness, and respect” in connection with trading activities with local and international communities. One would expect that BSI, which calls itself a leader in the field of ethical stakeholder relationships, would have in place programs to accomplish its stated intentions. Hanson evaluates neither the Code nor its “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities,” called in its Social Statement 95 “the yardstick by which the company…can be measured in dealing with its people.”
A developed ethics system would include an ethics education program, regular monitoring of performance, supervision by an ethics officer or board level ethics committee, an ethics hot-line, and possibly an ombudsperson. Although an admirable sentiment, neither Hanson nor BSI demonstrates that these principles have been implemented.
What are Body Shop’s ethical strong points? According to Hanson, “the company’s record of social performance has been strongest in areas…. independent of the traditional trading commercial activities of the company.” Hanson states BSI has demonstrated a mixed (actually poor) record “on shareholder concerns such as financial performance, governance structure, and maintaining the quality of management.” He says the company’s relations with its employees has been “mixed” (poor is more accurate), that its relationship “with head franchisees and sub-franchisees, its most important business partners, have been varied” (very poor), says some suppliers had been approached by “company representatives” with unethical proposals, and states that past promotional claims (of the “natural” quality of the products) “raise concerns” of an ethical nature.
Hanson’s citations all go to the question of Body Shop’s honesty and ethics. Yet it almost appears as if Hanson puts aside his own findings to embrace the Body Shop’s contentions that it should be measured by the decibel level of its claims. Hanson bizarrely concludes that “overall, The Body Shop demonstrates greater social responsibility and better social performance than most companies of its (large) size.” He cites no basis for using neither financial nor stakeholder yardsticks for measuring corporate responsibility. In other words, Hanson sets personal, idiosyncratic standards, yet never acknowledges (or even seems aware, for that matter) what those standards might be.
In the foreword to the Hanson report, the Roddicks claims that “the integrity of the business shines through amidst some ineptitude, some lack of attention, some good old fashion neglect.” Hanson’s social evaluation, despite his lame conclusion, is not one of vindication. Considering the pervasive problems thatch has identified at Body Shop, the Roddicks’ statement is a delusion, an act of crisis management, or both.
Hanson concludes that social assessments are subjective by nature. That does not mean that they are as arbitrary as this exercise appears to be. Researchers should be forthright about identifying bias and clarifying objectives and methodology. That Hanson changed his objectives mid-stream and offers little background on how he performed his research leaves readers with the belief that his work lacks substance and credibility, when this may not be the case. Furthermore, social researchers must be cautious about proffering pseudo-scientific standards such as a five-star rating system. That Hanson’s ratings conflict at times with both his written summaries and Body Shop’s internal social evaluations raises further doubts about his judgment.
Hanson never directly engages what he was commissioned to do – assess the ethics of Body Shop’s operations. Hanson’s judgment that BSI exhibits “greater social responsibility” than other companies is arbitrary. It would be far more effective to identify model corporate practices as they effect identifiable stakeholders – customers, investors, franchisees, vendors, employees, the communities in which they operate, and society-at-large. Corporations that address stakeholder issues but do not engage in relentless self-promotion may be seen as less “socially responsible” if the arbitrary standards utilized by Mr. Hanson are adopted in future assessments. Companies expert in cheerleading social causes that peripherally relate to its stakeholders undermines the movement to establish a rational framework for social and ethical assessments. Experience suggests that exemplary practices are not likely to be found in companies more expert at talking the talk than walking the walk.
Australian Financial Review
December 18, 2002
Body Shop’s Packaging Starts to Unravel
Author: Jon Entine. Jon Entine [https://www.jonentine.com] is an independent writer, scholar-in-residence at Miami University (Ohio), and an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.
As the Body Shop International’s stock craters, questions abound whether the ethical and financial problems of the parent will be visited upon Body Shop Australia. Jon Entine reports.
Anita Roddick can expect a lump of coal in this year’s Christmas stocking. The erosion of the financial prospects of Body Shop International the company she founded 26 years ago appears to be accelerating, its stock losing a third of its value in the past two months in anticipation of another dismal, underperforming holiday season.
Touted a decade ago as the “shares that defy gravity”, Body Shop has long since rediscovered Newton’s Principia, plummeting from 372 pence to near 70p, a loss in valuation of more than GBP500 million ($314million).
It’s a long way from the days when Roddick was being hailed as the “Mother Teresa of Capitalism”.
Back in 1994, she was in San Francisco to open a freshly-minted Body Shop yet another franchise in what is now a 50-country, 2,000 shop chain, with 70 franchises in Australia.
It was morning and the scent of patchouli filled the store. But the crowd was more Britney than bohemian. Girls in designer jeans chattered on purple cell phones, standing painted nails-to-painted nails beside mums with Gucci bags. It could have been any Body Shop from Tokyo to Sydney.
Corporate executives? “Robber barons,” Anita hissed. (Everyone calls her by her first name.)
Investment bankers, who had helped make her wealthy? “Blood-sucking dinosaurs.” Rough words but delivered with sincerity. There is a magnetic force about her. Charisma.
It was still the best of times, with the media lauding her as a trail-blazing feminist who packaged politically correct causes in jars of facial cream. “I’d rather promote human rights, environmental concerns, indigenous rights than promote a bubble bath,” she gushed. Here was a harbinger of the New Age, weaned on can-do chutzpah and do-right rhetoric. It was impossible not to notice that Roddick was framed by shelves of Body Shop bubble bath, fourteen varieties.
The soap bubble has long since burst. That franchise is now gone, along with 200 others in the United States and the United Kingdom that have folded or been taken over by the British-based multinational. Body Shop International has eked out meager operating profits in recent years, earning GBP26.7million on turnover of GBP400.7million in 2002.
“On an ongoing basis, it is barely profitable,” says Matthew MacEachran of Investec Henderson Crosthwaite in London. “Their extraordinary expenses, reorganization charges, and costs of acquiring failing franchises have become recurring and commonplace.”
As the accounting saying goes, “profit is opinion, but cash is fact”. In that regard, Body Shop is in precarious shape. Store profits and earnings per share, in decline since the mid-1990s, are sinking fast.
In Britain and America 60 percent of its business profits fell nearly 25 per cent last year. “They haven’t had positive net cash flow for more than five years,” says John Stevenson of ING Barings Charterhouse. “They’ve pissed away more than GBP110million.”
In August 2000, Roddick tacitly acknowledged the depths of the problems, deriding her creation as a “dysfunctional coffin”. It was an odd comment as she and husband Gordon were desperately searching for a suitor to take the damaged goods off their hands. Not surprisingly, only bottom feeders expressed interest. After talks collapsed early this year, and facing grim prospects, the Roddicks announced that they were reducing their management roles once again. They installed yet another executive team on a short leash, the fourth corporate makeover in a decade.
“As an innovative leader and growth company,” says Stevenson, “they’re a dead concept.”
Australians may be shocked at the turn of events at Body Shop, whose problems have gone unreported in the local press. According to University of Technology sociologist Eva Cox, now verifying her third “social audit” of the Australian franchises, employees retain a positive view of the company. “It’s a young, female, energetic, healthy culture.”
Graeme Wise, who owns most Australian shops, seems “passionate about doing the right thing”. Wise took control in 1999 after what insiders say was a bitter divorce from long-time business partner Barrie Thomas, who now owns 17 New Zealand franchises.
Is this a tale of two inextricably linked but different cultures the once idealistic but now bumbling British parent and the younger, still enthusiastic Australian progeny?
It’s not clear if Australia suffers the grinding declines experienced by franchisees worldwide. Wise refuses to disclose the finances of his privately owned franchises other than to say that they are “performing well”. BSI has not broken out Australasia data since 1998, when the region turned a profit of GBP1.8million on sales of GBP33.8million, 5 per cent of worldwide sales.
While Body Shop is moving to a company-owned business model in its largest markets, most shops in smaller, less lucrative markets like Australia are run by franchisees.
From the company’s earliest days, franchising appeared to be the goose that laid the golden egg. According to Roddick’s autobiography, Gordon realized that the best way to expand was through “self-financing”.
He all but gave away shops at first, positioning Body Shop as a low-risk wholesaler supplying franchisees who shouldered the start-up costs.
Body Shop thrived on the idealism of young women like Anne Downer, a Brit living in Singapore. On a visit home in 1981, Downer wandered into a Covent Garden shop and fell in love. “I thought Anita was quite a maverick. I liked her wacky sense of `let’s do it differently’.” The 22-year old hopped on a train to headquarters, eventually coming away with rights to eight Asian countries for a few hundred pounds.
Body Shop had a guaranteed outlet for wholesale products. It gradually jacked fees, pocketing hefty chunks of franchisee’s investment. (US franchisees now pay as much as $US774, 750 ($1.4 million) plus a 5 per cent sales royalty.) But as competition intensified, margins shrank. At first, BSI felt little pain for it continued to profit from expansion. But it was not long before often-naive entrepreneurs, leveraged to the edge, realized they were at the mercy of a multinational company with its own agenda.
Over the past decade, franchisee blow-ups and suits have erupted throughout the world, except for Australasia. In 1995, Downer collected $US6.2million to settle a dispute after BSI occupied her Singapore stores and snatched her Asian franchise rights. It tried to force her into bankruptcy on Christmas Eve, which the courts denied. It paid $US878, 900 to its former Norwegian head franchisee, who alleged breach of contract. Gordon agreed not to contest charges filed in an Israeli court accusing Body Shop of libel and kowtowing to the Arab boycott, which led to it being stripped of the right to operate in Israel.
“Body Shop may be a great platform for Roddick’s whims, but as a business model it just doesn’t work for most franchisees,” contends Lyn O’Donnell, a British franchisee who settled a fraud suit against BSI for GBP301,000 in 1998.
All told, Body Shop has paid out more than GBP100million to settle 14 franchisee suits and buy out dissident franchisees and is on the verge of settling a US class action. Although details in each case are different, franchisees broadly contend that financial problems reflect deterioration in BSI’s operating ethics. Product supply and quality of its cosmetics, which franchisees must source from the parent company, top their list.
Unlike premium firms that pitch themselves as natural, Body Shop relies on bright colors and heavy scents petrochemical laboratory creations. This is in direct contrast to its claims of being environmentally friendly. A spokesman responds that its products are “inspired by nature”.
Choice magazine rated Body Shop’s moisturizer and shower gels high but panned a shampoo, also noting its high cost. “Low-end at a premium price,” sniffed America’s Women’s Wear Daily. Its eye gel came under attack from US Consumer Reports, which noted that chemical fumes that irritate the skin create its cooling sensation. The eye gel, moisturizer, and baby cream were the subject of scathing exposes by German consumer magazine Öko-Test (Green Test), which found cancer-causing formaldehyde. The investigating scientist said the formaldehyde resulted from overuse of synthetics to control system-wide bacterial contamination. “Their products are filled with bugs,” says Dieter Wundram, who later became a consultant for Body Shop before quitting in disgust.
Quality control has been a persistent problem. Its pumice foot scrub was regularly contaminated, according to BSI’s founding cosmetologist Mark Constantine, a finding confirmed by managers and internal company memos. The US Food and Drug Administration cited Body Shop for eight health violations in 1993 after employees complained that it suspended standard microbiological procedures to pump production before Christmas. The company shipped and sold hundreds of bottles of contaminated banana shampoo before getting wind of the FDA investigation.
Body Shop claims it has put such problems in the past. But just last December, Denmark’s Green Guide blasted its two best selling cosmetics for containing chemicals that it labeled “poison”.
Roddick’s reputation for charitable giving has also stirred resentment among franchisees, which often give generously in time and money but see the head office garner credit. Roddick has crowed that she “gives most of our profits away”. But BSI didn’t contribute to charity over its first 11 years and did not increase donations to average corporate levels until a wave of negative publicity in 1994.
Controversy has centered on its “Trade Not Aid” promotions, particularly its sourcing of Brazil nuts. The former face of this promotion, a Kayapo Amazon chief, successfully sued for exploiting his image. University of Chicago anthropologist Terrence Turner ridiculed its initiative as a gimmick, calling it “Aid Not Trade” aid by developing peoples to Body Shop with no real trade in return. Survival International’s Stephen Corry, who once collaborated with Body Shop in the Amazon, goes so far as to characterize the company as “sleazy” and “no more ethical than a heap of beans”.
Much of Body Shop’s good press flows from its reputation as a pioneer in social accounting, in which companies self-report social, environmental and financial performance. Here the story is mixed. A Financial Times survey ranks it second among companies for managing environmental resources. But questions linger. BSI has quashed at least two environmental audits after embarrassing problems turned up.
“I visited the plant a few years ago,” wrote one former auditor, who asked to remain anonymous. “It was weird to see these truly gigantic extrusion machines, each the size of a family house, pumping out millions of plastic bottles, while 18-wheelers drove by outside painted with politically correct slogans.”
David Brooks, a former Environmental Protection Agency lawyer, BSI’s US environmental director in the early 1990s, dismisses its environmental initiatives as “window dressing”. He detailed lackluster recycling practices, and regular discharges of hazardous waste into the water system near its headquarters in New Jersey, and then covered up by top executives.
With financial problems multiplying, BSI recently discontinued publishing assessments. Wise says he remains committed to the practice. Yet he refuses to release financial data, the environmental survey has no contextual information, and the social audit amounts to a survey of staff and consumer perceptions. It does not provide wage and benefit data or information from key stakeholders including vendors or sub-franchises.
“Their reports are clearly inadequate,” says Simon Zadek, head of British-based Accountability, which wrote the standards Body Shop contends it follows. “Good practices require companies benchmark financial, social and environmental performance, not only internally but against outside measures and firms. They’re not doing that.”
Cox admits the shortcomings in the audits she verifies but says they’re an important, if small, move towards corporate transparency. “All I can say is that it is perceived by current employees as being a good company. Many companies do these surveys, but they are used only internally. The positive here is that Body Shop releases this data publicly, which encourages accountability.”
Few doubt Body Shop’s idealism about broad principles, from human rights to empowering women. However, Anita Roddick, the symbol of the brand, has been dogged by ethical questions that begin with the very founding of the company. Just how ethical is it at its core?
Roddick boasts that Body Shop is her original creation. That is a clear fabrication. The Body Shop saga begins in 1970 when young Anita traveled to San Francisco with then boyfriend Gordon to visit his best friend, David Edward. Edward’s former wife, Alma (now Dunstan-McDaniel), remembers dragging Anita to a favorite shop, filled with tie-dyed decorations and redolent with incense.
“That was the place to buy shampoo and body cream,” Alma says. Owners Peggy Short and Jane Saunders had carved the original store out of a converted garage, calling it The Body Shop. Alma recalls Anita buying armfuls of hand-cut soaps, loofah sponges, and cosmetics in small plastic bottles with hand-written labels.
Roddick’s copycat Body Shop with similar hand-sketched logo, plastic bottles, and “breakthrough” recycling policy emerged six years later. Comparisons of the brochures of the American original and Roddick’s copycat store are telling. Four O’clock Astringent Lotion morphed into Five O’clock Astringent Lotion. Korean Washing Grains, uniquely developed by the women who sewed kimonos for the Americans, became Japanese Washing Grains. Roddick even lifted the blurb on the original brochure masthead, which noted: “All of our products are Biodegradable & made to our specifications”; “Bottles 20cents or bring your own.” Anita’s translation: “All our products are biologically soft and made to our specifications”; “Bottles 12p, or bring your own.” Roddick copied product descriptions word-for-word, including grammatical errors.
For years, Short and Saunders were unaware of the brazen heist. As a result, when the Roddicks approached them in 1987 to buy the rights to the Body Shop name for $3.5million, they jumped. They renamed their shops Body Time. Only later did they stumble upon the copycat brochures.
“What really got them angry,” says a colleague “was the ongoing deception Anita’s lie that she originated the idea, the green color scheme, the products, all the things that gave the company its unique identity. Never in our wildest imagination did we think that Roddick, with all her claims about being so honest, would keep this fabrication going.”
The Roddicks steadfastly deny “any knowledge” of the original sin, often brandishing a pre-discovery quote from the founders that Roddick “didn’t rip us off”. That brings a blunt response from Alma. “That’s bullshit, because I took her [to the original]. She had a number of those products in her suitcase to go home. She made sure she had one of each. It was a lie from the start. Anita ripped them off.”
Roddick would later embellish her founder’s myth with claims that she had come up with exotic products during her wanderlust travels. According to recorded interviews with Constantine and public relations director Janis Raven, her stories are fiction. “I was fully aware that she hadn’t had the idea about wandering in Polynesia,” Constantine told me, referencing one of many tall tales. “The wonderful joke with Janis Raven was always: `Janis, can’t you do something about Anita? You created all this bloody publicity thing.’ You create the monster you can’t control.”
Sitting in her London office, Raven chose her words carefully. “I think Anita Roddick is a very brilliant woman.” She paused. “You know, Anita’s gone over the top. We used to joke that I’ve created this Frankenstein. If you start believing all this stuff that is written about you, you have got to go dotty, haven’t you? She started to believe her own publicity and this is always the death knell to anybody.”
Journalists who have probed these founder fabrications have been the target of personal attacks and legal threats. In its assessment of BSI’s ethics, widely respected Trillium Asset Management assailed its “consistent use of character assassination” against reporters, franchisees and other critics. Even Body Shop’s social auditor gave it a rock bottom rating for aggressively defensive responses to criticism.
Perhaps inevitably, Body Shop’s ethical contradictions are intimately tied to its franchisee relations, raising doubts whether it can restore the trust necessary to revive. That link is underscored in a continuing battle over a 1997 bankruptcy filing by a Canadian couple, which once owned six shops. Last June, an Ontario judge blasted Body Shop for “egregious breach of widely accepted commercial morality … not consonant with our system of justice and general moral outlook”. Body Shop appealed. In a ruling on August 19, the Canadian Court of Appeal affirmed the finding that it had engaged in “dishonest and unconscionable” practices in dealings with its former franchisee.
These endless dust-ups leave analysts aghast. “The Roddicks are just not suited to be running a public company,” observes Seymour Pierce’s Richard Ratner. “At the end of the day, Body Shop is tired and dysfunctional.” Ratner believes it has a long shot at stabilizing its business if new executive chairman Adrian Bellamy “can keep the Roddicks at a distance”.
That’s unlikely. The Roddicks control more than 50 per cent of the voting stock and control the board with a minority of independent members. That’s typical of public companies but contradicts corporate responsibility standards that Body Shop voices support for. Roddick’s recently anointed herself creative consultant, offering “essential expertise in product, marketing and values” the issues at the heart of Body Shop’s problems. “Being now a non-exec is going to be much more fun for me because you can be much more than a tyrant.” This advice is expensive: she pockets GBP195, 000, which combined with the Roddicks’ board remuneration brings the couple’s annual take to GBP465, 000.
Does the parent company’s troubles threaten the survival of Body Shop Australia? Wise remains upbeat, claiming that “customers continue to shop with us in increasing numbers” he refused to supply details and that it will prosper as “an activist organization and a retailer committed to customer service excellence”. Asked about the controversies that swirl around the Roddicks, Wise offered unqualified support. “I have been inspired and motivated by the values inherent in the philosophies that Anita and Gordon Roddick brought into the business they built.”
Eva Cox for one is not convinced. “There is very real danger that their worldwide problems will damage them. After all, Roddick is the brand. Good corporate citizenship requires attention to actual stakeholders: its workers, customers, and suppliers.” Her concerns extend beyond the parochial fate of the interlocked Body Shops. “In the end, you have to run your business with probity, and ethically. If Body Shop falls over, it will do tremendous harm to the cause of socially responsible business. It’s all a bloody shame. I hope they can pull up their socks before it’s too late.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This analysis was prepared without the cooperation of The Body Shop. In fact, BSI engaged in numerous covert and overt attempts to block the research and discourage its dissemination. Nonetheless, the author spent considerable time and effort trying to piece together BSI’s perspective on issues and incidents cited in this study. Considering these limitations, and to the best of the author’s understanding, this review is factually accurate and in context.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Jon Entine; email: firstname.lastname@example.org