The Legacies of Anita Roddick

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Common Dreams

The Legacies of Anita Roddick

"This obsession for maximizing profits to shareholders has got to be seen as abusive, as dangerous, and as one of the most appalling situations on this planet. Because it makes for criminal behavior."

"You've got to have solid penalties. Corporate pollution has got to be seen as a criminal act."

"I have a deep sense that to accumulate wealth is obscene. And when the community gives you your wealth, I have a strong belief that you give it back."

The above thoughts were not uttered by some hearty environmental agitator or radical dreamer egged on by a talk show host. They came from the generous, boisterous, daring, humane mind of Anita Roddick-the founder of the global cosmetic company-The Body Shop-with over 2000 stores.

The world lost Anita Roddick this week from hepatitis C, which she acquired 36 years ago while giving birth to her youngest daughter. She was only 64 years old.

Anita Lucia Perella, the daughter of immigrants from Italy to England, was raising a family and looking for ways to pay her bills. At age 33, she obtained an $8000 bank loan and started a little store with her own formula for skin care. The little bottles containing her creations started increasing in number and pretty soon she opened a second store. And a third and fourth store.

From the beginning, she emphasized what today would be called natural ingredients, recycling and sustainability. Her stores were works of art. People felt very comfortable and serene shopping there. She traveled far and wide securing "organic" ingredients to diversify her product.

Anita Roddick was a glorious combination of character and personality who had her priorities high and wide enough to ask the most fundamental questions of big business and answer them by her deeds and her words.

At dozens of conferences on business and the environment, business and globalization, the oil business and the Third World, and gatherings of entrepreneurial companies such as The Body Shop, including Ben and Jerry's, Patagonia and Esprit, Ms. Roddick pushed and pressed, challenged and cajoled to put people and their environment first.

She was a veritable human dynamo, upbeat, funny, inspirational without sonorous oratory. She wrote books such as Business as Usual and Body and Soul about her business practices and philosophy that astonished readers and angered many of the pompous bosses of big business.

She was hands on, literally, journeying to Romania after the fall of the communist regime to help the helpless little, institutionalized orphans who were not being cared for in those chaotic times. Or landing in the Amazon, where she insisted with indigenous peoples that they should share in the benefits of the raw materials she purchased for evolving her product line.

Her products were not tested on animals. She searched for the least toxic ingredients. She encouraged workers in her store to take time off periodically to volunteer for community or environmental projects. In fact, it was a requirement for being a Body Shop franchise that workers were given this opportunity.

Her biggest regret in retrospect was agreeing, with her business partner-husband, Gordon, to take The Body Shop public, which soon caused them to lose control of their firm to investors.

Her charities were not just given at the point of immediate need. They were also directed toward strengthening civic institutions and civic education.

She donated $1.8 million to Amnesty International for a "school of activism" in London. She was a supporter of Charles Kernaghan and the National Labor Committee (www.nlcnet.org).

The range of this remarkably empathetic woman's engagements and causes will frame, year after year, the horizons of business leaders who decide, in Alfred North Whitehead's words to "think greatly of their functions."

The legacies of Anita Roddick and her many circles of justice will continue to keep giving and continue to proliferate by the moral authority of her example.

Her husband, Gordon, and her daughters Justine and Samantha, can nourish their memories with these assurances.

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