Thursday, March 23, 2006

because they're worth it

Some folks have been surprised that The Body Shop is being bought out by L'Oreal. Yet L'Oreal stopped testing much of their stuff on animals 15 years ago, whilst the Body Shop has never actually eradicated animal-tested ingredients. Just because they give their staff shirts with AGAINST ANIMAL TESTING on as workwear doesn't mean they actually stopped selling animal tested products.

As the Body Shop grew, so the drive for profit overtook the drive for ethics. The founding urge to make a moral stand became a mere marketing ploy to capture a particular niche, as Jon Entine testified:

For the first and only time, I was allowed to ask [Anita Roddick] a question. I cited a version of her speech, given in 1993, in which she called for a boycott of China. 'How do you square your call for a boycott when The Body Shop sources dozens of products from China? According to fair trade organisations, you have personally rebuffed pleas to switch to more ethical sources.' She shot me a look. 'You just don't understand, do you? I was talking about what business should do, not what we actually do. My job is to inspire. But we have a bloody business to run.'

Ethics are nice, and to appeal that caring niche market they should be emphasised as strongly as possible, but at the root there's straightforward profit motive above all other considerations.

As Corporate Watch explained in their Corporate Law And Structures report,

Yes, the ideology incorporates social and environmental values, but only as secondary considerations. For most people, economic values are secondary, and social and to a lesser extent environmental values come first: making money is good but only if it doesn’t conflict with believing it’s wrong to murder, steal or cut down virgin rainforest.

For the corporate ‘environmentalist’, profit is absolute, social and environmental values are relative: their first aim is to make as much money as possible, but given two ways to make that money they choose the one that requires the least murder, blatant theft or environmental destruction. Then they pat themselves on the back for being so responsible.

The ethical stance is always going to be at odds with the profit motive. The conflict in Anita Roddick is illustrated in her vocal and hefty financial support for anti-globalisation protests in Seattle whilst doing adverts for American Express.

The scales tipped for the Body Shop when the founders sold their controlling interest in the company. At that point it ceded any residual moral position and became a mere profit engine.

In the same way that there's surprise about the Body Shop takeover, people raised their eyebrows high when organic chocolate makers Green & Black's were bought up by Cadbury's last year. However, it had been fated from the moment in 1999 that founder Craig Sams sold a majority share to two venture capitalists, people whose ethical stance is evidenced by their other major holdings being in tobacco firms.

As Douglas Rushkoff said,

See, "selling out" has nothing to do with making money doing business, and everything to do with selling off the entire enterprise in order to make money, instead. Sure, if you're really bored with the business you've built, go ahead and get rid of it.

But remember, the minute you sell your company - and this includes going "public"- you're no longer a shoemaker, muffin baker, or airplane designer. You and the company you built are the asset of a group of shareholders. And believe me, most of those shareholders don't even know or care what you do or believe. They just want your shares to pop so they can sell for a fast buck. And you've signed paper promising to do what they say.

Roddick twigged this, but not until after she'd flogged the company. Going public is Body Shop's biggest mistake, says founder ran one headline.

An arresting illustration is given in Behind The Mask, Christian Aid's report on 'corporate social responsibility':

the constraints on responsible behaviour are at least as great as the incentives to improve corporate social and environmental practice. Even companies that have made responsible practice their stock in trade are subject to such constraints. The Body Shop’s Anita Roddick discovered as much when her company, shortly after stock market floatation, built a soap factory in one of the poorest parts of Glasgow and pledged 25 per cent of the profits to the community. ‘The financial analysts didn’t really like us too much,’ she said recently. ‘They accused us of stealing the profits from shareholders.’

Yet Roddick hasn't backed away from the profit driven Body Shop. As a major shareholder, she's recommended others join her in approving the L'Oreal takeover.

Despite the different image, The Body Shop's methods and motivations have been converging with L'Oreal's for some time. The takeover is not some massive shift on the part of The Body Shop, it's merely making manifest their real purpose.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, you've lost me there. Was it something important?

RA said...

Sol.. er why did you come here? Nothing constructive to say?... then say nowt.

Merrick. You... quoting from the Daily Mail? Laugh? I nearly shat!

Anonymous said...

I thought Anita Rodicks statement regarding her some 120(approx.) million profit (which in her case i believe) was laudable. She said that she would be spending all of the money on activism and leaving none for her kids.

Anonymous said...

Money makes the world go round and drives everyone up the wall.