Tributes pour in for ethical business pioneer Anita Roddick

By staff writers
11 Sep 2007

Tributes have been pouring in from across the world for green and ethical business pioneer Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop chain and supporter of Fair Trade, who died on 10 September 2007 aged 64 after a major brain haemorrhage.

Dame Anita, the daughter of Italian immigrants, set up the first Body Shop in Brighton in 1976 - when its approach was regarded as radical and new. She pioneered cruelty-free beauty products and turned them into a highly profitable enterprise.

Roddick also backed green causes, supported initiatives aimed at empowering the homeless (including The Big Issue newspaper) and advocated openness about taboo subjects like Hepatitis C - which she revealed she had contracted through a blood transfusion in 1971.

Dame Anita, praised this morning as "an inspiration" by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, played a major role in mainlining the idea of ethical business practice and corporate responsibility.

Campaigners stress that she did not invent these concepts, but say that she helped to give them shape through a successful high-street initiative.

The Body Shop faced stern criticism from some quarters for the usefulness of its products, for flaws in sourcing ethically, and for its encouragement of 'alternative consumerism'. The sale of the business to L'Oreal, the French giant, was attacked by green and animal welfare activists.

Dame Anita acknowledged that mistakes and compromises had been made. But she said she believed that business had to redirect values incrementally, and she argued that the firm she sold the Body Shop to had been required to become more ethical as a result of the transaction.

Roddick gained inspiration through green ideas and a diffuse spirituality. She was highly suspicious of organised religion, but she became a fan of the alternative Christian arts festival Greenbelt, after she was invited to speak there.

She said she was encouraged by the diversity, the openness and the debate, and suggested that this was a model of the positive contribution faith could make in the modern era.

Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of anti-death penalty organisation Reprieve, said she had just agreed to be its chairwoman.

"Her death is a real shame," he said. "We were so happy to have her, she was so full of life, so fantastic. She was so dedicated, so energetic, she will be sorely missed."

Emma Colyer from the HIV and Aids charity Body and Soul, which Dame Anita set up, told BBC News last night that it was a terribly sad day for society at large.

"Anita carried out campaigns on so many issues and often issues that were not popular by the mass of public and took some strength of character to become involved in," she declared.

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said Dame Anita's passion for human rights was "immeasurable", adding: "We have lost a true champion of the oppressed and persecuted. Anita had been a key part of Amnesty International for many years and had shared her brilliance and energy with us to marvellous effect."

Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian think tank Ekklesia, said that the best way to honour the memory of Anita Roddick was to take forward the case for corporate responsibility as a human obligation, not a luxury option.

"It is easy to be cynical about 'ethical business' now that it has become mainstream and trendy", he commented. "Of course there is a lot of hot air around it. But developing alternative practices for doing business as if people and the planet matters is a tough call. Roddick recognised that massive injustice in trade, corporate greed and unfair debt often confounded efforts to take the world in a different direction. But she wasn't daunted or deceived. Nor should we be."

Ekklesia has also praised Roddick for bringing people together from different belief and non-belief backgrounds to work for a better world in spite of their differences.

"She didn't feel easy with 'religion' and she was highly critical of a lot of established religious institutions", said Barrow. "But Anita Roddick also saw the value of spiritual development bringing about material change to the way we live and act - and she was surprised and delighted by her experience of the annual Greenbelt festival, commenting that its practical vitality and intellectual energy was far from the stereotypes of Christianity she had often met, and the stuffiness of the church she had personally encountered."

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See also - Roddick: Greenbelt challenged my bias against religion.

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