CHRISTOPHER DAVIS, INTERNATIONAL DIRECTOR OF CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY AND CAMPAIGNS FOR THE BODY SHOP, DISCUSSES HOW THE COMPANY REDISCOVERED ITS ACTIVIST ROOTS.
The Body Shop created shockwaves across the retail world when it introduced the idea that businesses themselves could act as activists and campaigners.
Its dynamic founder, Anita Roddick, once chided more cautious businesses by saying memorably: “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”
A one-woman powerhouse, human rights activist and environmental campaigner, Anita Roddick passed away in 2007.
Today, the much-loved, ethically sourced and cruelty-free high street retailer she founded has rediscovered its zeal for activism after a decade in the wilderness.
Christopher Davis, who joined the company in 2004, and is its International Director of Corporate Responsibility and Campaigns, says: “When Anita died, we had only recently been taken over by L’Oreal, so we had only been previously used to that founder-led guidance.
“It wasn’t easy to get back to the recipe she had created and trying to rediscover that belief was difficult. We spent a lot of time thinking about how you identify it and why it was created in the first place.
“In many ways, we lost that North Star.”
MY PASSIONATE BELIEF IS THAT BUSINESS CAN BE FUN, IT CAN BE CONDUCTED WITH LOVE AND A POWERFUL FORCE FOR GOOD.
ANITA RODDICK Founder of The Body Shop
Christopher, who previously worked in advertising and for an NGO, had originally fallen for Anita’s charismatic vision and the chance to work for a pioneering new style of company.
“I loved the activism and I was very happy there,” he said. “But after she died, I stayed on trying to finish the campaigns she had started. I wanted to get back to being an activist business and a political business, which is what Anita began.”
It was the sale of The Body Shop to the Brazilian cosmetic giant, Natura & Co, in 2017 for an estimated £880 million that finally allowed the company to begin the return to its ‘activist roots’.
“Before the takeover by Natura, we were a company that focused more on beauty. Now we have reverted back to being a business that is focused on the benefit to our customers, to the world and to society – the triple bottom line approach.”
The company’s sense of self was also liberated as the result of its ambitious and free-thinking CEO, David Boynton.
“As soon as he came in, David began revising the purpose of the company,” he says. “Once we defined that as ‘fighting for a fairer, more beautiful world’ then B Corp certification became a natural first step for us.”
Shortly afterward, in 2019, The Body Shop became a B Corp worldwide. “The decision enabled us to call for system change on a broader level,” Christopher says. “We know capitalism is not going to be fit for purpose in the future unless businesses take action.”
“It also meant seeing where we could make the biggest difference. Today, that often means we don’t always feel like a company, but more like a collective of like-minded people. We also spend a lot of time tackling social and environmental challenges in different local communities rather than taking a single global position.
“We believe that driving long-term political change is central to our business. The last campaign I ran
was around human trafficking and it changed the law in 24 countries.
Few businesses have the trust and the relationship with the customer and the ability to reach out to legislators to make that change.”
Today, the company still retains its headquarters in Littlehampton that were designed by Anita and were one of the first eco-friendly office buildings in the world.
“It is fair to say the objectification of women still takes place in the beauty industry. The industry’s claims do not always make people feel good about themselves. It can play on women’s insecurities and often fails to make them feel good about themselves. We believe we should be as honest and straight-talking about that today as Anita was then.
“It’s one of the reasons people love The Body Shop; it’s a rare brand that people root for. They want it to succeed and the relationship between ourselves and our customers is strong. If we honour that philosophy over the next few years you will see a real acceleration of our business and our work.”