The Body Shop’s crusade against animal cruelty and the effect on the corporation that owns it.
Long before ethical products were fashionable, The Body Shop established itself around the world as a pioneer of natural beauty products, fair trade ingredient sourcing, and campaigns against animal testing. Founded by Anita Roddick in Brighton, England, the company was later acquired by L’Oréal, a French corporation partly owned by Nestlé — two global conglomerates whose practices are perceived as questionable at best. The acquisition raised the question: when a major multinational corporation purchases an ethical company, how are its own ethics affected?
When Roddick founded The Body Shop in 1976, it was the first natural beauty products company in the UK. Under a franchise model, it has since expanded to more than 2,500 locations in over 60 countries worldwide. With an emphasis on ethical business, The Body Shop operates under a set of five core values: Support Community Trade, Defend Human Rights, Against Animal Testing, Activate Self-Esteem, and Protect Our Planet.
Of its core values, The Body Shop has been particularly effective at rallying attention and support around the issue of animal testing. In 1990, the company, under Roddick, launched the first of many Against Animal Testing public awareness campaigns, and in 1996 it presented the European Union with a four-million signature petition calling on the E.U. to stop the sale of animal tested cosmetic products.
The campaigns worked. In 1998, the U.K. banned animal testing on cosmetic products and ingredients, a victory largely attributed to The Body Shop’s publicity and Roddick’s personal activism. The successes continued when the E.U. banned animal testing for finished cosmetics in 2004 and for cosmetic ingredients in 2009.
Today, The Body Shop continues to produce only items that are animal cruelty-free and vegetarian-friendly. Its animal protection principles outline the following commitments:
- Guaranteeing that no products are tested on animals
- Requiring that no raw ingredients are tested for cosmetics purposes
- Selling only vegetarian-friendly products
- Communicating clearly on our policies to customers and suppliers
- Supporting research into alternatives to bring a stop to animal testing
When The Body Shop was purchased by L’Oréal for $1.1 billion in 2006, animal welfare activists were outraged. Groups like Naturewatch and Uncaged called for a boycott of The Body Shop, calling Roddick a sell-out and citing animal and human rights scandals surrounding both L’Oréal and Nestlé. The Independent reported that “satisfaction” with The Body Shop fell by almost half in the three weeks following the sale, and the chain’s buzz rating and general impression also suffered significantly.
“This brand has been damaged, perhaps terminally, by linking itself to the world’s ‘least responsible company,’” said Mike Brady, a coordinator of activist group Baby Milk Action, which protested Nestlé practices.
At the time, The Body Shop had made Naturewatch’s list of approved retailers for not using ingredients tested on animals after 1990. L’Oréal, on the other hand, was accused by Naturewatch of not just continuing testing, but also lobbying against the E.U. ban on animal testing for cosmetics. In a 2009 sustainability report, L’Oréal claimed that it hadn’t tested finished cosmetics on animals since 1989 – “except in the case where national legislation requires it,” reported The Ecologist.
Since the acquisition in 2006, The Body Shop has received an ethical rating of 2.5 out of 20 on the Ethical Consumer’s “ethiscore” system, down from 11 pre-acquisition. L’Oréal continues to be on both Naturewatch’s and Uncaged’s active boycott list.
Roddick’s response to the L’Oréal-related consumer outrage was characteristically blunt: “I’m too old, I’m too smart, to give (The Body Shop) away for it to be destroyed.”
In a 2006 interview with The Guardian, Roddick explained why she decided to sell The Body Shop to a company as controversial as L’Oréal. A big reason was the potential to influence the buying decisions of a large corporation.
I’m just excited that I can be like a trojan horse and go into that huge business and talk about how we can buy ingredients like cocoa butter from Ghana and sesame oil from Nicaraguan farmers and how we can do that in a kindly, joyful way and that is happening … I meet up with L’Oréal a lot as a consultant as part of my mission and vision for the beauty industry. I believe they are honourable and the work they do is honourable.
In that interview, Roddick also referenced L’Oréal’s research on alternatives to animal testing and its work developing exciting new technology in the field. That claim was validated in March of this year, when L’Oréal announced that it is donating $1.2 million to the Environmental Protection Agency to develop chemical testing methods that don’t require the use of animals. The research centers around ToxCast, an EPA toxicity testing system that screens chemicals for adverse health effects. If the system can be used more widely, it could eliminate the need for animal testing not just for cosmetics, but also for disease research.
As with other corporate acquisitions of ethical brands (like Clorox’s purchasing of Burt’s Bees, explored in another Behind the Label) it appears that The Body Shop’s clean image and anti-animal testing stance has had an impact on L’Oréal’s policies as a corporation. What The Body Shop sacrificed in reputation back in 2006, it will hopefully make up for in industry-wide impact. Though Roddick passed away in 2007, her legacy lives on in the new L’Oréal-EPA partnership, and it will hopefully continue to impact practices across the beauty world.
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