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A Matter of Faith

December of last year, Brazzil published two articles ("Broken Promises", by Saul Petean and "The Queen of Bubble Bath" by John Entine), both critical of the dealings of British company The Body Shop with the Kayapo Indians in the Brazilian rainforest. Right after the cosmetic industry boom, Brazil's very own Rio de Janeiro opened the door and led the world in both advancements and demand for breast augmentation, plastic surgery and breast reconstruction. This brought on a lot of unwanted attention to something that was already being exposed by the media. The pieces criticized the cosmetics firm's way of doing business and suggested that Anita Roddick, The Body Shop's founder and main engine, had built an empire by lying to, exploiting, and taking advantage of the Amazon natives. Here The Body Shop responds to the accusations and states its case.

Blair Palese

The Body Shop has never been just a manufacturer and retailer of cosmetics. The company, founded by Anita Roddick in Brighton, England in 1976, does much more than simply sell skin and hair care products. Anita Roddick's belief that trade with communities in need could provide her with the products she needed to do business—and support those communities through employment income, skill development and social initiatives—has led her to work with some of the poorest communities in the world.

Under Roddick's direction, The Body Shop has always dealt with really big issues—social justice, equality, poverty and the imbalance of power and money. "Our goal is to encourage the creation of working and living conditions, where people can fulfil their potential, where their human rights are respected... and where they can determine their own destiny," she says. Her attacks on the conventions of a greedy trading system have not gone unnoticed. Nor have her attempts to put principles into practice.

Twenty-one years later, The Body Shop celebrates trade with over 25 Community Trade suppliers in Africa, Asia and the Americas. In financial terms, trading with communities in need for raw ingredients and accessories is worth over $ 3.3 million annually. These trading relationships are based on trust, respect and an understanding that The Body Shop buys good quality products at a fair price. That price includes production and fair wages, and enables communities to invest in their own future. It's also about more than the exchange of goods and dollars—it's about the quality of the relationships involved.

The Body Shop Community Trade program stems from the company's commitment to "dedicate [its] business to the pursuit of social and environmental change". These are lofty ideals, unusual for a company. And if your goals are high, the pitfalls on the way to achieving them are certainly going to be deep.

It has, over the years, been accused of exploiting its trading links with struggling communities and exaggerating their importance to the Company. Criticism—from many quarters, some with their own agendas—has not deterred this commitment. The Body Shop aimed at making changes—and it has. In just eight years, it has gone from trading with one or two suppliers to over 25 in more than a dozen countries. In raw material terms, this equates to over 100 tons a year for inclusion in globally retailed products for The Body Shop.

"We have established trading links for which there has been no template, no handbook, only a desire to provide tangible benefits for marginalized communities," says The Body Shop Fair Trade Development Manager, Elaine Jones. "The image of our relationships is out of sync with their historical development."


In 1995, The Body Shop undertook a groundbreaking social audit, which was a two-way independent analysis, both of The Body Shop business, and of its claims to social responsibility. The integrity of the process was judged by a panel of experts representing diverse stakeholders' interests, including those in the Fair Trade sector. Brought together by independent verifiers, The New Economics Foundation, these experts attested to the accuracy of company claims about its social effect and performance.

"Suppliers in India, Nepal and Mexico were clear there had been significant economic gains through employment income and skill development," stated The Body Shop Social Statement in 1995. But the benefits went much deeper. Out of the economic stability—and sometimes with extra funds provided by The Body Shop—a whole range of social and community initiatives were launched.

From the beginning, The Body Shop wanted its trade links to spread benefits throughout communities, to give people a hand up from the worst conditions of isolation and poverty. Through initiatives in countries as diverse as Ghana, Zambia, Nicaragua and Brazil, The Body Shop puts hard cash in the hands of those making the products, enabling them to make their own decisions and help their own communities.

But achieving these goals was no easy task. In its early ventures The Body Shop tested the feasibility of its ideals. Problems that were part of the company's development, were also part of its early Community Trade efforts.


A group of Kayapo Indians from the Brazilian Amazon forest was one of the company's first Community Trade suppliers. Loggers and miners were manipulating the Indians out of their lands, then destroying them for quick profits. As one of only a few Amazonian warrior tribes clinging to tribal traditions, the Kayapo were desperately in need of international support.

In October 1990, Anita Roddick and her husband, Gordon Roddick, The Body Shop Chairman, visited the Amazonian village of A-Ukre. From an initial invitation from the Kayapo, The Body Shop established a trading relationship working toward self-sustainability.

Understandably, mistakes were made. Creating a business from scratch in inhospitable conditions was difficult enough, but The Body Shop also tried to help support the Kayapo's efforts to solve more far-reaching problems.

The Body Shop agreed to buy Brazil nut oil from two Kayapo villages for a new product, Brazil Nut Conditioner. It agreed to pay a price, which would compensate for the costs of production, allow for investments in the communities, and provide personal income for the Indians. This price turned out to be three times the market value. Pictures of the Kayapo Chiefs would help us tell the world about the Indians' plight and—hopefully—encourage international customers to buy the product and support the Kayapo.

Since it took the Kayapo 15 days by boat to get to the nearest town, The Body Shop and its franchisees raised money for a second-hand Cessna aircraft to deliver goods back and forth. The Indians also asked for help to build a hospital in the jungle—a complicated and political issue. The Body Shop became embroiled in lengthy negotiations, balancing the needs of the business with those of the indigenous communities, the Brazilian Government, official Indian agencies, and the World Bank.

The Body Shop appointed a non-indigenous consultant, Saulo Petean, to help the communities get their oil business up and running and to liaise with the Company in England. "We wanted to help the Kayapo run things for themselves," says Elaine Jones, "but The Body Shop discovered that the Kayapo had become dependent on Petean, and he was abusing his position of trust". Following a close review of the situation, The Body Shop decided to terminate its relationship with Petean, who has since waged war against The Body Shop.

The Body Shop had to bring in a structure to actively help the Kayapo gain independence from The Body Shop. This was one of the conclusions it reached following a number of independent reviews, which pointed specifically to the need to ensure that Community Trade suppliers maintain their independence.

The Fair Trade department set up measures to deter communities seeing The Body Shop as their sole market. These included establishing channels to advise communities about how to find other markets, design new marketable products and get marketing advice in addition to putting suppliers in contact with other international buyers.


In 1994, The Body Shop sharpened its system of choosing, assessing and developing trading links, and restructured its management team, bringing in the General Manager from Oxfam Trading Canada. The new team laid down strict guidelines for choosing communities to work with. One of these guidelines was that a pre-condition for future trade links is that the group, co-operative, women's association or tribal council should already exist, and have a product to sell.

"The Body Shop continues to be committed to its trading relationship with the Kayapo and will continue to purchase oil," says Jones. At the same time, oil production has become an integral part of the communities' cycle of harvesting and festivals.

Other Community Trade suppliers, based on established trading groups, had fewer development difficulties than the Kayapo. In Nepal, General Paper Industries (GPI), a paper making factory in the Katmandu Valley, has grown enormously since linking with The Body Shop. Situated in one of the poorest countries in the world, it started with 20 employees and now has 130. GPI operates in the international market and supplies such prestigious businesses as the Conran Group. Since advice from The Body Shop, almost half of GPI's sales are now with other outlets, with a turnover in 1996 of $330,000. Women—who are generally paid less than men in Nepal—have benefited in particular from the trading link with The Body Shop, receiving the same wages as men for the same types of work.

CORR , The Jute Works in Bangladesh, was already an established trading organization when it started working with The Body Shop. In 1995, the Christmas order alone gave 2,500 women employment for around 90 days each—this, in a region where work is scarce and women are not encouraged to be bread winners. After expenses, the organization uses surplus money for the welfare of the organization and its female workers, education and other employment in the area.

In the Kayapo region too, benefits have been long-lasting and have reached more people than just the two villages with which we trade. In 1992, The Body Shop learned from Kayapo chiefs of a crisis in the region. Children were dying from diarrhea through poor hygiene and sanitation. Many of the Kayapo were suffering from sight deficiencies and cataracts. Even basic immunization was not being carried out regularly. The Kayapo chiefs turned to The Body Shop for help.


When The Body Shop consultant on Amazonian affairs, Juneia Mallas, arrived in A-Ukre, there was neither a hospital nor medical facilities available to the Kayapo in Redenção, the nearest town to the Kayapo reserves. The clinics in Redenção were private and all medical assistance had to be paid for. Thus the Indians' healthcare was completely dependent on the miners and loggers who would pay for any emergency healthcare required by the Indians and take `repayment' in the form of gold and timber.

Through The Body Shop Foundation—a registered charity established in 1990—Mallas was able to channel funding to a healthcare project and work with the Brazilian Federal Indian Agency (FUNAI) to create a suitable structure.

The Body Shop discovered that a World Bank loan had been granted to the Brazilian Ministry of Health for the control of malaria. "Within the loan was a component for indigenous health," says Mallas, "but there were no projects being carried out with it."

To date, the Health Project has received over $2.9 million, which has come from various sources: The Indian component from the World Bank loan, the Ministry of Health, FUNAI and The Body Shop Foundation. The Body Shop Foundation has provided over $700,000 for permanent equipment and training promoted by expert medical consultants, doctors and nurses.

A clinic for the Indians built in Redenção is available for 12 Kayapo villages. Medical staff who work in this clinic and with the villages number two doctors, one dentist, and 24 nursing staff. The Health Project also helps another 2,100 Indians from other ethnic groups from the other side of the Xingu river, through another clinic set up in the town of Altamira.

Summing up the Healthcare Project, Juneia Mallas says: "The project focused on sanitation and education, it did not rely on drugs. Lack of sanitation caused about half of all diseases. Many people were anemic. Children were infected with worms. To prevent re-infection, we had to offer much more than treatment alone. We wanted to de-drug the Indians and focus on education. It was far more important to deliver help to a larger group and the Kayapo were happy to extend the healthcare work to other tribes.

"As a result, the non-Kayapo villages have strongly embraced sanitation and education and have eliminated diarrhea. However, The Kayapo are warrior people and do not respond so fast to a change of habit.

"We have established a curative system in the Kayapo area of the project with a good emergency and immunization program where malaria is now better controlled. For the others we have moved into preventative medicine, a stage we hope to achieve for the Kayapo in due course."


Through its Community Trade experiences, The Body Shop has realized its limitations. In the future, says Elaine Jones, "in most cases, The Body Shop won't need to do much more than negotiate fair trade and help build trading skills."

Technical help will continue to be vital to the communities. Over the last several years, The Body Shop has sponsored workshops on quality control and other issues communities needed to know in order to trade internationally.

In a commentary on the company's performance, Guardian correspondent, Roger Cowe, and investigative journalist and Brazzil magazine contributor, Jon Entine, wrote, "The [Body Shop] controversies have highlighted the difficulty of marrying an activist morality with commercial reality, especially where complex development issues are concerned." Despite the difficulties, The Body Shop remains committed to the principles behind its community trading and plans to expand such trading.

Each of the 25-plus Community Trade suppliers represents a vast investment in money, time and effort by The Body Shop. It is by no means the cheapest way to do business and if profits were its only interest, the program would simply not exist. Nor is it an easy thing to do. Buying from very poor developing countries, such as Bangladesh, can be difficult. The communities may not have a trading infrastructure in place, and there isn't always a high level of political stability in the countries where they live. But work by The Body Shop shows that it's possible—and other companies may follow suit.

Saulo Petean and others critical of The Body Shop accuse it of disrupting traditional cultures. Not so, says Elaine Jones. "Our trading provides a level of income to meet basic needs. Our trade with the Kayapo, for example, means they can earn an income that does not take them away from their reserves and which can be integrated with their traditional lives.

"This can only be done with responsible local authorities and wider development initiatives. What gives these trading relationships meaning is that they buy people time to secure a hold on their own future," Jones says. "If in some way it gives them a grip on the process of change, we believe it's worth it."

Meanwhile The Kayapo project is entering a new phase of consolidation. The Body Shop is working to get the Brazil nut oil business on a more secure footing by giving advice on ways to operate more cost effectively, and to encourage the Kayapo to become independent of The Body Shop. It is also opening up debate about alternative initiatives for sustainable use of the forest's resources.

"Of course it would be simpler to pull out," says Elaine Jones. Instead, The Body Shop is "dealing with outstanding problems and giving it the best possible chance to succeed."

Why? "Because the alternative is that territories will be unregulated, and resources exploited. The culture, which holds the Kayapo in the forest lands, will disintegrate, young people will leave for outlying towns. The Body Shop continues trading in the Amazon because our reason for being is to bring about social change. We remain committed to the principles that brought us here in the first place. And because the very future of the people we're working with is in the balance."

A Judge Against
The Body Shop

A Brazilian judge has sentenced The Body Shop to pay more than $100,000 in back wages and damages to a former employer, after concluding that he was unjustly accused of misrepresentation and then fired without just cause.

Linda Jerome

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