Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, died yesterday. Roddick issued in an era of fair trade and “responsible business” defined as a business ethic in which the happiness of employees and the ethical integrity of the products was more important than the profit margin. I saw Anita speak when the Body Shop first took off in England and found myself concerned about the way she seemed to seamlessly blend fairness and capitalism, two things I am not sure are blendable. I also fretted over the way that the Body Shop used a sort of National Geographic gaze to sell product, putting pictures of women in native clothes and villages with a trite paragraph or two about the ingredient their labor provided next to the product. It all seemed a little too . . . neo-colonial charity to me. The resulting highly criticized campaigns from Whole Foods, Aveda, and the like have shown that her marketing legacy is much closer to my worries than my compliments.
However, Anita Roddick also issued in respected female entreprenuership, commercial fair trade, and in her later years she used her own name recognition to shine the spotlight on women’s cooperatives around the world. The latter helped solidify women of the global south’s efforts to avoid IMF exploitation and also gave those listening the language of alternative, indigenous led, development.
A few years ago I taught the film Pain, Passion, & Profit from WMM that highlights some of this work. Roddick once again has some questionable moments to the seasoned eye but as always her enthusiasm and respect come through. Roddick gave my students an in to discussing these issues as a global, not just a global south, process; on the negative side it also allowed those inclined to do so to recenter the West in their discussion.