Friday, January 26, 2007

Anita doesn't get it

Dame Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, gave an interview to the Guardian newspaper while I was on my blog break, over the controversy of her selling to L’Oreal, part-owned by Nestlé. See it at:,,1987696,00.html

Dame Anita admitted: "The backlash surprised me, stupid me, about Nestlé. I just didn't get it."

A surprising admission as surely due diligence in advising other shareholders on the merits or otherwise of a deal would require a little rudimentary investigation of who was buying, one would have thought.

We certainly contacted Dame Anita as soon as news of a possible deal was reported to raise with her the Nestlé issue. It was very much one way communication, however, as my earlier blog on Body Shop explains. See:

Boycott supporters replying to our on-line survey said overwhelmingly they would add Body Shop to their personal boycott list. Our main target is Nescafé coffee, but we list on our site and handy product list cards the main brands from which Nestlé profits.

99% of 500 respondents to our survey said they would stop buying Body Shop products so as not to put money in Nestlé’s coffers. Their comments show their sense of betrayal at the sale.

In boycott and other discussion groups people shared ideas on what ethical alternatives there are. Body Shop’s rating in Ethical Consumers listing fell from 11 out of 20 to just 2.5. Many other companies do better than even the old rating. See

But for Dame Anita a boycott 'didn't happen' and 'There was protest but it was more headlines. Sales didn't drop.'

Sorry, Dame Anita, the Nestlé boycott exists. Independent surveys have found it is one of the best supported on the planet (see The Guardian’s report).

Body Shop is now listed on our site and product list cards as part-owned by Nestlé. People want to know where their money goes. Putting out misinformation that there is no boycott does not change the fact that buying Body Shop products ultimately profits Nestlé. This, too, however, is something Dame Anita is reluctant to admit.

"...everybody thinks that any money made goes to Nestlé but it doesn't - it stays within The Body Shop. L'Oréal ringfences the money. It goes to develop The Body Shop."

Guardian's Hannah Pool: "But if The Body Shop does spectacularly well, doesn't Nestlé still get some money?"

Dame Anita: "I guess they would but that's not changing The Body Shop's values."

L’Oreal is investing in promoting Body Shop. And, we understand, it had to increase the salaries of managers significantly to stop a mass exodus. So it may well increase turnover as more outlets are opened and the brand is launched in new countries.

What should Baby Milk Action's reaction to this be? Targeting the Body Shop has to be part of our general work in raising Nestlé malpractice wherever it raises its head. We have produced a special leaflet people can hand to people outside Body Shop so people are aware of Nestlé baby food marketing practices and that shopping at Body Shop profits the world's 'least responsible company'. The fact that the baby food issue continues to be raised in articles such as that just published in The Guardian in itself helps to spread the word.

But with limited resources there is only so much we can do. Should our priority be trying to hit Body Shop sales or more directly targeting Nestlé malpractice and that of other companies through our other work, such as our campaign in support of the Philippines?

Our aim is to save infant lives, not to annoy Dame Anita – however much our supporters may feel betrayed by her. While the boycott and targeting Body Shop is part of the campaign, each day we have to think what is the best thing to be doing to strengthen regulation of the baby food industry and stop aggressive marketing.

In the Guardian interview Dame Anita says: "No one was ever curious about who was investing in The Body Shop and so, knowing that they [Nestlé] were 25% investor-owners [in L'Oréal], I couldn't understand why people were worried, whether you liked them or didn't like them. I don't particularly like Nestlé."

Dame Anita commented in her eventual letter to Baby Milk Action: "Why do you object to ownership by a company which Nestlé has less than a quarter share [sic - it is actually 28.8% according to Nestlé], but not to The Body Shop's current ownership structure - mainly by a collection of amoral city financiers, asset strippers and fund managers in the city of London, who eat communities for breakfast."

This is to totally misunderstand what Baby Milk Action is campaigning about. We target baby food marketing malpractice, monitoring companies against United Nations Wolrd Health Assembly standards. We are not anti-capitalist campaigners, targeting publicly-listed companies on principle, as Dame Anita seems to suggest we should.

It was not our concern who owned Body Shop until there was a link to Nestlé, the worst of the baby food companies. Targeting Nestlé malpractice through the boycott and informing supporters when their spending profits Nestlé is our concern.

We are not the guardian's of Body Shop's values and soul.


Anonymous said...

I'm not getting something too.
Are you seriously saying Nestle kills babies by marketing?
It's the responsibility of mothers if they do breastfeeding or not. *They* kill their babies if they're too stupid to take a marketing campaign for what it is. I'm continuing to buy Nestlé products.

Anonymous said...

Mothers aren't getting the full infomation - to a lot of peoples minds "they" think nestle wouldn't sell it if were bad for them. *They* are niave not stupid and nestle play on this.

Anonymous said...

Nestle is responsible for the deaths of thousands of babies every year in the developing world because of its unethical advertising strategies, focusing on women who are ill-educated and poor. Nestle takes advantage of the fact that many of these countries do not have laws about honest marleting that we are lucky enough to have in the western world. It is a disgusting case of profits before the lives of babies and I will certainly support the boycott.