Roddick: A New Business Ethic

Anita Roddick (1942–2007) was a visionary in economics and business.  Founder of the “Body Shop,” she grew her business into a major international presence with over seventeen hundred stores serving 84 million customers in twenty-four languages.

Fair trade, Swedish coffee being brewed. Photo by Allie on Unsplash.

What made her famous, though, wasn’t so much her business success as her vision and her business ethics—she insisted on  business practices based on fair trade, environmental awareness, animal protection, respect for human rights, and social campaigning.  She founded an MBA program at the University of Bath which taught two additional bottom lines (to the usual monetary one): an environmental bottom line and a community bottom line. Anita stubbornly insisted that her business always address these questions: What are the effects of our work and employment on the environment?  And what are the effects on the larger community?

To her credit, she earned great respect from many business colleagues for her emphasis on business ethics. For example, Inc Magazine wrote that “this woman has changed business forever.” Business Week wrote, “Few entrepreneurs have tied their product to a social cause with better effect.” The Observer wrote, “Most CEOs aren’t fit to lick peppermint lotion off Anita’s feet.” And USA Today observed, “A Body Shop isn’t just a shop. It’s an arena of education.”

Fair trade cafe in Phoenix, AZ. Photo posted to Flickr by Nick Bastian.

Anita was an environmental activist and a business activist. She said that business is the most powerful force on the planet — so it needs a conscience; it needs values; it needs criticism; and it needs to work in a way that’s respectful of all life.

Anita raised questions for business that, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, were rarely addressed. She asked: “Why does business have to work this way? Why not harness the market to eliminate poverty? Why not improve life for the world’s poorest first? Is it so impossible to move business from private greed to public good?”

MINDING THE GAP: A Look at Income Inequality in the U.S. by TIME Magazine.

She did not consider this a pipe dream; rather, she saw it as a matter of choice, of ethics. “We have the resources. I sense that in the growing vigilante consumer movement, we have the popular will and — God knows — there is plenty of inspiration in the small-scale grassroots initiatives that women have been so instrumental in establishing in the majority world.”

She urged people to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which declares the right to a family, to rest and leisure, to an adequate standard of living, to a cultural community. “These basic economic, social and cultural rights address the particular concerns of women,” she declared.  “They are as fundamental a right as free speech.”  Visiting communities in Africa and indigenous peoples in South America, she exclaimed, “I treasure the company of women. I love their laughter. I am astounded by their ability to keep communities together around the world.”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 244-248.

See also, Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Postdenominational Priest. p. 330, 340, 352, 442.

Banner Image: Colleagues working together in a shared cowork space. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

Roddick talks about business needing to improve life for the poorest first.  What would doing that require in altering our economic systems?

Recommended Reading

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

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4 thoughts on “Roddick: A New Business Ethic”

  1. Avatar

    May I share this article ,came across it by accident I think it may have been early 1990s

    Dorn Bede Griffiths addressed the largest audience ever to gather at the Monday night Alternatives Programme at St. James’s, Pic­ cadilly. an audience of about 700 body-psyche-spirits

    I would like to begin this talk with if you look at Christianity, if you look at the history of the world, the Australian Aborigines have been in Australia for 40,000 years. And
    where was Christianity then? They hadn’t heard ofJesus Christ till 1900. And God was there among the Australians. It was wonderful, you know. They found God there in the earth, in the trees, in the ancestors. It was a wonderful cosmic religion they had. So that is our inheritance, this cosmic religion. And you find it also among the native Americans, much studied today. And it is a wonderful religion -this sense onderful religion -this sense of the
    government wanted them to sell the land, to buy their land, and Chief Seattle sayst’This land is sacred to
    us, we don’t own the land. The land owns us.”

    our inheritance. If you’re going to care for this land and cherish it,
    of course. It’s wonderful, what they have discovered.
    And I call this the cosmic revelation. It’s the presence of God, of Truth, of Reality, whatever name we give it, which permeates the universe, what Matthew Fox calls Pan-en-theim, God in everything.
    Stay safe

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Billy, thank you for sharing with us Bede Griffiths article. It is true that the religion of the Aborigines is far older than Christianity, and there is much for us to learn from it in terms of an earth-centered spirituality.

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