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The body shop experience

Robert Allen
Senior Regional Trader
The Body Shop

There are two reasons why The Body Shop is attending a conference entitled ''Non-Wood Forest Products: the Social, Economic and Cultural Dimensions." First, The Body Shop, which manufactures skin and hair care products, is a market for non-wood forest products. Secondly, The Body Shop, as a company, is interested in the cultural, social and environmental aspects of its trading links. The question of ethics in business is an important interest of The Body Shop. In fact, our organisational structure includes a '"Values & Vision Centre," with approximately 25 staff.

The Body Shop is a retailer which started with one store in 1976, and has since grown to over 1,200 stores in 46 countries. A new store opens approximately every two and half days. Within the Asian region, we now have stores in Brunei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Macao, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. In addition, The Body Shop is a manufacturer. We sell only our own private label products, which include 600 skin and hair care products, and approximately 500 accessory items.

The Body shop is also innovative. In the past six months, 10 percent of our products were new products or relaunched products. Our large research and development (R&D) department is continually looking into new products and new ingredients.

The ingredients we seek are not the traditional ingredients of the cosmetic industry. Our ingredients are often derived from food. The R&D department also has a strong interest in introducing new non-wood forest products. These include items which might have been used as traditional soaps or for their medicinal properties, such as antiseptics.

The Body Shop's innovative approach also extends to the area of social responsibility. Like a growing number of firms, The Body Shop is examining the social impact of its business. One of the most unique and innovative departments of The Body Shop is our Values & Vision Centre, which has the task of looking at questions of social responsibility. Within this department, we have an environmental group, an animal protection group, a Fair Trade section, a human rights group, and a campaign team.

Environmental issues are one of the major concerns of The Body Shop. The Body Shop begins looking at environmental issues by examining its own practices. For example, in our manufacturing area, The Body Shop has become 30 percent more energy efficient over the last two years. We are also putting 33 percent less organic material into the public sewer system than we were two years ago, even though our bulk production is up 57 percent for the same period. Thus, for The Body Shop, our own practices are the starting point of our concern about envirornmental issues.

As part of our environmental program, we have developed an environmental audit. This is an independently verified statement of our environmental practices. When we meet groups with which we may; trade, we ask many questions concerning their environmental practices. However, we ask these same questions of ourselves first, and we publish the answers in our; environmental statement. Like a financial statement, an outside environmental firm examines and verifies our environmental statement.

The Body Shop also has a Fair; Trade program. Along with raising environmental questions, we are a so concerned about social, cultural and economic issues which have an impact on the local communities which supply our materials. These are not academic questions, but practical questions, and this is; a major reason why I am attending a conference which recognises the importance of all these issues.

The Body Shop has a special program which focuses on- developing trade links with the communities. This is called our "Trade not Aid" program, and it is a small, but rapidly growing, part of - our overall purchasing. The aim of this program is to help create livelihoods for economically-stressed communities or-those facing special difficulties. This program works to develop trade links with community groups such as tribal councils, producers': associations, cooperatives, and small family businesses. We believe that the community aspect of development is important in dealing with social and cultural questions.

This program, then, is a way of supporting the community development process and recognising community rights. The quote I often use, which I believe is a basic tenet of our program, is "that without development of the community, any development in the community will be- ineffective." Thus, through our "Trade Not Aid"-program, we seek to trade with communities that-are helping themselves by organising their own community economic development programs.

The "Trade Not Aid" program also involves direct sourcing. We increase the benefits to the community by cutting out the middle men and replacing them with a community structure or an NGO structure. This direct sourcing often means that the community gets-a much better price than they would through the traditional channels of distribution.

What then are some trends in the marketing of non-wood forest products? First, The Body Shop is an example of the trend for businesses to be concerned about ethics, and of moving- beyond just environmental concerns to social issues. This is a trend that will continue in the marketplace. It is not just The Body Shop that asks questions about environment and ethics, but it is our customers who ask questions about environment and many social: issues, including gender. This trend is also staff-driven. Our staff is deeply concerned about ethical issues and often choose to work with The Body Shop because of the company's values. Admittedly, The Body Shop is not typical, but it represents a growing: trend within the business community.

The second important trend when considering the market for non-wood forest products is the on-going development of the fair trade movement and of alternative trade organisations In the past two decades, many NGOs such as OXFAM and Self-Help Crafts have -set up alternative trade organisations Their aim is to help development through trading - with development projects. These alternative trade organisations have been selling mainly through special channels such as OXFAM stores and the Self-Help Crafts catalogue.

The fair trade movement is now moving beyond the limited non-profit market into the mainstream of the business community. Organizations like The Body Shop and Ben & Jerry's in the United States, are examples of this. In the United Kingdom, Cafe Direct, a coffee product endorsed by the Fair Trade Foundation, is sold in nearly all the supermarkets.

Third, The Body Shop's approach illustrates that opportunities for innovations often begin with niche markets. Small new organisations often lead the way in innovation. The Body Shop built its market share by innovating. Those seeking to promote new non-wood forest products need to find the innovators in the market place. The need for innovation can be the common bond between the producers of new products and the niche market firms.

It is important to note that customers appreciate the fact that The Body Shop buys from community groups. This has fostered a very positive feeling among our customers. However, the key for repeat business is the quality of our products. While the "rain forest" image may create interest, it is not why our customers buy on a continuing basis. Unless a product is good quality, customers will not return. The "rain forest" image has limited marketing value and community groups seeking to develop non-wood forest products must be concerned above all with quality.

Fourth, the whole area of fair trade is still new, and knowledge and experience with fair trade is still quite limited. There is the potential for many problems and so community groups entering this should do so with caution. Much of what is labelled as ''Fair Trade" or "Environmentally Friendly" is good, but also much of this labelling is dishonest and misleading.

When I meet with groups and talk about The Body Shop, I am often met with a degree of skepticism. My response is to encourage this skepticism. What we tell our customers is that "they should know the story behind what they buy." If a customer buys from a group like The Body Shop, it should be because we answer questions. We publish things like our environmental audit, and we explain what we are doing.

I would like to sum up by emphasising that as the business world and communities increasingly ask questions about the social, environmental and cultural aspects of production; how production is organised will become increasingly important. It will be a reflection of how we answer the social and cultural questions.

The Body Shop's Fair Trade Program strives to enhance economic benefits for local suppliers


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