An Integral Approach to management and human development based on the spiritual vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother with an emphasis on its application to various domains of knowledge and life.
[Published in FDI, http://fdi.sriaurobindosociety.org.in/cms/index.php, May 2011]
(A case-study on socially responsible entrepreneurship based on the autobiography of Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop)
This woman is changing Business.
-Inc magazine on Anita Roddick
I have been part of a different, smaller business movement, one that has tried to put idealism back on the agenda. We want a new paradigm, a whole new framework, for seeing and understanding that business can and must be a force for positive social change.
Key-perspectives: The compassionate revolutionary; uplifting social and environmental vision; feminine touch; spiritual dimension; vision in action; value auditing.
The Compassionate Revolutionary
A mighty soft revolution is sweeping through the world, especially in the corporate world; it is the increasing invasion of woman into what is normally considered in the past as male domains like for example leadership and entrepreneurship. Anita Roddick, the founder of Body Shop, is one of the leading representatives of this revolution. She is the archetypal woman-entrepreneur who brought her feminine passion and a compassionate social conscience into business. If Madonna (not the pop diva, but the virgin Mother of God in Michael Angelo’s famous sculpture, Pieta), represents passion and compassion, then Anita Roddick can be called as the Corporate Madonna. She is not a saintly Madonna but a revolutionary one, who constantly went against the conventional corporate wisdom. She once said, “I carefully watch the current trends in business and do the opposite.” She is also a courageous Madonna who ventured into the forests of Sarvak to photograph illegal logging and into the Amazons to set up trading links with the Kayapoo tribes. The last part of the intro. to her autobiography gives a glimpse of the character and temperament of the author and comes straight from her passionate heart.
“‘Be Kind’, Keitel writes on Kate Winslet’s forehead in the movie Holy Smoke. That’s what I wanted to do to the business world – nurture a revolution in kindness. But underlying that ambition has been the recurring theme of my role in the company I founded, now that it has grown into such a huge and complicated organization. So this book actually has another subject as well. It is the story of how I managed to maintain some intimate part of myself – the original core, if you like – in a business gone global. I have had to constantly reinvent the role of the founder-entrepreneur. That’s tough when your natural tendency is towards a gleeful anarchy. There are no roadmaps, no instruction manuals. Passion is your guide. Instinct tells you where to go when a challenge arises.”
The Uplifting Vision
“What’s Business is All about?” This is the title of the first chapter of Anita’s autobiography. And the author is very clear and firm in her conviction that the purpose of business is “public good” and not “private greed” of the individual or the corporation. But unfortunately, as Anita Roddick points out, “One of the key-problems of the business world is that greed has become culturally acceptable.” Anita is merciless in exposing the soulless hollowness of the hard-core capitalism promoted by WTO and other organizations:
“If you look at the way some businesses are behaving in many corners of the world – the places most business leaders never visit, you can see them alienating humanity in so many ways. I have seen, and still see, corporate crimes in abundance. Industry after industry seems perfectly happy to use sweatshops and the globe is quickly becoming a playground for those who can move capital and projects quickly from place to place. When business can roam from country to country with few restrictions in its search for the lowest wages, the loosest environmental regulations and the most docile and desperate workers, then the destruction of livelihoods, cultures and environments can be enormous. The new nomadic capital never sets down roots, never builds communities. It leaves behind toxic wastes, embittered workers and indigenous communities driven out of existence.”
There is a moral force and passion in Anita’s critic because they are not mere words of an intellectual critic barking at business from her mental ivory tower. She was able to create a profitable business based on “public good” in a business environment driven by “corporate greed.” The Body Shop was founded by Anita Roddick in Brighton, England in 1976 and grown into a leading cosmetic company trading in more than fifty countries. Outwardly it is a company that makes and sells naturally inspired cosmetics and skin and hair product. But inwardly it is a company with a soul, which is very different from that of the traditional business organization.
There is at present a growing recognition of the importance of ethics, corporate responsibility and sustainability among business leaders. But, except in a few organizations, these new and higher values remain at the fringe and surface of business and the motives behind them are predominantly pragmatic with an eye on the bottom-line. There are still a considerable number of conservative entrepreneurs who do not believe in the concept of social responsibility of business. When Anita Roddick launched her firm in 1976 the corporate environment is still more unfavourable or luke warm to these higher values. In this environment, Anita Roddick built a profitable business organization with ethics, social responsibility and environmental concerns as its very soul and integral part of its vision and strategy. We can see this in the following vision-statement of body shop:
For Anita Roddick, profits and products are secondary results and not part of her vision. She wanted her company to be judged not by its profits and products but by its impact on society:
“One of our greatest frustrations at the Body Shop is that we’re still judged by the media and the city by our profits and the amount of product we sell whereas, we want and have always wanted to be judged by our actions in the larger world by the positive difference we make. The shaping force for us from the start has not been our products, but our principles.”
The other important part of Body Shop values is the feminine touch. The women and feminist values like care, instinct, community and compassion are given greater prominence than masculine values like reason, hierarchy, individualism and authority:
“I think the Body Shop worked brilliantly because its very, very much female. A lot of feminine principle is endemic with it, like gut feeling, instincts. Interms of ethics, you know, the male is very justice, proprietary behaviour; for woman, its care. We have so many females in the organization that care becomes a natural vocabulary.”
The Spiritual Dimension
The most unique and special feature of Anita’s vision of business is its spiritual orientation. Anita’s vision of ethical and responsible business is based neither on “enlightened self-interest” nor entirely on ethical notions; it is based on a clear perception of the spiritual unity of all life. Here are some interesting perceptions of Anita Roddick on her spiritual beliefs:
“There is a spiritual dimension to life that, for me, is the real bottom line. It underpins everything.”
“Spirituality, to me, is a very simple attitude that has nothing to do with organized religion. It means that life is sacred and awe inspiring. In my travels around the world, I have been grounded – as millions also have – in the most fundamental of insights: that all life is an expression of a single spiritual unity. We are not, as humans, above everything, contrary to what Christianity tells us; instead we are part of everything. This interconnection has to be sacred, reverent and respectful of different ways of knowing and being.”
“We should be evolving into a new age of business with a worldview that maintains one simple proposition: that all of nature – humans, animals, the Earth itself – is interconnected and interdependent. We are all in this together and we are at a crossroads. We have the power to preserve or destroy the sacred interconnections of life on this planet.”
“As already mentioned, I believe all life is an expression of a single spiritual unity. We can no longer afford false divisions between work and community, between ethics and economics.”
In her introduction to a book by John E. Renesch, Anita made the following remarks, which shows that she believed in a spiritual destiny waiting humanity and earth in the future.
“—the choice we now face as a species, a choice that may determine whether we become an endangered species or rise to a higher consciousness and accept a destiny we’ve never even dreamed of.”
The Vision in Action
Anita Roddick is not an armchair visionary but who has translated her vision into action and results. Here is brief overview of some of the strategic initiatives by which Body Shop Vision was translated into action.
The Value Auditing
The most important of Body Shop strategy is the last part, an honest attempt to measure its performance interms of its professed values. It is in this domain most of the companies, which talk about ethics or CSR or sustainability, fail. They speak loftily about these higher values in their reports but the performance of the company and its executives are measured interms of short-term financial or productivity target. In Body Shop, Anita has made an honest attempt to assess company’s performance in the non-commercial domain though a system of ethical, social and environmental auditing which she calls as “Values Report.” As Anita Roddick explains:
“Auditing shouldn’t just be for accountants, after all. If The Body Shop wants the freedom to campaign on public issues, we must first demonstrate our commitment to our beliefs. This means opening up to defined standards of human rights, social welfare and worker safety, environmental protection and, where relevant, wider ethical issues like animal protection. We believe we have a moral responsibility to tell the truth about ourselves and face up to those areas where we fall short.”
“We have been trying to bring in new barometers of measurement that show that people and the Earth do matter. Every two years The Body Shop conducts a social audit, which offers a means of evaluation of the social impact and behaviour of an organization in relation to its stakeholders. We have 5,000 stakeholders – anyone involved in oraffected by The Body Shop, from the suppliers to the staff to the shareholders to the communities in which we’re working to people who have received money fromthe foundation – and the audit involves them all telling us what they think of the company.”
“Ethical auditing is an all-encompassing term that describes social and environmental auditing and any other ethics-related auditing that we may do, such as animal-protection auditing. We began it as an independently verified assessment of the company’s performance against our stated values, and in 1995 we produced our first Values Report. The latter involved in-depth interviews and wide-scale surveys with all our stakeholders, ranging fromemployees to shareholders, fromsuppliers to local communities”
“We also produce an environmental statement, which is our contribution towards providing a measure of progress towards more sustainable operations. It is a public document and allows the flow of information that is so vital to creating a link with our stakeholders, who are very concerned about the future.”