Monday September 3, 2012
The Body Shop marks 25th anniversary of its CFT programme
Stories by CHIN MUI YOON
It all began when Amanda Murphy, who founded Teddy Exports in India, turned up at The Body Shop office in Britain and refused to leave until Dame Anita Roddick took a look at the little rolling wooden massagers she was selling under her fledgling company.
Murphy’s persistence was duly rewarded when Roddick placed an order of 10,000 rollers for The Body Shop.
That was 25 years ago. Today, The Body Shop remains Teddy Exports’ largest customer, importing over 2.3 million accessories annually.
Teddy Exports began in 1990 as a five-employee company operating out of a mud hut in Tirumangalam, a small village in south India, producing goods made from locally sourced Acacia nilotica wood. It has since grown into a major exporter, employing over 500 people. The community has also benefited with over 700 children having been put through school through a communal fund.
“The Body Shop was their first customer,” recalls Mark Davis, The Body Shop’s Community Fair Trade (CFT) director.
“The power of change is in the hands of consumers who believe in the ethics practised by The Body Shop. Some 80% of our products contain CFT-sourced products. We are not a charity. We trade (with), not aid, communities. We use our commercial buying power to bring change like what we see through Teddy Exports.”
This year is special for The Body Shop as it marks the 25th anniversary of its CFT programme, which began when Roddick kept discovering raw ingredients for cosmetics produced by indigenous communities during her travels.
“In those days, there wasn’t a single cooperative representing these communities,” says Davis. “Anita strongly believed that we could deliver a form of social change through our commercial purchasing power. This principle has remained as one of our core values.”
A similar successful collaboration was formed with the Tungteiya Women’s Shea Butter Association in Ghana. Roddick met local women in Tamale who’d been collecting nuts from the shea tree which are made into a moisturiser to protect their skin from the harsh Saharan winds. Roddick saw the efficacy of the ingredient and placed an order from women from 10 villages who formed an association to churn out the product for her.
Today, The Body Shop buys 410 tonnes of shea butter from that same cooperative, making it the single largest customer. The now-thriving cooperative has 500 members supplying the butter globally.
The women’s standing in their communities has increased, as have their living standards. Their income funded wells and water pipes, and provide access to medical care, housing and education for the whole community. The association has created a community project fund used to build 10 nursery schools, three medical centres, latrines and washing facilities for local villages.
Most of all, the income is sustainable, as shea trees are readily available in Tamale, live for up to 300 years and are adapted to the dry climate.
The Body Shop currently trades with 26 cooperatives around the world for ingredients and products. These range from baskets in Bangladesh and handmade paper in Nepal, to cactus mitts from Mexico, and organic babassu oil from Brazil. Highly moisturising hemp seed oil and chamomile water is purchased from small British farms.
The Body Shop buys more than 1,000 tonnes of CFT ingredients. The staggering amount includes enough cocoa butter for 15 million chocolate bars and honey for 60 million pieces of toast.
And yes, folks continue to turn up at The Body Shop’s office in Littlehampton with jars and bottles of raw ingredients or plant extracts that they hope would someday be turned into a much-in-demand product.
“We are constantly on the lookout for innovative new ingredients that we formulate into brilliant products; it requires years of research and development,” says Davis.
Roddick’s legacy (she died in 2007 from a brain hemorrhage, aged 64) of trading fairly continues today with The Body Shop’s latest collaboration with the Kenya Organic Oil Farmers Association (Koofa). Aside from tea tree oil, Davis adds that the company is exploring the possibility of producing other oils that complement tea tree between harvests.
“We are proud to have been the pioneers in the beauty industry when it comes to trading fairly with suppliers in Latin America. We have put in place an effective chain and a community fund that ensures middlemen are removed and profits channelled back to the farmers.
“Our suppliers have many other customers today. We’ve had many requests for referrals for raw ingredients and we are only too happy to recommend our suppliers.
“Specialty organic ingredients like Koofa’s tea tree oil will always be in demand. We work with Earthoil as they have a proven track record and they train field officers and provide agronomists to deal with all aspects of farming the crops. This way, local employment is ensured and beneficial skills are taught.
“I was on a field visit in Ghana when I was startled to see that the appointed secretary of the Tungteiya Women’s Shea Butter Association was Aseshitu. She used to help her mother churn out shea butter. Despite growing up in extreme poverty, she benefited from one of the schools built from the community fund. Today she is a successful, independent young businesswoman.
“To me, that’s what our CFT is all about,” Davis says.