FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT LONDON GREENPEACE'S NEW CAMPAIGN AND LEAFLET CALLED "WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE BODY SHOP? - A CRITICISM OF 'GREEN' CONSUMERISM"
We have recently produced for public distribution a thoroughly researched leaflet about 'green' consumerism focusing on the Body Shop because of its ethical claims. This new campaign and leaflet is called "What's Wrong With The Body Shop? - a criticism of 'green' consumerism" and was launched with a picket outside a Body Shop in Central London on 21st March 1998.
The leaflet and campaign is intended to stimulate discussion and debate, which we welcome. There have been a number of questions which people have frequently asked, so we thought it would be useful to set out our response to these. Also, a detailed referenced version of the "What's Wrong With The Body Shop?" leaflet, validating and expanding on all the facts and opinions in the leaflet, is available on request.
Q. Why pick on the Body Shop? There are many worse companies out there. Surely there are more deserving subjects for a campaign?
A. London Greenpeace is intent on scrutinising the effects of all multinational companies on our lives, on society, and on our planet. The Body Shop is one such multinational - chosen as a focus of the leaflet and campaign because it makes particularly strong ethical claims. The company has put itself on a pedestal in order to exploit people's idealism for profit. There is no reason why the Body Shop should be above scrutiny and criticism.
It is intended as an educational campaign (rather than a boycott campaign), showing that consumerism ('green' or otherwise) is one of the fundamental causes of world poverty, environmental destruction and social alienation.
Nobody can make the world a better place by shopping and in fact the world's problems will only be tackled by curbing consumerism. We're hoping to stimulate discussion and debate about consumerism and the effects of companies like the Body Shop on the environment, on animals, and on people. We're also concerned to encourage real solutions to the world's problems and crises. The Body Shop's propaganda gives the erroneous impression that corporations can be a force for positive change - but the reality is that they are a major part of the problem.
Big companies are set up to exploit people and resources to make profits for a small number of shareholders - the Body Shop is no different in this respect from any other company. Our leaflet makes it clear that we cannot hope for capitalism to change the world for the better - people shouldn't be fooled by the misleading claims that the Body Shop make. Real change will only come about by people realising the essential exploitative nature of capitalism and by creating a new society based on cooperation and sharing - this means people taking direct control of their lives, their workplaces and communities, and all local resources. There is no place for companies and governments, or any other form of exploitation or power over people.
We agree that there are, on the face of it, companies with more immediate impact than the Body Shop in terms of the direct environmental damage they cause and so on. We've already produced leaflets and information about McDonald's, Shell, Unilever etc. And in the McSpotlight Internet site, there's information on and criticisms of 30 companies and many industries. What particularly makes the Body Shop a legitimate focus for a leaflet and campaign, in our view, is that they make ethical claims which are false - exploiting people's idealism for their own ends. The company fools people into thinking that by buying products at their store, rather than elsewhere, they are doing something good for the environment, animals, themselves and others. In fact, the Body Shop are an integral part of the cosmetics industry, fuelling the consumption of mass-produced and often trivial consumer goods which is causing major environmental and social problems.
The "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" leaflet highlighted the effects of the fast food industry. In the same way, the criticisms in the 'Body Shop' leaflet apply to the cosmetics industry as a whole and to all those multinationals that make ethical claims. As public awareness and opposition to the effects of modern capitalism on our lives and our planet continues to grow, so too do the attempts of financial institutions (and governments) to clothe themselves with 'ethical', 'green' and 'community-orientated' credentials. This would be laughable if it wasn't for the fact that such organisations have enormous influence and power, continuous access to the media, and massive marketing budgets with which to spread their propaganda.
We want to show that, at the end of the day, all multinationals have the same characteristics and negative impact on society and the environment.
Q. But aren't the Body Shop doing a lot to highlight environmental problems, human rights issues, women's issues, and animal welfare issues? Surely they are a force for good?
A. The Body Shop are involved in the mass production, packaging and transportation of standardised products around the world. This inevitably involves the systematic mass use of environmentally-damaging chemicals and huge energy wastage at all stages. Modern industrialisation has meant the undermining of communities, human culture and diversity, with people's lives becoming dominated by the needs of big-business.
Regarding the Body Shop's specific products, plastic bottles made from petrochemicals are filled mostly with petrochemical and other synthetic ingredients (produced by ICI and other large chemical and pharmaceutical companies), and are then shipped by air or sea around the world to supply their 1500+ stores in 47 countries. It's not a sustainable and low impact community-controlled enterprise.
The Trade Not Aid (or Community Trade) projects are largely a marketing exercise and the Body Shop are doing nothing to tackle the fundamental causes of the enormous (and widening) gap between rich and poor. In fact, the consumerism they are fuelling is one of the main causes of those inequalities and poverty around the world.
While professing to abhor the beauty myth, the Body Shop actually rely on it for selling products and as a result strengthen it. The company (like any cosmetics company) creates a demand for products where a real need for them does not generally exist.
The Body Shop pay their workers low wages and are opposed to trade unions, ensuring that they keep labour costs down and that employees are not able to organise to improve their working conditions and control over their working lives.
Although the Body Shop maintain that they are against animal testing, they do not always make clear that many of the ingredients in their products have been tested on animals by other companies, causing much pain and suffering to those animals. They accept ingredients tested on animals before 1991, or those tested since then (if they were animal-tested for some purpose other than for cosmetics). There continue to be concerns about the enforcement of their policy.
The company have a reputation for responding to public concerns about animal cruelty but when challenged over their use of certain animal ingredients they admit: 'We don't claim to be a vegetarian company'. But, in any case, as more and more people begin to reject the exploitation of animals, companies begin to recognise a new 'market' to target and exploit.
The company's hypocrisy can be illustrated by a few examples:
(1) The Body Shop have been supporting the struggle of the Ogoni people in Nigeria against the activities of Shell Oil and the Nigerian government.
London Greenpeace, of course, fully supports the struggle of the Ogoni people; we've produced a leaflet on this subject entitled "What's Wrong With Shell Oil?". We have no problem with any organisation genuinely supporting such a just cause. But we would like to point out the company's hypocrisy: many of the Body Shop ingredients are petrochemicals and other synthetic materials. In other words, the company's expanding operations are contributing to the increasing consumption of petrochemicals. The increasing consumption of petrochemicals causes oil companies like Shell to continue their extraction of oil in places like Nigeria and to explore for new oil fields (such as in the Atlantic frontier). This exploration, extraction, transportation, processing, and consumption of oil causes enormous environmental damage on a local and global scale (such as oil spills and global warming) and has a massive negative impact on people directly and indirectly (such as the Ogoni people). The Body Shop's operations are part of the problem, not the solution.
(2) A leaflet currently available in UK outlets of the Body Shop advertises a new range of products called "Oceanus". The leaflet is full of water and ocean images and contains pictures of dolphins and fish. The leaflet begins: "The Body Shop International PLC is concerned about threats to oceans and marine life and has campaigned against whaling. One of the many ways we are seeking to protect the environment is to strive to minimise the amount of water we use in our manufacturing." The leaflet then goes on to display the new range of products such as 'Oceanus Body Lotion' and 'Oceanus Eau de Toilette', a "fresh, uplifting fragrance for women and men".
People's concern about the threats to oceans and marine life from human activities are used by the company to entice people to buy their products. This is what we mean by "exploiting idealism for profit". The leaflet states that the oceans are "worth looking after" but doesn't say what could really be done to help them, like consuming less, reducing the world's reliance on oil and challenging the power of profiteering industries. It's estimated that the petrochemical industry spills over 3.6 million tonnes of oil into the seas every year, mainly as a result of shipping accidents involving oil tankers.
(3) Another leaflet currently available in UK outlets of the Body Shop advertises various colouring cosmetics. The leaflet's front cover has a picture of a 'beautiful' Chinese woman wearing lots of make-up. It then begins by saying "You're born an individual. Live like one" before setting out the various products the company wants women to buy: lipstick, eyeshadow, eye shine, lip shine. This is not encouraging women to assert their individuality but rather to reduce their real individuality to a question of which cosmetics to consume. The image of the Chinese woman is one of idealised beauty. The effect of the leaflet is the same as the effect of the advertising of other cosmetics companies. It's trying to make women feel inadequate and insecure about their bodies, and is pushing the message that women need 'beautifying'. The Body Shop's claim to be celebrating the natural beauty of women and to be campaigning against the beauty myth is completely hollow.
Q. Surely, the best place for such an excellent critique of green consumerism is in the editorial pages of newspapers and magazines rather than in a leaflet?
A. There have been numerous articles about the Body Shop and green consumerism in various magazines, newspapers etc. But we want to reach out directly to people by handing them leaflets in the street, to stimulate discussion and thought that way.
The Body Shop promote their image and products through leaflets, marketing and advertising. Leafleting is a great way to get information straight to the public, countering company propaganda and hype, and enabling people to make informed choices about whether to consume products or not. It's also important to let people know that there are alternatives to the profit-driven society we live in today.
Q. You say its not a boycott campaign - what do you mean by this? What can people actually do then?
A. We have embarked on an educational campaign over the problems of 'green' consumerism and the real alternatives to capitalism. The Body Shop has been selected as a symbol of this issue because of its grandiose claims and its reputation. However, it is an integral part of the cosmetics industry and just one of thousands of profiteering companies which control our lives and the world's resources. Our basic point is to demonstrate that the problem is not this or that particular company, but the economic system based on profits and power. Hence, rather than call for a boycott of one such company (the Body Shop), we call for public debate and opposition to capitalism, and for people to get organised where they live and work to challenge the power of all those institutions which currently dominate our society. This is the same as with the long-running anti-McDonald's campaign - generally, we've not called for a boycott of the junk food chain, but have encouraged a public dialogue with the customers going in and the exploited staff who work there. We do of course support local residents opposing a new McDonald's or indeed any other project in which they have no say or they don't want.
People can do so many things to empower ourselves and our communities, and to stand up to the institutions which dominate us. For example we can: organise in our neighbourhoods; encourage mutual aid and solidarity among people; campaign against traffic problems; fight for amenities we really need; support local children and their needs; do our own newspapers, leaflets and street stalls; organise in workplaces and support workers in disputes; occupy empty buildings for homes; open community centres; grow our own food; defend people against bailiffs or police etc; organise our own events, parties and festivals; join in with protests, demonstrations, direct actions and movements for change; defend green areas under threat; organise workshops and consumer co-ops etc;...and there are many many more examples of people's self-organisation and attempts to take control of their immediate lives and communities. If you wish, contact us for a copy of our special leaflet entitled "Reclaiming Our Lives And Our World - how can people make it happen?".
Hey, why not turn all local Body Shop premises into community-run environmental action centres, and local McDonald's stores into kids play areas?
Q. Who are London Greenpeace?
A. London Greenpeace was the first Greenpeace group in Europe, founded in 1971, and has always been separate from Greenpeace International (founded in 1977). We are an open anarchist, ecological group which has always supported a wide range of radical, social and environmental issues, networking with other activists and initiatives.
We have open meetings every Thursday from 7pm at 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 (by Kings Cross).
We have recently emerged victorious from a huge legal and public battle with the McDonald's Corporation, another high-profile global company making strenuous efforts to project a benevolent image. Thanks to the determination of grass-roots anti-McDonald's campaigners backed by huge public support, the company failed to stop the global dissemination of millions of the street version of our "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" leaflet. Three million of these leaflets have now been handed out in the UK alone since the libel action was initiated in an attempt to silence us. The leaflet has been translated into at least 26 languages so far. Protests and campaigns against McDonald's continue and are growing in strength in many countries around the world. "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" leaflets have become probably the most famous and widely distributed protest leaflets in history.
London Greenpeace's point of view, as stated in the 'Body Shop' leaflet, is: "Let's consume less, and live more. Fightback against the institutions and people in power who dominate our lives and our planet. Join in the struggle for a better world - one based on strong and free communities, the sharing of precious resources and respect for all life."
Published and accurate as of 3.98
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