Last night, I crossed to the dark side. I unwittingly bit into a bar of chocolate that was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A bar of Green & Black’s new Velvet Edition; its first product that is neither Fairtrade certified, nor organic.
When Craig Sams sold his organic chocolate company to Cadbury for £20m in 2005, he was anxious to emphasise that his ultra-ethical brand was in good hands, but in 2010, when Kraft acquired Cadbury, that hoped-for reality quickly disappeared. Now, in 2017, Green & Black’s, which pioneered the use of Fairtrade chocolate in its bars, has moved further from its roots than I ever thought it would…
We are well-versed in this sad tale of woe, where the perceived good guys are bought out by the bad – Ben & Jerry’s to Unilever, Pret A Manger to McDonald’s and, of course, The Body Shop to L’Oreal. The ethical cosmetics chain was founded by Anita Roddick in 1976 and quickly became allied with causes from saving whales to a ban on animal testing. The company was sold to the French conglomerate for £652m in 2006; Dame Anita described the takeover as a “gift” and denied that she was selling out. But, since the takeover, the brand has had little involvement in the philanthropic interests of its founder. Until now, that is.
In June this year, The Body Shop announced a partnership with Cruelty Free International to launch a new campaign, calling for a global ban on animal testing in cosmetic products and ingredients by 2020. “The Body Shop passionately believes that no animal should be harmed in the name of cosmetics and that animal testing on products and ingredients is outdated, cruel and unnecessary,” said Jessie Macneil-Brown, Senior Manager International Campaigns and Corporate Responsibility at The Body Shop. “This campaign will finish what we both started back in the 1980s.”
With plans to take the campaign to the highest authority, the brand says it will ‘petition’ the United Nations and “call on them to support a global ban on animal testing in cosmetic products and ingredients.”
This is spectacular news, particularly when put in the context that, where animal testing is allowed – on both products and ingredients – most countries do not require testing data to be made available to the public or even to regulators. “This makes it extremely difficult to know how widespread animal testing is,” says Michelle Thew, CEO of Cruelty Free International. “Because 80% of countries around the world still allow animal testing in cosmetics, a global ban is the only way to truly eliminate animal suffering.”
Now, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and I’m certainly not doing so on this occasion, but the announcement did cause me to wonder what rumblings were occurring within the heart of darkness at L’Oreal HQ. And on 27 June it all became clear, when L’Oréal signed a contract to sell The Body Shop to the Brazilian cosmetics maker Natura Cosméticos.
“The proposed sale is subject to clearance by antitrust authorities, notably in Brazil and in the United States, and expected to close during 2017,” L’Oréal said in a statement. The deal gives the British chain with locations around the world an enterprise value of €1bn.
As reported in The Financial Times earlier this year, The Body Shop has faced increasing competition from other brands offering similar products based on natural ingredients with no animal testing. Sourcing many of its materials from the Amazon rainforest Natura, which also owns the Aesop beauty brand, has been successful in delivering to Brazil’s giant middle-market, but is looking for further growth.
“In a sense, Natura and The Body Shop are like twins,” said João Paulo Ferreira, Natura’s chief executive. “We have been walking parallel paths in the past, and today, those paths are converging. We both share a same vision of cosmetics, advocating the use of natural ingredients, seeking to use our business as a platform to raise environmental consciousness.”
It’s nuggets of golden news such as this that help me to believe that one day, just maybe, the good will outweigh the bad and, once again, I’ll be safe to indulge my Green & Black’s fetish without fear of trampling my ethics.
Julia Zaltzman is a freelance journalist and editor of Natural Beauty News.