And another look at The Body Shop sale

While similarities abound between the Alienware purchase and The Body Shop sale

  • Each will remain an independent unit with it’s own brand and product strategy intact
  • Each will keep it’s name, unsullied by it’s purchaser’s name
  • Each is small and ‘different’, breaking corporate rules to get where they have
  • Each has been incomprehensible to many watchers, more outspoken in the case of The Body Shop, since it’s differentiator is ‘ethics’ and ‘social responsiblity’ rather than just ‘hip branding’ and ‘industrial design’

there’s an added element to The Body Shop sale due to it’s very value system being so grounded in corporate social responsibility. I’m an idealist enough, in this regard, to hark back to Jared Diamond, author of Collapse, and his statement in the Globalization Institute blog,

Chevron’s part in preserving the local flora and fauna was born not
of altruism, but of business sense, Prof Diamond says. "They want to
make money. And they discovered that they could make more money by
being clean than by making messes."

Once businesses have realised
it generally costs little more, and can often end up costing less, to
behave in a responsible manner, those practices propagate through the
company and into the corporate world.

Compare this statement by Prof. Diamond to Corpwatch’s article posted on Roddick’s blog,

The news in the past week that Tom’s of Maine is being sold to Colgate-Palmolive, and The Body Shop will be acquired by L’Oreal disappoints some … but creative thinkers might see opportunity where cynics see surrender.

Anita Roddick, a personal friend of mine and founder of The Body Shop, says L’Oreal won’t change The Body Shop’s core values (environment, human rights, fair trade, etc.), but rather that L’Oreal will be transformed. As she says, "I am, of course, pathologically optimistic. But that doesn’t mean I am wrong. "

After all, Unilever bought Ben & Jerry’s years ago, and the brand is still free of BGH and antibiotics, and the milk is bought from family farmers. Does it mean Unilever is any less evil? No, but neither is B&J, which is something, isn’t it? Two steps forward, one step back is better than three steps back.

Colgate-Palmolive has been criticized for being anti-union, for putting unlabelled toxics in its products, and lacing its toothpaste with borderline toxic ingredients. Acquiring Tom’s can be seen either as swallowing an embarrassing competitor, or an acknowledgement that Tom’s natural formula works – there’s a market for chemical-free products.

The last question is an extremely valid one, it can also, at a stretch, apply to the Alienware/Dell deal – swallowing an embarressing competitor or acknowledging that design works ?

Like the author, I, too, see these purchase decisions, L’Oreals and Colgate’s, as positive moves by global behemoths realising that corporate social responsibility will ultimately lead to greater tangible and intangible benefits, per Prof Diamond’s assertion. And if they have, for too long, followed bad practices, and  need to buy an exemplar of what they realize they need to incorporate – practices and methods appropriate to the changing social climate – then more power to them. For all that these acquisitions are seen as ‘sellouts’, the giants have the reach and money to make it happen on a far grander scale. And while cynics say that it won’t happen that way, I would hazard a guess that it’s too late for that, it has to happen that way, if they are to survive sustainably beyond the next decade. Global warming, environmental pollution, decreasing soil fertility aren’t going to magically go away.

Postscript: Here’s a snippet from the Tom’s of Maine purchase, sound familiar? Read the rest, it’s an echo, hallelujah, my apophenia has been validated.

But Tom Chappell said that neither Tom’s of Maine’s business philosophy nor its quirky toothpaste flavors like fennel, apricot and orange-mango will change.

Chappell said Tom’s of Maine, with annual sales of about $50 million, will maintain its product formulas and be managed as a stand-alone subsidiary, much as Colgate’s Science Diet pet food line has been. But he said Colgate’s financial clout and distribution network will enable his brands to make inroads into national chain stores and grow to their full potential.

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One Response to And another look at The Body Shop sale

  1. Perspective says:

    Once, twice, but three times is a pattern

    When I started out with my spidey sense tingling over Dell/Alienware, Bodyshop/L’Oreal, I told myself that it was just coincidence, but coming across almost the same verbiage in reports of the Tom’s of Maine sale to Colgate Palmolive leaves me

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