Embracing its activist brand, the Body Shop saw great success recently when it came to both employee engagement and corporate social responsibility in Canada.
Globally, the company had been collecting signatures around the issue of animal testing and cosmetics, with the intent to petition the United Nations for an international convention, according to Stephen Murray, regional trainer at the Body Shop in Toronto.
But the 1,014-employee company in Canada decided to take it a step further, by going after the federal government. While European Union regulations enacted in 2013 mean animal-tested cosmetic products and ingredients are banned in Europe, the same is not true in Canada.
So the Body Shop launched a “Forever against animal testing” campaign that heavily involved employees — and saw such success that the Canadian contingent was asked to share its best-in-class strategies with the international team.
The campaign involved two main approaches. The first was a public campaign to raise awareness and build the public case for the federal government to take action. This meant asking employees to collect signatures on a petition with Cruelty Free International demanding an end to animal testing in cosmetics in Canada.
Before doing this, employees were given information to deal with any questions from potential signatories, says Murray.
“Nine times out of 10, customers were more than happy to sign, they didn’t really think (the testing) was still an issue, but one customer out of every 10 didn’t understand or maybe was getting confused with medical testing and cosmetic animal testing, so we had to provide (employees) enough information to feel comfortable and confident talking about it, without overwhelming them.”
The Body Shop also researched customers to find out what questions they might ask, and then provided employees with a couple of videos featuring FAQs about the issue, he says.
In the end, more than 1,000 employees have sought people’s signatures at Body Shop stores, along with pet events and local vets.
“When we started this campaign, we underestimated how engaged and passionate our employees were going to be about this — they have taken this and they have run further than we ever hoped,” says Murray.
The chain also held a “pet march” on Parliament Hill in Ottawa that garnered support from the three major political parties, who had representatives walking with the Body Shop team to present the record-breaking petition – signed by 654,000 Canadians.
The second part of the campaign has involved direct advocacy to the federal government to build the political case for a ban. This included asking employees to meet with their local MPs to address the need for a legislative ban on animal-tested cosmetics in Canada.
It was about gaining traction, he says.
“You know, the business taking a stand, it’s great, it’s wonderful, but MPs are really influenced by their constituents and people who live in their riding, so we encouraged staff — it wasn’t mandatory — but we definitely encouraged them to take that fight, become an activist, so we gave them a tool kit of tips and tricks on how to call your MP, set up a meeting.”
If employees were successful, they were advised on what to say, presented the petitions and given information to leave behind with the MP, says Murray.
“And, overwhelmingly, the response has been so positive — MPs are saying thank you, not realizing it’s still an issue in 2018-19.”
These initiatives helped move the bill through its third reading in the Senate in June, says Murray, and it’s hoped the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act will pass through the house early in 2019.
As a further thank-you to employees, the Body Shop in Canada has run a contest asking them to submit all the great work they’ve done when it comes to the “Forever against animal testing” campaign, he says.
“We’re rewarding the top two submissions with a trip to the UN to be part of team that submits the petitions to the UN,” says Murray, adding the winners for the October trip are being selected through a voting system by their peers.
Overall, this CSR initiative has definitely resonated with employees.
“I’d be lying if I said I could look at the numbers and see a direct correlation but anecdotally what we’re hearing, more than ever, is ‘This is why I joined the brand, I joined to be an activist, to stand for something. I joined with the belief that business can be a force for good, not just profit,’” says Murray.
That dedication to a cause starts with recruitment at the Body Shop.
“In Canada, we’ve got a reputation as a really ethical brand, and as soon as we started shouting this out on rooftops again, we saw that engagement, we saw people applying to work for us saying, ‘Hey, I forgot about you guys, I forgot you were an activist brand.’ And we try really hard to make sure that we live and breathe that activism,” he says.
The Body Shop has always been ahead of the game in this regard, according to Murray.
“We were into corporate social responsibility before corporate social responsibility was a thing,” he says.
“We really were pioneers in the beauty industry when it came to not only ethically produced products but supporting community and fair trade partners, but also this fundamental and core belief that animals do not need to be harmed in the creation or testing of cosmetics, so we have never and will never test any of our ingredients or final products on animals.”
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