Christopher Davis: Philanthropy Is No Substitute For A Revolution In CSR

Nidhi Singh
25 Sep 2016
Christopher Davis: Philanthropy Is No Substitute For A Revolution In CSR

Christopher Davis (Photographed @ Charis Studios, London)

Christopher Davis, International Director of Corporate Responsibility and Campaigns, The Body Shop International shares how the Company is working to transparently measure progress towards achieving it's goal to be the world's most ethical and truly sustainable global business. He also shares his views on India's CSR mandate and how The Body Shop India is investing in local communities, in this exclusive interview with Nidhi Singh, Executive Editor,

Back in the day when CSR was a fairly uncommon term, The Body Shop showed how you could ‘make money by doing good’. Taking that legacy forward, what difference do you see in the brands journey ahead with its new mantra ‘Enrich Not Exploit™’. Is it old wine in a new bottle? What’s new and different?

Our new Commitment was designed to ensure we maintained respect for our past but were also able to take our performance to a new level. Probably our most important action was embracing the idea of back casting - setting out our ultimate aim for the company – or if you prefer, purpose - and working backwards from there to work out how we reach that destination. This enabled us to start shaping the specific actions we needed to take to start our journey towards our aim of true sustainability. In the short term, we have committed to 14 deliverable targets. For example doubling the size of our Community Trade programme and, by introducing a new sustainable sourcing charter we will be ensuring all of our natural raw materials are traceable and sustainable to a level not achieved before. In the longer term, we are working to ensure that the business’ direction of travel is towards true sustainability or, in other words, moving away from the established CSR model of incremental change which results in performance being a little less harmful to an approach which delivers only positive environmental and social performance.

Having set for yourself a significant goal to be the world's most ethical and truly sustainable global business – how will The Body Shop measure success in achieving these goals. What kind of monitoring and evaluation processes have you put in place towards that end?

Our aim and our back casting approach has been developed in partnership with an organisation called Future Fit. They have developed the Future Fit Business Benchmark, which sets out what a truly and scientifically sustainable company would look like. The Benchmark is designed to measure – and manage – the gap between what a company does today and what science tells us they will need to do tomorrow. By embracing this approach and working with Future Fit we have already taken our first steps and we are committed to publicly reporting progress annually against clear metrics which can be found in our new Commitment Report. Importantly, by transparently measuring progress against Future Fit’s key principles of sustainability, we will also be able to clearly measure progress towards fulfilling our ultimate aim of being truly sustainable.

Globally there is much talk about leveraging innovation to create a positive impact on the planet. How is The Body Shop integrating this approach into Enrich Not Exploit™?

enrich not exploitThere is a lot of noise around innovation which is great and necessary for all our futures. It is a key element in our Enrich Not Exploit™ strategy which includes a commitment to embrace new approaches to packaging and raw material development. For example, we have created a new partnership with a company called New Light who have invented an incredible new material, made from methane, which has the potential to replace fossil fuel plastic as well as keeping oil in the ground, by removing methane from the atmosphere means we are taking green house gases out of the environment. This is just one example of innovation we are embracing and we are exploring many more.

India is the first country in the world to introduce a legislation 2 years ago whereby a certain bracket of companies (with a turnover of about $160 million) need to spend 2% of their average profit in the past three years on CSR. Do you believe that that the mandate has merit? Would such a law be welcomed in the UK?

I am pleased that The Body Shop in India has been contributing more than 2% of profits to good causes since we launched 10 years ago and agree this legislation is a good example for the rest of the world to follow. However, we need to be careful to not only focus on the philanthropic aspects of corporate activity. Given the critical threat to the planet, companies have to look closely at their whole impact on the planet and society and take action accordingly. Philanthropy is no substitute for a revolution in CSR which moves companies from doing less harm or just being less bad to being truly sustainable.

Global companies have been embracing socially responsible spending projects to build stronger relationships with local communities in the countries where they operate. Has The Body Shop invested/is planning to invest in any welfare projects in India?

Our stores in India – indeed, around the world – invest in their local communities through our staff volunteering programme. We give staff up to 3 days per year and they use them in ways they feel can make a difference locally. We also started our first Community Trade project in Madurai, India 30 years ago as ‘Trade Not Aid’, ensuing that paying a fair wage and working in partnership to improve practices is built into the business, rather than a philanthropic “add on”. We continue to trade successfully with that partner - Teddy Exports today. They supply us with wooden massagers, organic cotton textiles and bags. Our trade helps Teddy Exports make a real difference through the funding of community healthcare and education programmes so it also makes a positive impact on communities. We are working on two exciting new projects in India at the moment. I can’t share them yet but will be happy to tell you more in 2017!