Aidre Vaillancourt, who helped Ms Roddick manage the very first Body Shop in Brighton and played a key role in the early days of the business by devising the money-spinning idea of franchising out the business, claims she is facing financial ruin.
She and her husband, Maurice, have cited Body Shop in a "third-party notice" issued in defence of a claim by Barclays Bank for repayment of a pounds 39,521 loan.
The couple ran three Body Shop franchises along the South Coast in the late Eighties. The dispute is over the way Body Shop behaved after they opened a fourth franchise - the second in Bournemouth - in 1990. It failed to meet financial targets.
It was the idea of franchising that led to Body Shop's spectacular growth in the following 15 years. It is now a highly successful chain with more than 1,200 stores around the world, the vast majority of which are run as franchises.
In her autobiography, Body and Soul, Ms Roddick acknowledges it was Aidre Vaillancourt's idea to open the first franchised Body Shop store in Bognor Regis, although there were no contracts and no fees.
"We were simply grateful that other people wanted to have a shop like ours and were willing to sell our products in it," Ms Roddick recounts.
She also fondly recalls in her book how she and Aidre drank cheap Algerian wine to celebrate the first time the two shops each took pounds 100 in a day selling Christmas gift packs. "It tasted like dry-cleaning fluid, but nothing could dampen my excitement," she wrote.
Anita Roddick goes on to tell how together they spent their evenings in the second shop in Chichester, kitted out in baggy collarless "grandfather" shirts, rolled-up dungarees and espadrilles, fixing up garden fencing with hammer and nails.
The dispute is further complicated because Mrs Vaillancourt's first husband, Ian McGlinn, bankrolled Ms Roddick in the early days, lending her pounds 4,000 to open her second shop in return for a half-share of the fledgling Body Shop business. He is now the company's biggest shareholder, with a stake worth pounds 75m.
Mr McGlinn and Mrs Vaillancourt have a 17-year-old daughter, Louise, but her parents are now barely on speaking terms.
While Ms Roddick and Mr McGlinn went on to great riches, Mrs Vaillancourt was clearly less fortunate.
A Body Shop spokesman said the Vaillancourts had not worked as company franchisees since last year. "The bank's claim against the Vaillancourts has nothing to do with our former relationship with the Vaillancourts," he added. "We believe the third-party notice has no merit."
An application in the case is due to be heard at Salisbury High Court this Friday.
The dispute is the latest in a series of run-ins with disaffected Body Shop franchisees and is an embarrassment for Ms Roddick, who prides herself on her ethical business methods.Reuse content