Shoppers torn between habit and principle: Ian MacKinnon spoke to devotees on a tour of the company's 'green' factory

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The Independent Online
ANYONE harbouring a flicker of doubt that the Body Shop's credentials are rooted in the twin themes of the environment and social concern would have it dispelled by a visit to the firm's headquarters.

A wind generator is the first sign of greenness to greet the thousands of visitors who come to the company's factory at Littlehampton, West Sussex. An Amnesty International flag strains in the wind alongside the aluminium-clad building.

Inside the compound, billboards are adorned with propaganda. 'No time to waste, act now to save the environment' and 'Speak out against animal testing', the hoardings shout.

Those who take the one-and-a-half hour tour of the premises appear undeterred by the sloganeering. The message is part of the attraction.

For many visiting the factory yesterday, the looming question of allegations being made in a US publication over the company's credentials was a source of concern, though most felt the quality and price of the products were just as important as ethical considerations.

David Olding, from Guildford, Surrey, the owner of a small company dealing in materials from the Third World, said: 'The products stand up for themselves against the competition. But buying a product from the Third World gives you a warm feeling. If these allegations that have been made recently were proven . . . one might think twice about buying them.' His wife Stella, however, had no such qualms. 'It would be bad for the company's image, but I would still buy them because they are good products which I get for my little girl because she is allergic to too many things.'

David Thornber, from Littlehampton, sitting on the shop's steps as he waited to go on the tour with his wife, might find himself momentarily in a quandary. 'It gives you a good feeling when you buy the products. But I suppose because they have set out their stall with such a clean-cut image they have become targets for others. I think they set high standards and in the end more good than harm comes of it.'

For others, any decision to keep buying the company's merchandise would be a difficult one. Clutching a large Body Shop bag filled with bottles, Jyoti Kuntawala said: 'I think if these things were true it would make a difference to me. When I go to the Body Shop I do not think about the fact that the things are recycled or that they help the Third World. But it's important. If the suggestions were true it would certainly make me think again, despite how good their stuff is.'

But for Anne Martin, of Croydon, south London, the issues were clearer. 'If these allegations were proven 100 per cent I would definitely think again about buying from them.' Mrs Martin said the staff member who had taken her around the plant had pointed out that the company could not be 100 per cent environmentally friendly in everything it did. 'I do not know whether they had just put that bit into the patter today because of all the fuss, but it didn't seem that way. And I suppose if they're doing their best that's all we can hope for.'

For her daughter, Lisa, 15, the most important message was that none of the products are tested on animals. 'As long as they are not testing on animals, I don't mind really.'

(Photograph omitted)