Letter: Ethics, profits and plain business sense

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The Independent Online
Sir: Jack O'Sullivan is right: social and environmental auditing of companies is an idea whose time has come ("There may be no profit in human rights", 15 May). But he is wrong to say that the Body Shop experience would put other companies off trying it.

For the last five years we have been subjected to media scrutiny - it comes with the territory. However, unlike Shell, that scrutiny ended successfully for The Body Shop, in part because of the independent auditing of our performance against our policies on the environment, animal welfare and human rights. That process meant that unsubstantiated allegations floundered rapidly on the rock of the reality of our practice.

Ethical auditing is not about corporate public relations. It is about recognising that business increasingly impacts on the lives and environment of millions of our fellow citizens. Without the systems and independent verification that ethical auditing requires, you operate blindly and too often fall victim to your own propaganda. No doubt Shell senior executives are waking up to that reality today.

For The Body Shop, auditing is plain common sense. It also delivers positive commercial benefits. Our environmental audits have cut our fuel bills and reduced our packaging and transport costs. Our social audit highlighted gaps in our learning and development programme and areas where we could increase co-operation with suppliers to our mutual benefit.

Social and environmental auditing is no longer the preserve of the supposedly eco-eccentric companies. An inclusive stakeholder approach is the cornerstone of the new government and its value is being recognised by more and more companies.


Founder and Chief Executive

The Body Shop International plc

Littlehampton, West Sussex