Making a profit? Pass it on

21 September, 2007

Dame Anita Roddick, who died earlier this month aged 64, was a controversial figure. Depending on your point of view, she was either an altruist, feminist and passionate environmental, social and human rights campaigner, or a canny businesswoman who used "left wing" issues to promote her own Body Shop brand. Even some of her strongest supporters were upset when she and her husband, Gordon, sold their creation to L'Oréal, banking £118 million.

There's no denying that the Roddicks amassed a substantial personal fortune over the years. What is less well known is how much of it they gave away. As well as helping to found the Big Issue, they supported a multitude of projects around the world. According to Dame Anita's obit­uary in the Guardian, the couple were responsible for setting up, among other things, "three orphanages in Romania, an organic farm co-operative in Nicaragua, numerous health and education projects in India, a brazil-nut co-operative in Ghana and a soap-making factory in Scotland".

I never met Anita Roddick, but thanks to a shared interest in wine I did bump into Gordon Roddick on a couple of occasions, the most recent being at the opening of Terra Vina, Gérard Basset MW's new hotel near Southampton, a few weeks ago. He is one of most open and charming people I've ever encountered, happy to talk about anything from theatre to Pinot Noir, or from ethical trade to what it's like having dinner with the Blairs. One thing that struck me was his opinion on wealth: "We've never been very interested in money, to tell you the truth." The best thing about being rich, Gordon told me, was that it enabled him to make a difference to other people's lives.

The margins are incontrovertibly higher in the cosmetics industry - ­possibly up to 10 times

- than

in the wine busi­ness, but the Roddicks' example puts our trade to shame. How much of the wealth generated by global companies such as Constellation, Diageo, Foster's, Pernod-Ricard and LVMH, not to mention smaller, successful UK businesses such as Farr Vintners, Majestic, HwCg, Liberty Wines, Bibendum, Berkmann, Bottle Green and Boutinot is passed on to deserving causes? Not a whole lot is my guess.

In some senses, the wine trade is one of most generous-spirited in the world. I know very few tightwads in our industry and thousands of people who are more than happy to open great bottles for friends and acquaintances. One of the nicest things about wine people is that they are not generally very interested in money. Otherwise they'd work as investment bankers or corporate lawyers.

I also concede

the

trade is enormously generous when it comes to auction lots, free tastings and donating its time. I hosted a tasting and auction organised by Cambridge Wine Merchants for Cancer Research recently and the evening, largely thanks to the kindness of companies such as López de Heredia, Richards Walford, JE Fells, De Bortoli, Berkmann, Negociants, Mistral Wines and Great Western Wines, raised nearly £10,000. The wine trade gives away a lot of booze to support good causes. And that booze often helps to loosen purse strings.

Nevertheless, I still think that our industry has a poor record when it comes to larger charitable donations, particularly by the major producers and retailers. Wine Relief, which is part of the biennial Comic Relief operation, is highly commendable, but the sums it has raised are comparatively small. In five attempts (1999, 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007) it has generated £2 million, which is what some Premiership footballers earn in a week. Couldn't the big boys donate more cash?

I also think the wine business has done little to support ethical trading initiatives, notwithstanding the

work done by the Co-op, Thresher

and Marks & Spencer. Fairtrade is nothing like as powerful a brand in wine as it in the coffee, textile or banana industries. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but the quality of most Fairtrade wines is mediocre. I'd like to see the wine trade give a lot more money back to poor communities in producing countries, whose labour helps to keep the price of wine artificially low. It should also donate expertise to improve the wines.

Talking of the price of wine, it was interesting to hear Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco's chief executive, calling for "a revolution in green consumption" last week and admitting that price rises may be necessary to achieve it. Tesco has just pledged £25 million to fund a sustainable consumption institute at Manchester University, which is a massive sum. If

it put similar amounts back into

disadvantaged sectors of the wine business - and I don't mean UK wine suppliers

-

it might start a trend. If so, it would be a fitting tribute to the memory of Anita Roddick.




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