THE BLOG

Positive Change Takes Time

08/03/2013 12:02 GMT | Updated 07/05/2013 10:12 BST

With friends from the RSPCA, The Body Shop and the wider animal welfare movement, Forster is finally celebrating the EU Directive which will ban the marketing of cosmetics tested on animals.

While much of Forster's client communications work can be instantly measured, evaluated, refined and adapted, it's important to note that real, enduring change takes time to bring about.

From our work at Forster, we know that attitudes towards mental ill-health are on a very long change cycle - while awareness is simple to raise, stigma can take generations to influence. The prevalence of recession and obesity means that persuading people to walk or get on a bike can happen much more quickly. Somewhere in between the two on the time frame comes planning for old age. Just as a minority in the UK have personal pensions anywhere near what they will need in later life, society as a whole is still coming to terms with the so-called 'demographic time-bomb' set to hit us over the coming years.

Forster's work on positive social and environmental change has sat at the heart of these different time cycles for the past sixteen years. Our whole approach recognises that change takes place at different speeds.

Celebrate when you can

Monday 11 March 2013 sees the 20th anniversary of the adoption of EU Directive 93/35, prohibiting the testing of cosmetics ingredients on animals as long as there are sufficient non-animal alternatives.

Finally, after 20 years, the EU is satisfied that there are enough non-animal alternatives to enable the Directive to become law. Knowing the work that has gone into this, the resources, time and effort from colleagues and like-minded organisations, I believe this is an event worth celebrating.

Back in 1993, Against Animal Testing was synonymous with The Body Shop, where I was then Director of Communications, Campaigns and Culture. One of The Body Shop's most successful campaigns, Against Animal Testing did not stop with the 1993 EU-wide ban on animal testing in the cosmetics industry. After all, this ban was not due to come into force until 1998, and only then if there was a non-animal alternative. Many battles ensued, with the legislation postponed in 1997 and again in 2009.

Back to the 70s

The Body Shop's work to get animal testing on cosmetics banned went back much further than 1993. Those of us who knew Anita Roddick well realised that animal welfare ranked quite low on her list of campaigning issues, well behind human rights and social justice. Yet one of her founding principles in the 1970s concerned her abhorrence at the prevalence of animal testing in the cosmetics industry. When The Body Shop set up in 1976, the cosmetics industry did not question the cruelty involved in testing cosmetics on animals. Indeed, it had only just harmonised the labelling of cosmetics products around the safety of ingredients to safeguard public health.

As with other aspects of business life, The Body Shop did not know the rules on change. We just pioneered the way as best we could. No alternative to animal testing? We tested the products on ourselves. Staff walked around Body Shop HQ wearing patches. There was no need to chain us to a laboratory table.

We thought the best way to create our own cruelty-free product list was to ask our ingredient suppliers whether they tested on animals. If they did, were they prepared to stop if they wanted to continue doing business with us? These early days of supplier audit run by Rita Godfrey and her team paved the way for the transparency and activity that was to come. Some animal industries, such as meat production, still have to learn this.

Adding expertise to enthusiasm

During the 1980s, the RSPCA initiated the 'cruelty-free' labelling of cosmetics and launched the first cruelty free product list. It ran campaigns to ban the use of animals in cosmetics tests alongside anti-vivisection organisations. Back then, the cosmetics industry shrugged and said there were no suitable non-animal alternatives.

In the early 90s, after a decade and a half of business expansion, we decided to build a Values and Vision department at Head Office in Littlehampton - a kind of campaigning NGO-within-a-business. To both make it credible and run hard-hitting, successful campaigns, I staffed it with activists, recruiting leaders from the academic and third sector worlds. When Gavin Grant and Steve McIvor arrived in close succession (from the RSPCA and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection respectively), the final move to stop animal testing in the cosmetics industry could begin. The Body Shop now had the clout to galvanise a sector into lobbying politicians for change, while kicking up a storm of public outrage.

While some of us spent time inside a stifling animal testing rabbit costume at events, the experts were able to get into the small print - the difference between testing on finished cosmetics products and on the ingredients. Corporate communications built a campaign with a clear and simple message: the testing of cosmetics on animals must stop. Now. It's taken 20 years and more.

A long way to go

Forster has been the next step for many of The Body Shop's old campaigners from those heady days. Others have gone on to great things in the commercial and not-for-profit sectors. Now, as we proudly mark the final banning of animal testing in the cosmetics industry coming into legal force on Monday 11 March, 2013, all will remember what the company set out to achieve in the 1970s, via the 1993 Directive. Many of us can say we played a big part in that. And one of us, no doubt, will be inside that rabbit costume.

For Forster, celebrating the passing into law of something we campaigned for 20 years ago gives us more impetus and strength to continue our work with clients in areas where change takes time, patience and resilience to achieve. Whether that be the importance of revitalising sustainable food production, or getting people to plan ahead for their later years, or persuading policy makers to act now on climate change. All change starts today.