"Fake it" was an ad campaign where we put a bottle of our fake tan in a man's knickers. A US shopper fainted

I was heckled today. It was rather a surprise - and in the place you least expect to be heckled: a church. Admittedly, it was St James's Piccadilly - a counter-cultural centre if ever there was one. A woman in the audience stood up and demanded how I can campaign about worldwide issues, when the real issue for people like her is being a single mum with loads of kids and low self-esteem who felt unattractive and overweight. Being heckled wasn't an altogether unpleasant experience, and I entirely sympathised with what she said.

Modern life is pretty tough, even in the so-called richest countries. For most of us, it's all we can do to get out of the house in the mornings not looking too crazy, and the beauty industry certainly doesn't help matters by giving us all impossible ideals of youth and beauty. So I'm sad to read that the former size 16 model Sophie Dahl has shrunk herself in the cause of an ad campaign for a perfume for Yves Saint Laurent. Maybe she wanted a change, but by being a more normal shape she really did give a lot of women courage. I imagine the fashion industry still describes her as "voluptuous", but a quick look at the new pictures of her implies no such thing.

In Washington DC 24-odd hours later, and this time it's me doing the heckling. I've been invited by this charming gaggle of extremely powerful American women, known as The Committee of 200, who spend their evenings mentoring each other and spurring each other on. It's a very American kind of sisterhood, and the committee is very kindly presenting me with an award with a frighteningly pompous title - the Entrepreneurial Champion Award. I'm allowed to make a short speech and, bearing in mind the woman at church, I say what I often say when I'm talking about the Body Shop story - that I'd far prefer a glass of Pinot Noir to a jar of anti-ageing cream. Much to my surprise, I am followed on to the platform by the head of Estee Lauder, who is also getting an award, and who says much the same thing. I suppose he could hardly say anything else after that. This is much more controversial in the US. When, in 1998, we produced a generously proportioned doll called Ruby that was supposed to remind people that beauty is more about confidence than thigh circumference, the US toy company Mattel threatened to sue us. It claimed Ruby was denigrating Barbie's image.

Next stop, a meeting with the people charged with publicising the National Labor Committee's campaign against sweatshops. This is a cause very close to my heart, especially at the moment - trying to make the case for codes of corporate conduct with teeth. I have become completely convinced that the voluntary codes simply don't work. And dramatic confirmation of this drops on to my desk in the shape of a preview of a BBC Panorama programme due for transmission on October 16 - showing exploitation in a Cambodian factory that makes clothes for two companies with very strong codes of conduct, Gap and Nike. It may not have been a sweatshop in the accepted sense, but the programme-makers do find youngsters as young as 12 working from 6.15am until after 10pm, seven days a week - and forced to stand throughout. It isn't a very good advert for codes of conduct.

Feel a little like I'm in a sweatshop myself, but of a youthful and exhilarating kind. I'm at the Washington headquarters of Ralph Nader's presidential campaign for the US Green Party. There seem to be hundreds of young people rushing around, answering phones and sending off hampers full of media packs. Ralph is the man I am most in awe of, for his faith in people as agents for change, and he seems unperturbed at being ejected from one of the TV presidential debates despite having a ticket. I missed his distinctive voice in the debate itself. Gore and Bush aren't exactly clones, but the debate is still pretty narrow. Oddly enough, back at the hotel, I discover that I'm sitting opposite the former presidential candidate Bill Bradley, the only American politician to whom I've ever given money. Another distinctive voice missing from the TV debates.

After all I've said about the fashion industry, I find myself suddenly the object of a photo-shoot. I'm draped across a Washington bridge so that I can look ever so slightly calmer on the front of Ms magazine, the influential contemporary feminism publication, which is advertising free and survives on subscription and reader support alone. It's really in honour of my new book, Business As Unusual, which is to be published in the US in January.

I don't know how the book will go down in America. When we put up a poster saying "Fake It", with a man with a bottle of our watermelon self-tanning lotion down his knickers, one shopper in New Hampshire actually fainted. It's a different world.

After all that they say on Panorama about sticking with the Cambodia factory, I hear that Nike has suddenly lost it nerve and announced that it is pulling out completely. This is a bit of a disaster, especially for the poor kids who took part in the programme. Somehow, we have to persuade these retailers and the media - on the rare occasions when they publicise the issue - that the right response is to take responsibility. That means sticking with the factory to sort out the abuses, sending the child-workers to school and paying them while they're there. If everybody washes their hands of the whole problem, we won't get anywhere.

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