Diary - Anita Roddick

My 90-year-old mother, who puts garlic and chilli paste in the teapots of the residential hotel wher

My 90-year-old mother, tired of sabotaging the dining room in the residential hotel where she now lives (she put garlic and chilli paste in the teapots), now wants to set design her own funeral. Her list includes the outfit (red chiffon evening gown), the music (Corleone's theme from The Godfather) and her ashes to be stuffed into fireworks - especially rockets. So her memorial will be a firework display. I have a feeling it will be one hell of a job finding a pyrotechnic who would want to do that - so on to Google I go.

I have been enjoying some days at home with my grandchildren, which has meant that people have made their way down to Sussex to visit. Last Wednesday, Vandana Shiva, thought leader, physicist and India's foremost activist, came for a catch-up. Now, here is a woman I truly admire, who has fought RiceTec successfully to prevent the patenting of basmati rice and is now in the middle of a fight with Monsanto to stop it patenting a variety of Indian wheat. She has also taken on Coca-Cola for abusing public water supplies in India - an issue she addresses in my upcoming book on the global water crisis. Vandana was on her way home to India from Seattle. She is organising a meeting of hundreds of Indian farmers to enlist their support in setting up a number of what they're calling "Freedom Zones". Freedom from GM foods, freedom from patents on nature's gifts of seeds, plants and essential foods, and freedom from water privatisation. She told me that Monsanto has recently bought up farmers' seed supplies in order to destroy them and so force the farmers to buy their seed from the company, together with the appropriate chemical weedkiller that is necessary to perpetuate the system. This, coupled with the push into monoculture, has left Indian farmers with crop failures, a descent into poverty and ultimately 25,000 suicides since 1997. A visit to her bio-diverse organic farm in Dehra Dun, northern India, would convince even the most cynical of the value of her work.

I'm spending more time lately at Amnesty International's headquarters. There is a big buzz going on there, with the opening later this year of a new 50,000sqft building, the Human Rights Action Centre, in east London. It's a truly inspiring project which will provide a place for human rights activists, members of the public, journalists and schoolchildren to come to learn about human rights and how to take action.

My husband, Gordon, and I have decided that we need to find ways to keep our money working productively and creatively since moving on from The Body Shop, so we made a £1m gift to this new centre. Amnesty is still £650,000 short of the money it needs to get the centre going, however, and it's not easy asking for money from those who might have such sums - the rich give far less than the poor in this country.

I received a letter from Herman Wallace recently, one of the prisoners known as the "Angola Three" who have been held in solitary confinement in Louisiana for more than 32 years. They were framed in 1971 for the murder of a white prison guard. In truth, they were civil rights organisers who fought against the racist southern justice system and were a threat to the establishment. They were "dealt with" in a very southern way. Herman wrote another of his breathtaking letters, decorated with ball-point pen sketches of the Black Panther logo and magnificent flaming hearts. He writes to tell me of the latest petty tactic the wardens are using to keep him "in his place": they have decided to punish him for wearing a wooden-bead necklace featuring a mahogany fist. Although he has worn it for years, they have decided that it is a "racist symbol". He'll be spending several months in a punishment camp as a result. He never loses hope, which astounds me. And so we keep working with his lawyers to get him and Albert Woodfox new trials. But the American justice system is slow and frustrating. I guess if Herman and Albert can wait 32 years, I can wait a few, too.

I got a call the other day from Charles Kernaghan, the executive director of the National Labor Committee, also in the United States. He is the man who single-handedly put the problem of sweatshops on the map. His latest campaign is targeting Cafta, the latest free trade agreement, this one in Central America. It wants to loosen national laws on labour and the environment in order to allow multinational companies to exploit cheap resources. He told me about the King Yong factory in Nicaragua, which manufactures clothing for the American chain stores Wal-Mart and Kohl's. The workers in the factory exercised their constitutional right to organise a union (they make about eight cents for every garment they sew). Days later, dozens of the union organisers and their supporters were fired.

I'll take a few deep breaths and play with the grandkids before next month takes me on a book tour for the two new titles my publishing company will release - Troubled Water: saints, sinners, truths and lies about the global water crisis (with Brooke Shelby Biggs) and Numbers (with David Boyle). Then it's off to Washington DC for the Green Festival, which promises to be a thrilling time. The election season will be in full swing - it will be just six weeks before polling day, and I expect the spirit of dissent and joy and hope to be in the air.

This article first appeared in the 09 August 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Why terrorists love Britain