The Body Shop and the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth Launch Global Collaboration to Increase Youth Engagement in Public Life

Millions of young people are missing from public life. Without their involvement, the pressing issues that most significantly affect them—from the climate crisis to healthcare access, mental health, and racial justice—will not take center stage in political decision-making.   

In the US, the average senator is almost 64 years old, and the average House member is about 58. This extends beyond national politics, too: More than half of US governors are over the age of 60 and less than 6% of state legislators are under age 35. While age is only one measure of diversity, Millennials and Gen Z are notably more ethnically and racially diverse than the generations that came before them.

The lack of young people’s representation in global and national politics is counterproductive to solving the pressing issues that will affect their futures. That is why activist beauty retailer The Body Shop is launching Be Seen Be Heard, a global campaign in partnership with the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, aimed at improving the participation of young people in public life through long-term, structural changes. In the US, The Body Shop will partner with Generation Citizen, a non-partisan organization and leading advocate for youth civic engagement, to equip and inspire young people to engage in the democratic process in this year’s elections and beyond.

In conjunction with the campaign announcement, The Body Shop and the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth are jointly releasing the report Be Seen Be Heard: Understanding young people’s political participation,’ which provides critical insights into preconceptions and structural barriers preventing young people from participating in public life, along with recommendations to address these challenges. The report draws on perspectives from more than 27,000 people across 26 countries, with more than half of respondents under age 30.

According to the report, 76% of young Americans surveyed agree that our political systems need drastic reform to be fit for the future. Further, 81% of young people in the US described politicians as ‘self-interested’ and 83% think politicians are corrupt. 78% of people under 30 in the US believe politicians and business leaders from previous generations have ‘messed things up’ for people and the planet.

“Our position is clear. The world’s problems cannot be solved by the same people making the same choices,” said David Boynton, CEO of The Body Shop. “Our research indicates the majority of young people are positive about the future, and we need to hear their views and ideas inside the halls of power. We will use our global reach to galvanize awareness and support, as we have in the past. Since Anita Roddick founded The Body Shop in 1976, we have campaigned on issues of social and environmental justice, because we believe that global businesses have a responsibility towards the communities in which they operate. Throughout our campaigning history The Body Shop has created direct change through new legislative action or policy changes in over 24 countries since 1990.  Be Seen Be Heard is rooted in creating a fairer world with and for young people, and together with the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth – we are on a mission to do exactly that.”

The survey results also demonstrate that despite young people’s overall negative views toward current government institutions, they are not apathetic. A third of people under 30 in the US are interested in running for office, including almost half (46%) of people aged 15-17. Younger people in the US are also more likely to have engaged in the political and civically oriented activities outlined in the survey, including engaging in a difficult debate with family members and sharing on social media about a social justice or environmental issue, with only 17% of those under 30 doing none of the listed activities compared to 26% of those aged 30 or older.

Earlier this morning, The Body Shop and the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth unveiled the global survey results at a press conference at the UN Headquarters in New York City. Panelists included Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; David Boynton, global CEO of The Body Shop; Gina Martin, youth political activist and author; and Samson Itodo, Executive Director of Yiaga Africa, which is the organization behind Not Too Young to Run.

“The intergenerational gap in power, influence and trust constitutes one of the biggest challenges of our time,” Jayathma Wickramanayake, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, said. “As young people have made abundantly clear through their activism on the streets, in civil society and on social media, they care deeply about the transformational change needed to create more equal, just and sustainable societies. Participation is a right, and a lack of youth representation where decisions are made contributes to a growing mistrust towards political institutions and a sense of alienation from elected leaders, caused by policies that do not reflect the priorities of youth, mirror their concerns or speak their language. This campaign is an opportunity to change that.”

The Body Shop and the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth push for transformational change       
The report supports the fact that there is a chronic lack of faith in political systems but a clear appetite for more youth representation from all age groups. Learnings such as these will inform grassroots campaign actions around the world. These actions, outlined in the report, include a wide range of structural changes in political systems. Among other actions, young people’s participation in public decision-making could be improved long-term by:

  • lowering voting ages
  • increasing formal youth representation through youth councils, parliaments, or committees
  • removing barriers for young people to participate in public decision-making
  • simplifying registration for first-time voters
  • improving young people’s leadership skills

Campaigning in 2,600 stores, in over 75 countries, across six continents
The collaboration between The Body Shop and the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth will mean that young people and other stakeholders will be able to engage with the campaign through many routes. Local campaign activations will include partnerships with specific youth-led or youth-focused non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and/or opportunities to support through petitions and other activations. 

The campaign launched globally in May 2022 and will run until mid-2025. Check out the campaign website for further information.

Click here to read the full report:

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