Gisele planting a tree at green nation fest

From campaigning for equal rights to saving the rainforest, Lysanne Currie looks at the ethical celebrities that have a starring role in helping our world balance for better . . .

Emma Thompson attending the the 'Alone in Berlin' premiere

Emma Thompson

Campaigning for human rights, the environment and the Me Too movement
Emma Thompson, 59, is one of the most outspoken and ethical of British actresses, seen everywhere from the World Economic Forum in Davos to the Arctic on Greenpeace expeditions. “We all need to speak up and a woman who has got a louder voice needs to shout very loudly indeed,” she says.

A lifelong Labour Party member, she has campaigned since her teens; first at Camden School for Girls, and then at Cambridge, as a marcher with CND rallies and Greenpeace, of which she is still an active supporter.

She has been an ambassador for ActionAid, is chair of the Helen Bamber Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, and an activist for Palestine. Not to mention a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. In 2016 she gave her support for the Women’s Equality party, “because I really do not want to die before closing the pay gap, which stands, in our great and supposedly modern capital city, at 23 per cent”.

A tireless human rights campaigner, she puts her money where her mouth is. In 2008 she produced the play Fair Trade, about human trafficking, based on the true story of two asylum seekers who were fooled into coming to London, and ended up working as prostitutes.

She is a vocal supporter of MeToo, and in 2019 she resigned from the animated film Luck while it was still in production, in protest against its studio head, the disgraced film executive John ‘Toy Story’ Lasseter, who has been accused of sexual harassment. “I am well aware that centuries of entitlement to women’s bodies whether they like it or not is not going to change overnight. Or in a year,” she wrote. “But I am also aware that if people who have spoken out – like me – do not take this sort of a stand then things are very unlikely to change at anything like the pace required to protect my daughter’s generation.”

Reese Witherspoon at the premiere of 'A Wrinkle In Time'

Reese Witherspoon

Campaigning for women’s and children’s rights
A supporter of Save the Children and a board member of the Children's Defense Fund, Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon, 42, also campaigns for women's advocacy groups.

She was among those including Jennifer Garner and Cicely Tyson who visited New Orleans, Louisiana, in 2006, to help bring the needs of Hurricane Katrina’s victims to greater awareness, while also opening the city's first Freedom School and chatting to the pupils while she was there – an unforgettable experience, she said.

In 2007, she became the first Global Ambassador and spokeswoman of cosmetics company’s Avon Products, while also becoming honorary chair of the Avon Foundation, which aids breast cancer research and raises awareness of domestic violence.

In 2018 she joined Elizabeth Arden’s March On campaign, an equal rights for women initiative. A new brand of lipstick, called Charitable Red, was released on International Women’s Day, to raise funds for UN Women, a global organisation fighting for equal pay for women, positions in government, and freedom from violence.

 “With March On, Elizabeth Arden gives the power of red lipstick a whole new meaning,” said Witherspoon. “Not only does it symbolize feminine power and solidarity, but it will also contribute to creating a world where gender equality can become a reality.”

This year, 2019, Witherspoon and Elizabeth Arden are renewing their continue the campaign with a revamped lipstick shade, Pink Punch. “It’s a strong colour that inspires optimism, so it felt like the perfect colour for our March On campaign,” said Witherspoon.

Close up of Emma Watson attending a premiere

Emma Watson

Campaigning for equal rights
When it comes to ethical actresses, very few come close to UN goodwill ambassador Emma Watson.

Emma Watson began questioning gender assumptions from the age of eight, when she got fed up with being told she was ‘bossy”, while boys were admired for showing leadership.

While many women in the public eye shy away from calling themselves ‘feminist’, the 28-year-old Harry Potter star has been proud to do so, putting it at the heart of her campaigning for equal rights and education for women and girls.

Her 2014 speech to the UN decried the association of feminism with “man-hating”, insisting it’s simply ‘the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities’. The death threats she received as a consequence did nothing to stop her and she has thrown herself into her work as a goodwill ambassador for the UN, including its HeForShe campaign, which encourages men to back the cause too.

In 2019, she announced her support for sustainable fashion service Good On You, which helps consumers learn which brands sell ethically produced apparel items. “I support Good On You because I need to know my clothes do not harm our precious planet or its people,” she said. “On the red carpet we’re often asked not what we are wearing but ‘Who?’. It’s as if the ideas behind the clothes have more meaning than the garment itself…  [So] when I’m given a platform to speak about my choice of outfit, I will have a meaningful story to tell. And it’s powerful.”

Angelina Jolie on the red carpet

Angelina Jolie

Campaigning for humanitarian causes
Despite winning an Oscar for Girl, Interrupted, and playing an extensive range of parts in everything from Lara Croft: Tomb Raider to The Changeling, Angelina Jolie is now probably better known for philanthropy than acting, with a reputation as a leader among ethical actresses.

She has become synonymous with celebrity activism and proof that it can be so much more than vanity projects to burnish the public image of the rich and famous.

Paradoxically, it was perhaps her role in escapist video game adaptation Tomb Raider that pricked her conscience, filming in Cambodia and learning about the appalling consequences of US bombing and the murderous Khmer Rouge regime.

In 2001, the actress was made a UN goodwill ambassador, making field trips to war-torn countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and central America. She has received numerous awards – including the inaugural Citizen of the World award in 2003 – and the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, established with then-husband Brad Pitt, has made extensive donations to environmental and humanitarian causes.

The 43-year-old is currently linked to 29 organisations and often takes her six children with her on philanthropic trips. Recently daughters Shiloh and Zahara went to Cambodia – and helped a family with 12 children. During an interview with Vogue, Angelina said that she knew Shiloh had a desire to give back when the pair was together in Lebanon.

In February 2019 she met refugees and rape survivors in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, where 740,000 Rohingya have taken refuge from a militarised Myanmar. “It was deeply upsetting to meet the families who have only known persecution and statelessness their whole lives, who speak of being ‘treated like cattle’,” Jolie told reporters. “I met a woman yesterday, a survivor of rape in Myanmar, and she told me, ‘You would have to shoot me where I stand before I go back without my rights… the responsibility to ensure those rights and make it possible for the Rohingya people to return to Rakhine state lies squarely with the government and the authorities in Myanmar.”

Salma Hayek attending the wrinkle in time premiere

Salma Hayek

Campaigning to stop violence against women and help children
The Frida actress has spent decades campaigning for women’s rights, and her eponymous charity raises awareness of, and financially supports battered women in Mexico.

In the past few years, the foundation’s remit has expanded to include support for disadvantaged Mexican street children, helping with initiatives to tackle lack of education, violence and drug use.

However, women’s causes have remained her mainstay and in 2013 she co-founded Chime For Change with Beyoncé and Global Citizen. The campaign aims to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, but is focused on the poor lot of women and girls, who, its website points out, do two-thirds of the world’s working hours yet earn just 10 per cent of the pay and own one per cent of the planet’s property.

In just a few years, Chime For Change has funded more than 400 projects in 86 countries. Salma, 52, who has a daughter, Valentina, with billionaire husband Francois-Henri Pinault, actively supports 25 charities including Pampers 1 Pack = 1 Vaccine programme enables UNICEF to give tetanus injections to pregnant women.

‘I have long been a supporter of every child’s right to health and happiness,’ she said. ‘As a new mother, I’m thrilled to help Pampers and UNICEF raise awareness of their initiative to provide tetanus vaccines to those at risk.’

More recently, she visited Syrian refugees in Lebanon in 2015, raised more than $700,000 for relief efforts after the earthquake in Mexico in 2017, was given the Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award at the 7th Biennial UNICEF Ball in 2018.

Gisele Bundchen planting a tree at the Event Green Nation Fest

Gisele Bündchen
Campaigning to regenerate the rainforest

Bündchen’s Forests Of The Future campaign aims to repopulate the rainforest by planning one million new trees.

The Brazilian model, 38, has been a UN goodwill ambassador since 2009 for her work on environmental issues. This followed her launch of a green blog one year earlier ‘reflecting on socio-environmental issues that we can do something about’.

Living up to her own words, she initiated the Forests Of The Future campaign to repopulate the rainforest by planning one million new trees. More recently Bundchen joined the board of Rainforest Alliance.

One of the world’s most ethical actresses, she has highlighted the importance of clean water via the Agua Limpa (clean water) project and has even shown how it’s possible to merge environmentalism and business with her range of Ipanema sandals, which sold an estimated 250 million pairs, raising money for green causes with every sale.

In January 2019 Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias dubbed her “a bad Brazilian”, after she accused the country's new far-right president Jair Bolsonaro of rolling back environmental safeguards.

‘There is always that sense that, “I’m so small, what can I do?'” but then you have to start somewhere, so I opened the Luz Foundation in 2007, to bring more light into the world,’ she said. ‘I created a place where I can donate a percentage of my money to help with different projects that came along.’


Bette Midler

Restoring green spaces in New York City
Midler’s New York Restoration Project aims to restore the parks in some of New York’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

Although she heralds from Honolulu, Hawaii, it’s in New York City that actress Bette Midler made her name. A star of Broadway and a one-woman performer who mixes music and bawdy humour, the 73-year-old embodies much that is best about the big, brash city.

So it seems apt that her extensive philanthropy has focused on the city’s landscape, helping to ensure that the concrete jungle also enjoys its fair share of green spaces. Founded in 1995, Midler’s New York Restoration Project is a non-profit that helps bring private funds to public spaces, cleaning up and restoring the parks in some of the city’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

It plants trees, renovates gardens and generally makes sure the city’s spaces are usable and attractive – a far cry from the dog days of old when they became synonymous with drugs and crime. The NYRP also helped save some 114 community gardens earmarked for sale by the city.

‘New York had so many problems you almost didn’t know where to start,’ she said. ‘So I started at the bottom of the barrel, picking up trash in the streets. Trash seemed to me to be symptomatic of larger problems. I felt that if I could solve one small problem, perhaps others could be solved.’

In October 2018, her “Hulaween Bash”, benefiting the Restoration Project, was held at the Cathedral of St. John The Divine, with guests including Frankie Grande and Debbie Harry.