When Charity Becomes Fashionable
By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network
It’s a common occurrence. Celebrities lend their support and fame to draw attention to a charitable cause. In many cases, having a well-known celebrity publicly engaged in a cause can bring badly needed dollars to address the issues a particular charity was created for.
Companies have also lent their support for a wide range of health and social issues. In this case, there is usually a clear public relations benefit associated with supporting a given charity or charities. The (Product) Red campaign led publicly by Bono, the lead singer of U2, has partnered with Apple, Gap Inc., American Express, Motorola, Emporio Armani and Converse to raise funds to help eliminate the AIDS plague that is raining destruction upon the African continent.
Noble sentiments and deeds aside, there are concerns about the relationship between charities and some of the companies they keep.
A piece in The Observer has raised questions about the links between high fashion labels such as Gucci, Prada, Armani and Jean Paul Gaultier and the charities these companies support.
Jean Paul Gaultier recently launched an exclusive Christmas gift collection with Unicef. The designer, however, has been accused of using sweatshop labor to produce the items bearing those labels.
Unicef staffers in countries such as Pakistan and India have been incensed over what they see as the organization associating itself with fashion houses engaged in business practices antithetical to their mission.
Sam Maher, of the pressure group Look Behind the Labels, said it’s not hard to find the ulterior motive behind the fashion companies’ charity. “Around Christmas, associating with a good cause will massively augment your sales,” she said. “If fashion conglomerates concentrated on improving their own corporate practices and the working conditions of the impoverished people making their products, then life would be a lot better for people in the developing world.”
Discussion questions: Should companies spend more human and financial capital getting their houses – and suppliers’ houses – in order rather than going
for short term publicity associated with stumping for a charitable organization? Is it possible for companies, even those with the best of intentions, to go unscathed in a media
environment where every questionable practice (using low wage overseas labor, for example) becomes news?
In principle, this is not news. Multinational companies loudly trumpet their corporate social responsibility and the good things they do in the hopes that
they will drown out protests about some of their production methods. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Giving celebrities or companies the opportunity to wear their hearts on their sleeves can be seen as camouflage. The Creative Coalition, based in New York,
coaches celebrities looking for ways to become better activists and find causes in which they can get involved.
Unicef, needless to say, defends its links with celebrities and fashion designers on the basis that raising awareness raises money. But one of its own workers
cites a “unanimous sentiment” that although the need for fund-raising is paramount, it should not be at the cost of integrity.