When Charity Becomes Fashionable

Discussion
Nov 30, 2006

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.

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6 Comments on "When Charity Becomes Fashionable"


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Dean Crutchfield
Guest
Dean Crutchfield
15 years 5 months ago
This is question has been upmost on our minds as we’re the company that created PRODUCT (RED). And the success of this new brand is totally reliant on the integrity of the partners: “I think doing the (RED) thing, doing good, will turn out to be good business” Bono Let’s be honest, we advisers and our clients are responding to consumer demand for better choices. Brands that show commitment to the arts, the environment and the welfare of others are becoming consumer favorites. These corporations are creating new business models and brands that will change traditional models of profit creation. The PRODUCT (RED) StoryBono launched (RED) at the World Economic Forum in January ’06. An example of a new business model, PRODUCT (RED) is the marriage between desire and virtue. An easy choice for consumers, a profitable business model for corporations. PRODUCT (RED) builds its brand equity by partnering with iconic brands such as Amex, Motorola, Gap, Converse and Giorgio Armani, etc to market desirable products. In return, by association with PRODUCT (RED), partner brands… Read more »
Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
15 years 5 months ago

First, let’s be honest — everyone has a motive for everything. That may sound harsh, but it’s reality.

I’m for anything that raises awareness of these issues even for a little while.

Charlie Moro
Guest
Charlie Moro
15 years 5 months ago

In a perfect world, I think we would not have sweat shops and other demeaning working conditions in other parts of the world. And at some point there may be a minimum standard that reflects all societies and cultures. Not sure we are close to that.

In the meantime, companies should absolutely look inside and determine where they can implement their influence to make things better.

However, let’s not lump everyone together. There are lots of great relationships, like McDonald’s and Ronald McDonald House for kids that should not be diminished because we can’t decide the position on trans fats in French fries.

There are many more companies doing good things with giving and partnerships that help, more than the few that abuse the link.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 5 months ago
Let’s not get balled up in why a charity is supported and just make sure it is getting supported. If a manufacturer wishes to donate based upon sales, or a target, or just because they feel it is the right thing to do, it doesn’t matter, as long as the charity actually gets funding. With regard to sweat shops, I am amazed at how many do-gooders are so quick to criticize manufacturers for providing jobs. In most cases, in the third world, a job means food. A steady supply of food enables parents to fee their children so they grow up and have a chance to go to school. Without the sweatshop many children will simply become mortality statistics. Do-gooders never seem to know what things were like before. They don’t know that life expectancy was 39 years, that 40% of children died before they reached the age of three. Could things be better? I can’t think of a place they couldn’t be but throwing rocks at the people who are providing the work is… Read more »
Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
15 years 5 months ago

Getting one’s own house in order is a priority if an organization wants to develop or maintain consumer trust over the long term. Examining current or contemplated business practices and products is an essential part of corporate social responsibility. Charity then supports those practices and products and is more meaningful to consumers as a result.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

Even though McDonald’s gets low grades for how it treats the restaurant staff and its customer nutritional issues, its image is certainly helped by the Ronald McDonald House charities. Wal-Mart gets bad publicity for how it pays its store staff, but people loved Wal-Mart for its quick response to Hurricane Katrina. There’s no doubt that charity sponsorship helps a retailer’s image, but it can’t magically wipe away every negative. And it’s awfully hard to have no negative images at all.

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