CSR: Giving a Pinch of Money with One Hand, Taking a Lorryload with the Other

20 Feb

One of the cruel ironies of writing grant proposals for NGOs is that sometimes you have to consider asking for money from the corporate social responsibility (CSR) wing of some of the very multinationals that cause the kind of problems that NGOs aim to address. I remember discussing with a sports NGO in Kenya a ‘gift’ they were offered by a well known manufacturer of fashion trainers. The NGO ran sports programs that included awareness raising about vital social issues. They approached the manufacturer for assistance of some kind. However, they were offered an entire container of trainers, but only on the grounds that they were responsible for the shipping and clearing costs, which were far higher than the cost of the number of trainers the NGO needed. The NGO had to turn down the gift.

But similar multinationals to the one in question can avail of Kenya’s ready supply of cheap laborers, the children of whom are potential recipients of gifts, such as the one described above. Export Processing Zones (EPZ) are set up so that Western companies can operate there without worrying about labor laws or anything like that, anything that may cut into their profits, including tax. People who are paid too little to provide for the needs of themselves and their families can be indirect recipients of products that their underpaid labor produced. Indeed, it is because they are paid so little that their children suffer from problems such as bad health, malnutrition, poor or no education, lack of security and a host of other things that NGOs apply to the CSR wing of multinationals for funding to address.

The Guardian has a recent article on formula milk firms targeting mothers and health workers with ‘gifts’.  Declines in breastfeeding are not a result of ‘cultural’ factors or anything like that. They are a result of the deceitful and exploitative techniques used by producers of formula milk to ensure that women are supplied with their rubbish until they cease lactating. Then the mothers have to pay for the grotesquely overpriced products.  Of course, producers of formula milk make so much money that they can also afford to produce lots of publicity that claims they are socially responsible corporations. Numerous agreements, international codes, claims to the contrary, fatuous posturing by formula milk producer executives, touchy-feely ads and marketing, etc, notwithstanding. Dependence on formula milk, and it is as much a dependence as if it were drugs distributed at school gates, contributes to poor health, poverty, malnutrition, disease and death.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that one of the big culprits is Nestle. Another article in the Guardian, entitled ‘Nestle baby milk scandal has grown up but not gone away’, dishes some of the dirt . Clearly the scandal itself was not fed on Nestle products, nor, I assume, were the children of Nestle executives, nor even those executives themselves. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other non-communicable conditions can kill more people, or be the underlying cause of death, than communicable diseases. Yet you can compete for the Nestle prize to help fund development projects relating to water, nutrition or rural development. They also take an interest in children and young people in some of their CSR exercises, funding maternal and child nutrition projects, schools, disabled people, research, animal welfare and more. They fund projects in countries in Africa and Asia, where they carry out some of their highly questionable sales and marketing practices and, consequently, make a lot of their profits. For a list of Nestle’s ‘corporate activities’, Corporate Watch makes tough reading.

If you’re reading the Guardian on Nestle, don’t miss the brief exchange following the article between the author and the chairman of Nestle, it’s better than the article itself! And do check out the Baby Milk Action link. But alas, what does an NGO looking for funding do about such funding sources?


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