Charities defend their funding of Operation Black Vote

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation have been criticised by the Daily Mail after OBV produced a controversial advert about the EU referendum

The poster
The poster

After being criticised by the Daily Mail newspaper, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation have defended their decisions to fund an organisation that produced a controversial advert about the EU referendum.

The Mail today questioned why the foundations had provided funding to Operation Black Vote, the company that produced the poster, which depicts a white, male skinhead apparently shouting at an elderly Asian woman about Europe. It prompted more than 100 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority within 24 hours of its launch yesterday.

OBV said the poster was designed to show that votes carry equal weight whether they are cast by more or less-vocal people.

But Priti Patel, the pro-Brexit employment minister, wrote in the Mail that the poster was racist and offensive in its imagery.

A spokesman representing both of the grant-makers said that, since 2012, the JRCT had made two grants to OBV totalling £207,000, and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation gave the organisation a three-year grant worth £100,000 in 2014. 

Speaking on behalf of the JRCT, the spokesman said: "The JRCT is committed to equality and funds organisations that encourage all communities to participate actively in the electoral system. OBV is one such organisation, and has a strong record of encouraging voter registration, democratic participation and open democratic debate."

He said the poster campaign was an initiative run by OBV and JRCT had no part in commissioning, designing or approving it.

Representing Esmée Fairbairn, the spokesman said: "We support organisations such as Operation Black Vote that work to reduce the barriers to participation and create systemic change on injustice and inequality in the UK."

He said the foundation did not comment on the work of individual grantees.

A spokesman for the Charity Commission said the regulator had not contacted the foundations at this stage. He said charities were permitted to make grants only for those activities that in principle they could carry out themselves.

"It is for trustees to decide how best to further their charitable objectives," he said. "They must be able to show how any grant to another organisation, whether it’s a charity or not, furthers their charity’s purposes. As regulator, we will robustly probe how charities spend charitable funds where there is a clear question over whether the trustees have complied with their legal duties and responsibilities."

He also confirmed that the regulator had written to OBV asking why the organisation described itself as a charity in its financial report when it is not registered with the Charity Commission. "We are awaiting its response," he said.

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