Charities must not sleep with the enemy

Exploitation exemplified: a sweet and innocent young student being ogled at the freshers' disco by the arrogant, ego-driven Lothario of the junior common room. Ugh.

So "ugh" for the invitation that arrived from sweet and innocent Student Volunteering England announcing the launch on Monday evening of Student Volunteering Week in the atrium of KPMG's London headquarters.

Atriums reveal much about the arrogance and ego of companies, but there is worse - for, along with talk of light refreshments, the invitation noted that "SVE will also be hosting four regional events... in collaboration with KPMG's Team Challenge programme".

As one of this Government's favourite bean counters, and a firm with an imperfect record, KPMG is not the kind of company in whose company charities should want to be seen.

On the one hand, there is its work on tax avoidance: legal, morally reprehensible strategies for the filthy rich and crafty corporates to let others pay for the welfare state, education, hospitals and much more. Sometimes tax avoidance goes too far, as when KPMG in the US admitted criminal wrongdoing and agreed to pay $456m (£233m) in fines and restitution to defer prosecution in the multibillion-dollar case of a tax shelter fraud.

On the other, there is its work on private finance initiatives, those overpriced deals that reward firms with billions, undermine the NHS, education, councils and more, and mortgage our children's future.

Such conduct cannot be redressed by buying goodwill through the charity donations of a few million in cash, supplies and volunteers, especially if the last is the 'KPMG Team Challenge', or morale-boosting team building on the cheap.

Talking of cheap: oxymoronic 'corporate philanthropy' appears to be in serious decline. The most recent statistics for giving by FTSE 100 companies put it at a pathetic 0.79 per cent of pre-tax profits, down from 0.95 per cent in 2002, while pre-tax profits have doubled.

To avoid selling themselves short, SVE and others must resist the atriums, canapes and cheesy chat-up lines of those who want to take advantage of their integrity. Luckily, I'll be able to explain to SVE in person why capitalism's Casanovas should be shunned when I speak at its Liverpool conference next month. Meanwhile, here's a useful mantra: I must not sleep with the enemy.

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