Regulation with Rosie: Corporate partnerships

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on corporate partnerships.

Rosie Chapman
Rosie Chapman

When The Guardian teamed up with a coffee company keen to stress its fair trade credentials, it must have seemed like a marriage made in heaven - until the following week, when a storm of criticism forced that company, Starbucks, to publicly defend its policy of keeping taps constantly running to clean spoons.

We all have to make ethical judgement calls these days, and they are becoming increasingly complex. Organic cotton or carbon footprint? Fair trade or food miles? Make do and mend or donate to charity?

To avoid PR pitfalls such as the Guardian/Starbucks debacle, charities chasing the dwindling corporate pound must be particularly careful when they are thinking about what makes a good match.

Very few major commercial players have absolutely no ethical credentials, but no company, however well-intentioned, is going to tick every box. Choose your priorities and do your homework. Be realistic: you may believe you will not have to defend a commercial deal because a company's ethical record matches your charity's aims, but that company may fall down in other areas. A charity may further only one cause, but its donors probably support many.

Thoroughly researching a company's record in areas that may not be your immediate concern is time well spent. Our guidance Charities and Fundraising points out some of the important criteria to consider.

In an ideal world, you might even get a deal like the one Unicef has achieved with a major nappy retailer: free TV adverts with a clear disclaimer saying that it does not endorse the company's products. Now that was a coup.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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