Corporate Responsibility: Profile - People Networks

Francois Le Goff

People Networks, which handles equality and diversity questions within the BT Group, has narrowed its criteria for funding charities so it only assists projects that benefit BT's staff.

People Networks claims businesses' motivations for sponsoring charities are often arbitrary, and not directly related to the needs of their own employees.

The first initiative to be funded under its new Networks of Care scheme is an intranet site, managed by the National Childminding Association (NCMA) and mothers' charity Netmums, which provides advice and information about childcare to BT employees who are working parents, lone parents or parents of disabled children. The portal will be launched later this year.

People Networks says that Networks of Care, developed alongside 40 charities including the RNIB, the RNID and Scope, will not affect the funding of other BT corporate social responsibility programmes. But it does hope it will become a model to be followed throughout the corporate sector, changing relationships between charities and their corporate sponsors.

"Having clear criteria for selecting charities will create a greater transparency and enable us to give more feedback to those whose proposals are refused," said Caroline Walters, director of People Networks. She does not believe the move will limit BT's contribution to wider society.

But Friends of the Earth corporate accountability campaigner Craig Bennett said the scheme should be seen as an example of good employer practice, rather than of socially responsible practice. He said: "It is a good idea, but my concern is whether they are going to present it as an HR service or as a charitable deed, which would be wrong."

The NCMA and Netmums both claim that Networks of Care brings mutual benefits.

"Being associated with a company such as BT gives credibility to all the information we provide online," said Sally Russell, co-director of Netmums.

"They have also donated money to allow us to explore partnerships and share information with other professionals."

A spokesman from the NCMA said the online training facility for child-minders that BT helped to fund would increase its membership while improving the quality of services offered to BT employees.

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