Focus: Corporate Responsibility - Web resource will help charities to choose wisely

Anita Pati, anita.pati@haynet.com

The Ethical Consumer Research Association is hoping to help not-for-profit groups avoid ill-judged alliances.

Charities without an established ethical policy could benefit from a new web resource launched by the Ethical Consumer Research Association.

Its Ethics and Sponsorship website, free to users, will provide a useful launchpad for not-for-profit groups that are considering linking up with a corporate but have no CSR framework.

The aim of the site is to help charities avoid ill-judged, poorly researched corporate alliances that could damage or destroy their reputations. The site links to the Corporate Critic research database, which indexes and rates the CSR records of more than 15,000 company groups.

Helen Middleton, business development director at ECRA, said it had set up the pages in response to demand.

"We recognised that a lot of charities moving towards corporate partnerships do not have an ethical policy in place, and we get a lot of requests for advice.

"We felt we could help charities draft policies and look at the wider issues to make sure their corporate sponsorship activities are in line with the organisation's overall aims and ambitions.

"If charities link up with a corporate that is involved in unpleasant, unethical activities, it can cause damage to reputations."

The pages, although visually rudimentary, outline key issues and provide research tips, links and information.

However, the most important element, says Middleton, is a template compiled from an amalgamation of charities' ethical policies collated over the past four years, which could form the basis of a contract for charities.

The template provides space for clauses on cause-related marketing, affinity marketing and product endorsements, avoidance and engagement criteria, transparency and process.

In discussing engagement with corporates, the website explains how charities can choose to persuade their corporate partners to change aspects of their behaviour.

There is also a list of charities in the public domain that have ethical policies, including Mental Health Media, WWF UK, Oxfam, Save the Children and Diabetes UK.

The website can be viewed at http://www.corporatecritic.org/ethics and sponsorship/ethics1.htm.

COMMENT - John Hilary, director, campaigns and policy, War on Want

It's important for charities to be aware of the pitfalls of embracing corporate sponsorship, especially when so many multinationals are fighting off criticism of their activities around the world. ECRA's new Ethical Sponsorship website will certainly be a useful contribution to the debate.

The text provides a basic introduction to issues such as reputational risk, along with links to further sources of information to encourage more detailed exploration.

The policy template provides a useful roadmap to help organisations through the internal debates needed to formulate policy on sponsorship, although the focus on reputational risk (rather than more challenging ethical criteria) may be setting the bar a bit low.

Used in conjunction with ECRA's online Corporate Critic database, the website should at least inspire NGOs to address the thorny issue of ethical sponsorship, and that is definitely a good thing.

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