Opinion: The dilemma in the gift horse

Rachel O'Brien

You are the chief executive of a large national charity. You have a major new initiative and are convinced it could make a positive impact on the people the organisation works with. To roll it out as you want, you need to raise more than your projected income.

The good news is that you have been approached by a global company that wants to give you loads of money and feels the new project may be just the thing. The only problem is, said company has, in the past, been accused of failing to meet basic employment standards in its supply chain management overseas. What do you do?

The easy response is to decline, as Breakthrough Breast Cancer did last week when it turned down a £1m deal with food giant Nestle. But what if research indicates the company has tackled these issues and that its poor reputation is largely historical? It is possible that you simply know nothing about the company's track record. What difference would it make if the money was wrapped in a cause-related marketing package? And what if the amount on the table is not just substantial, but obscene?

As a charity, where do you turn for non-biased, up-to-date information on the practices of companies? As an ethical tourist, you can get good quality information from Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, which may help to decide your destination. But where can the sector find accurate information about companies' environmental records and compliance with international law?

We are concerned about independence, and are mostly realistic enough to recognise that businesses want something back. The crucial question is what? Perhaps there is a case for a 'Charity Blind Fund' that is independent of government, any NGO or company. Here, donors can stipulate the nature of work they wish to support and the kind of social benefit they wish to deliver, but have no knowledge of, or direct contact with, the recipient.

Accompanied by high-profile, prodigious thanks, would anyone give?

Rachel O'Brien is director of external affairs at the Institute for Public Policy Research. Lisa Harker is recovering from an accident.

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