OPINION: THINKPIECE - What right has an individual to say no to gifts?

CHRIS BALL, non-profit sector national secretary, Amicus

My attention was caught recently by an article in The Guardian about staff in a certain charity who expressed their opposition to a fundraising scheme among employees in British Aerospace (BAE). Under the scheme, the BAE workers (the workers, you understand) voted to give £1.5 million to the charity, though we were told that staff in the charity were "furious at the charity's decision to accept it".

Really? Nobody raised this with the union in the charity. I know, because my union Amicus is involved. On further investigation, it turned out that the person complaining was not a union member, but had contacted the press on his own initiative out of a strong moral conscience. At another organisation, he would have been sacked.

If a defence worker contributes to a charity in a can in a pub, who is to say whether the money is "dirty

or not? And what if their employer adds to the collective sum a group of workers has raised? Is the collective community action nullified by the wages of sin from the arms manufacturer?

Presumably, even zealous principles-on-my-sleeve types might draw the line at paper trails to individuals' pay packets. Otherwise, where would the money laundering begin or end? But what is the difference between this ludicrous scenario and the one I noticed in The Guardian? Can charities and their workers really afford such squeamishness?

What I do know is that the third sector is full contradictions, which the giving public is not always going to be happy to indulge. Collective giving by workers through their unions and employers in partnership, has a big future - if some over zealous soul does not foul it up before we get going.

And if concerns exist among workers in charities, surely they should be expressed collectively rather than by moralising individuals. The good that people wish to do with their money or time should always be weighted alongside ethical issues before accepting help. But doing this properly requires a process, not a knee-jerk reaction.

In the case in question, it was interesting that the "wrecker

was an individual, non-union member eschewing the collective ethos. The "do-gooders

on the other hand were all card carrying union members. (My union as I have mentioned.) Maybe there's a lesson in this somewhere.

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