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Part 2: NGOs such as Save the Children and Corporations

Tuesday also saw a very good article in the Guardian which raises some very serious issues relating to Save the Children’s relationship with the corporate sector.

It was a good warning for all NGOs to look at who they are having funding from in the corporate world. 

Be true to your vision and principles.
“A world in which every child attains the right to survival, protection, development and participation.” Save the Children vision.

What was interesting, and did bring a smile to my face, was the article wasn’t the same by the end of the day as it was at the beginning.

The earlier version was called: Has Save the Children become too large and lost sight of what it is for?’ the later one was called: ‘Justin Forsyth: 'If NGOs stay politically correct, we won't have an impact'.

Clearly the Guardian had experienced the full weight of Save the Children’s communication department. The article now told a much less critical story and was full of quotes by Justin (CEO of Save the Children).

I have to say I prefer it if an organization has a problem with an article they should have a right of reply not try and change the original article – it’s much more powerful.
The issue for NGOs just like the UN, as I addressed in the previous blog, and for that matter governments, is we are all looking for funding from the private sector. But at what cost!

Stakeholder Forum Experience

I had the same issue when I was Executive Director of Stakeholder Forum. In 2001 Stakeholder Forum took funds from BP as they rebranded themselves as ‘Beyond Petroleum’ and I have to say ‘naively’ I believed them. It turned out to be green wash. Third World Network quite rightly criticized me and Stakeholder Forum at the time. They were right and we were wrong. BP has now sold its solar and was in 2013 about to sell its wind but reversed that decision but is focusing on  core business of‘oil and gas’. As CBS reported in 2013 ‘Beyond Petroleum' No More? BP Goes Back to Basics’.

The result for Stakeholder Forum was that we developed a policy with a criteria for when we would take corporation funds. We didn’t do it again until 2012 around Rio+20 when we had support from AVIVA for a push for a convention on Corporate Reporting to have all companies listed on the Stock Exchanges producing an environment, social and governance report to be listed on a Stock Exchange or explain why not. Bloomberg estimate over 75% of companies don’t report that Bloomberg looks at. We can hope that the very good Sustainable Stock Exchange Initiative takes up the lead where governments have failed.

Save the Children and Corporations

I mention this because I think very similar to the original Guardian article that NGOs and in this case Save the Children should not take money from companies that operate against their core principles and values. The Guardian article says this on the issue of Save the Children and child labour.

Two more Save the Children US partners, Nike and Walmart, have been dogged by allegations of child labour in recent years, an undercover report by CBS News in 2013 found widespread use of the practice in Walmart’s Bangladesh supplier.
Justin Forsyth says all decisions on corporate partnerships are made by a board-level committee which “signs off the companies that we work with”.
He adds: “Nike has a very progressive policy on child labour. Whether it is already implemented in the right way is another question, and that’s the same with other companies. We’re not going to only work with companies that are perfect, but we’ll work with ones that are going in the right direction.”
There is a difference between accepting them as a corporate partner and helping them address issues that go against your core values and principles as an organization. So if you admit you don’t know if it’s been implemented in the right way then clearly you should find out before taking money from them. You should ensure there are robust monitoring and evaluation systems in place so if the company starts again you stop your association with them. Its not rocket science.

I have another issue with Walmart myself. As the Washington Post reported:

“The low wages paid by businesses, including some of the largest and most profitable companies in the U.S. – like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart – are costing taxpayers nearly $153 billion a year.

After decades of wage cuts and health benefit rollbacks, more than half of all state and federal spending on public assistance programs goes to working families who need food stamps, Medicaid, or other support to meet basic needs. Let that sink in — American taxpayers are subsidizing people who work — most of them full-time  (in some case more than full-time) because businesses do not pay a living wage.”

In 2014 Walmart announced that they were cutting health care benefits for some part time employees. The Wall Street Journal said:

“Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is cutting health insurance for another 30,000 part-time workers and raising premiums for its other employees, as U.S. corporations push to contain costs in the wake of the federal health-care law.”

These are often women and often women with children trying to be flexible to enable their children to spend time with them as well. Again I wonder how a child rights organization can justify taking money from a company that contributes to low wages and no health care as children will be some of the first impacted by that.

Climate Change

This brings me to some of the other corporate partners of Save the Children - Exxon Mobile and Chevron.

In a wonderful article by the US Environment Correspondent for the Guardian Suzanne Goldenberg titled ‘Exxon knew of climate change in 1981, email says – but it funded deniers for 27 more years.’ From the article:

Kenneth Kimmel, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said ExxonMobil and the other companies profiled in its report had failed to take responsibility about the danger to the public of producing fossil fuels.
US taxpayers subsidising world's biggest fossil fuel companies
 “Instead of taking responsibility, they have either directly – or indirectly through trade and industry groups – sown doubt about the science of climate change and fought efforts to cut emissions,” he wrote in a blogpost. “I believe that the conduct outlined in the UCS report puts the fossil fuel companies’ social license at risk. And once that social license is gone, it is very hard to get it back. Just look at what happened to tobacco companies after litigation finally pried open the documents that exposed decades of misinformation and deception.”

As children will be at the forefront of the impacts of climate change how can Save the Children take money from Exxon Mobile?

Meanwhile Chevron have closed down their renewable section so clearly like BP focusing on maximizing the profits from the problem and not contributing to the solution.

Tony Blair and Save the Children

As my readers know I was very critical of Save the Children US giving the “global legacy award” award to former prime-minister for his work on poverty in Africa. I was also hugely supportive of the stand by over 500 Save the Children staff signing an internal letter calling the decision “morally reprehensible” Many living in dangerous places where such an action of giving the award might put their lives in danger. It  still must have been a very difficult thing for them to do. An insight into the way the management feels about this is for me in the comment by Justin their CEO as reported in the Guardian article on Tuesday he said:

“There wasn’t a reaction anywhere else in the world. It was only in the UK. We didn’t get any reaction in the US, and this was a Save the Children US event.”

He seems to forget that the reaction was from not only the UK but 500 of his own staff particular in the Middle East and Africa where the Award for Blair would be viewed very badly.  It is true there was outcry in the UK where nearly 125,000 people signing the petition calling for the award to be revoked.

So my final comment on this is I believe yet again it’s an issue of a lack of management that allows an organization, such as Save the Children to accept funding from the particular companies they have.  Perhaps as the original article in the Guardian suggested  'Has Save the Children become too large and lost sight of what it is for' 

I am unlike some people not against taking money from company’s but it must must fit in with the goals and principles of what you are trying to do as an organization. 

I truly hope that the great staff in Save the Children will let their managers know that it is unacceptable to have a plan to engage the corporate sector that includes the companies listed above if they are negatively impacting on children.


  1. Hello Felix,
    Grea blog about serious stuff! I have been doing evaluations of the `industry driven` multistakeholder initiative, to protect children from sexual exploitation in tourism, initiated by NGOs and later `handed over` to the industry. It is an unequal fight on clasing interests between NGOs and industry, in which the latter´s professionals push the NGOs to their limits. NGOs do not have the negotiation power and expertise, nor the funds to fight for their interests and are under constant threat that the industry will withdraw their support and look for other more flexible NGOs. I really doubt wether and how this could be the way forward
    All best, Frans


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