On the 10/ 12/2013 a BBC 2 panorama edition will be highlighting the links that several charities have with alcohol, tobacco, defense, and power companies, suggesting that the charities have, at the very least, behaved in an unethical fashion.
No doubt a howl of outraged protest will already be circulating across the web, airwaves, and over many a pint of beer , glass of wine, or cup of coffee, but it does raise a couple of interesting questions, both of which I aim to raise and examine here. The points in question are those of good or bad practice, and of historical precedence and forewarning; so let us start with good or bad practice.
Have the charities behaved ethically as regards links or support of various industries, and, without a sea change in our approach to the charities, can they ever achieve the ethical and principled aims that we would wish to see achieved?
I would say that we ask almost any charity to do the impossible.
We ask them to organise relief or assistance for whatever cause we support or believe in, but how many of us think about how such levels of organisation are to be achieved.?I am sure that there are charities where all wage costs, and overheads are absorbed by the organisers, and if so then I applaud their noble aspirations, but most of us recognise that the bigger the charity, and the bigger it’s sphere of influence and activity, the greater the cost of running such a charity becomes. As such how would we like to run our own lives under the same ethical code that we expect from our charities, how would we fare in our modern complex world?
May I suggest that we would all soon become bankrupt.
Who would pay for our food, out utilities, and all our other financial requirements ? Where would we live, and even if free accommodation were somehow available, how could we communicate with each other over any distances without communication or transportation devices? Even if such items were feely and miraculously available, how could we ensure our long term future so as to maintain our lifestyle choice to come?
None of this, in my view, is possible without outside assistance, and the higher our objectives the higher the level of necessary assistance will be.
So why do we expect a charity to be any different?
We can talk the hind leg of a donkey- poor donkey-about morality and high principles, and we can beat ourselves unconscious about ethical fair trading, and the universal rights of man, but that is just talk. Talk is cheap and, on its own it cannot fill an empty belly, or rebuild a shattered landscape ravished by natural catastrophe or war. Discussion and resultant resolutions can highlight a means by which relief can be given. It can shame millions into taking action, and, and through such words restructuring, on a temporary or permanent basis, can occur; but action, and thereby money or materials are needed, for real change to occur at ground level, and for bricks or whatever to be laid upon the ground.
I will soon be moving on to the second part of this post, but before I do I would like to leave you with a statement from Comic Relief as regards this recent story, and leave it up to you, the reader, to give what credence you will.
Are their any bad charities, or badly run charities by the way. Of course there are, and I doubt whether any of them are perfect, but then we have prisons full of law breakers, so who are we, as a society, to cast the first stone.
To fulfil our legal obligation, Charity Commission guidelines are clear that charities are required to maximise returns on money in their care. For Comic Relief, because the range of issues we support is so broad, ethical screening would significantly limit our ability to invest as well as seriously increase financial risk.
Therefore ethical screening would have left us unable to meet both our legal and moral obligation to maximise returns and look after the money in our care with an appropriate level of risk. Instead we put the money into large managed funds, like many other leading charities and pension funds. We do not invest directly in any individual company. We believe this approach has delivered the greatest benefits to the most vulnerable people.
This policy has achieved strong returns over the years, which have helped Comic Relief cover its running costs, without having to use any of the money donated directly by the public. This is a complex area, with many important considerations, and we keep it under constant review.
So there we have it. A flawed and impossible system running in an equally flawed and impossible society. Has this happened before, and have have alarm bells been sounded by those who have long since gone?
In answer to this I would refer you to the three quotes below. The passages come from a play called Major Barbara, by George Bernard Shaw. and they were written in 1905. Undershaft is an arms manufacturer, Lazarus is his assistant, and Barbara, for a time in the play a Salvation Army Major, is his daughter, and his favourite daughter by far.
1/The government of your country! _I_ am the government of your country: I, and Lazarus. Do you suppose that you and half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, can govern Undershaft and Lazarus? No, my friend: you will do what pays US. You will make war when it suits us, and keep peace when it doesn’t. …..Be off with you, my boy, and play with your caucuses and leading articles and historic parties and great leaders and burning questions and the rest of your toys. _I_ am going back to my counting house to pay the piper and call the tune.
2/you have made for yourself something that you call a morality or a religion or what not. It doesn’t fit the facts. Well, scrap it. Scrap it and get one that does fit. That is what is wrong with the world at present. It scraps its obsolete steam engines and dynamos; but it won’t scrap its old prejudices and its old moralities and its old religions and its old political constitutions. What’s the result? In machinery it does very well; but in morals and religion and politics it is working at a loss that brings it nearer bankruptcy every year. Don’t persist in that folly. If your old religion broke down yesterday, get a newer and a better one for tomorrow.
(on the issue of poverty)
UNDERSHAFT. The worst of crimes. All the other crimes are virtues beside it: all the other dishonors are chivalry itself by comparison. Poverty blights whole cities; spreads horrible pestilences; strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound or smell of it. What you call crime is nothing: a murder here and a theft there, a blow now and a curse then: what do they matter? they are only the accidents and illnesses of life: there are not fifty genuine professional criminals in London. But there are millions of poor people, abject people, dirty people, ill fed, ill clothed people. They poison us morally and physically: they kill the happiness of society: they force us to do away with our own liberties and to organize unnatural cruelties for fear they should rise against us and drag us down into their abyss. Only fools fear crime: we all fear poverty. Pah! [turning on Barbara] you talk of your half-saved ruffian in West Ham: you accuse me of dragging his soul back to perdition. Well, bring him to me here; and I will drag his soul back again to salvation for you. Not by words and dreams; but by thirty-eight shillings a week, a sound house in a handsome street, and a permanent job. In three weeks he will have a fancy waistcoat; in three months a tall hat and a chapel sitting; before the end of the year he will shake hands with a duchess at a Primrose League meeting, and join the Conservative Party.
BARBARA. And will he be the better for that?
UNDERSHAFT. You know he will. Don’t be a hypocrite, Barbara. He will be better fed, better housed, better clothed, better behaved; and his children will be pounds heavier and bigger. That will be better than an American cloth mattress in a shelter, chopping firewood, eating bread and treacle, and being forced to kneel down from time to time to thank heaven for it: knee drill, I think you call it. It is cheap work converting starving men with a Bible in one hand and a slice of bread in the other. I will undertake to convert West Ham to Mahometanism on the same terms. Try your hand on my men: their souls are hungry because their bodies are full.
Charities have always have need of big business, we, as individuals, have always had the need for such big business’s, and God help any government who decides to take them on.
We may not like such a reality, but unless we want to revert to the stone age, or living in totally self-sufficient, self sustainable, and wholly independent communes or communities, we had better get used to it, as this slice of reality won’t going away.
- What I Hate Charity Fundraising Events (jasontimothyjones.wordpress.com)
- Are Comic Relief’s investments all in a good cause? Absolutely | Peter Bennett-Jones (theguardian.com)
- Comic Relief accused of investing in tobacco, alcohol and arms firms (theguardian.com)
- Comic Relief has ‘nothing to hide’ ahead of BBC unethical investment investigation (blueandgreentomorrow.com)
- There’s no need for red faces over Comic Relief (thetimes.co.uk)
- Comic Relief defends investing in arms, tobacco, and alcohol (descrier.co.uk)
- George Bernard Shaw in his own words. (oneworldchronicle.com)
- On morality and indifference (stanaron.wordpress.com)
- Op-Ed: The Moral Case for Conservatism (gloucestercitynews.net)