Save the Children Greenwashing for Corporations

Baby-SodaNew Orleans Something just does not smell right about the protestations from Save the Children that they are dropping out of the point position in the fight to impose higher taxes on soda drinks as part of the campaign against childhood obesity.  The R.J. Johnson Foundation had given them $3 million for their advocacy work in the US, which they were regranting to groups on the ground, but despite their protestations it all seems especially sketchy when one looks at their corporate partnerships and willingness to “greenwash” a lot of outfits that make one wonder what’s going on with Save the Children and their willingness to damage their “brand.”

The Times notes that SCF had received a $5 million donation from Pepsico in 2009 for work in India and Bangladesh before they started on the soda tax thing, which the reporter seemed to let go, but contribution worried me as well.  SCF would have been joining with Pepsi in India at the very time that the fight led by Amit Srivastava and a large coalition of Indian NGOs around the water usage and contamination of Coca Cola and to some degree Pepsi bottling plants in India was at its most fierce, including mass demonstrations around construction , and outright bans in Kerala and other south India states.   On its website SCF touts its work in India “since independence” but Pepsi would have been desperately looking for a BFF in India to clean up its image in this critical market.  Both Pepsi and Coke are huge foreign players in the bottled water market in India as well.  This is big business, and I could not help thinking that SCF had been either voluntarily or unwittingly recruited as a cat’s paw here.

I get suspicious when one hits the link on the SCF website to the further description of the interests of Pepsico from their partnership with SCF in India, it’s “not available” on the Pepsico website.  I’m find it unsettling that one link on the SCF site on a search for their work in India produces a “Warning” on my computer screen that it is under attack.  WTF?

As a disclaimer I should add that I’m uncomfortable with this partially because I have a soft spot for the Save the Children federation not because I was an old Sally Struthers fan, but because of my fondness for Carol Guyer, who reached out to offer a hand to ACORN in the 1970’s, and introduced me to David Guyer, her husband then who was running SCF from Connecticut.  I had a number of meetings with their staff about how they could use community organizing and campaign work to more effectively protect and advance the interests of children than social work, and they were responsive.  ACORN would not have become a “partner” in the modern terms since that seems to be reserved for donors to them, but still I have fond memories of all of them, and I’m loyal to a fault, so this all makes me very concerned.

Looking at their list of corporate partners acknowledged on their website also makes me very uneasy about how they suit up for any number of controversial corporations to greenwash their image.  Western Union, a primary target of ACORN International’s Remittance Justice Campaign, is right there on the list.  Target has a big donation for work in India, where they are also trying to lobby for modifications in India laws that restrict multi-brand foreign direct investments which is the whole basis of ACORN International’s India FDI Watch Campaign.  Fox Entertainment is on the list and of course supporting hate speech with Glen Beck and most of the Murdoch operations.

The list is long and includes a lot of companies with troubling global footprints around corporate responsibility.

  • General Electric – I hope not for cover on Bhopal and its India operations!
  • Nike – the king of corporate social responsibility greenwashing!
  • Cadbury – the big chocolate company – and Kraft
  • Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee
  • Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline on the drugs side
  • Chevron and ExxonMobile for petro dollars
  • Mattel, Toys’ R Us, American Girl for a brand seal of approval
  • Bank of America, Allstate, Citi Foundation on the finance side

Google is a large partner and moves money through the Tides Foundation, which I also dearly love and defend endlessly from my 30+ years as a board member, but now wonder how close Tides is screening this partnership on social values criteria with Save the Children or whether they are also just knee jerking to the SCF brand?

Several years ago when I visited with Oxfam representatives in the US and Netherlands, they shared with me a “screening” process they had before entering any corporate partnerships which thoroughly vetted and then vetoed any potential corporation where they might later find they had a conflict of interest because of  campaigns within their core mission.  Sounds like at the least this might be something Save the Children needs to do PDQ before they are seen as hustlers for hucksters rather than a nonprofit advocate for children’s best interests around the world.

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