issue 190 - December 1988
Hand in hand
Business corporations are increasingly funding good causes.
Dexter Tiranti, an NI co-editor, asks some hard questions
about Lloyds Bank's sponsorship of Oxfam.
Holding Oxfam up to public question in the New Internationalist is rather like walking on eggshells. After all we owe a lot to this agency - or rather agencies. For Oxfam Canada and Oxfam Quebec, Oxfam America and their Australian partner, Community Aid Abroad, have consistently supported this publication. But none have provided greater assistance than Oxfam here in Oxford itself.
Let's address the issue. In the year 1987/8 Oxfam raised £52.4 million ($86.5 million) to help the poor and the exploited on the other side of the globe. It's a record sum. That's the good news. Now the bad. The Oxfam Annual Review which announces this success carries the Lloyds Bank symbol and notice of sponsorship prominently printed on the back, while the publication itself is coincidentally in the familiar Lloyds Bank colours.
Lloyds is the bank, we have to remind ourselves, which is clamouring for repayments of £3,253 million ($5,367 million) from an impoverished Latin America where Oxfam has so many projects. This is the bank for which actual interest repayments from that continent for the financial year 1986 were the equivalent of 40 per cent of their total profits. This is the bank which refuses to respond to letters from Third World debt campaigners including Oxfam supporters. Perhaps this was a slip-up, so I phoned Oxfam House to find out. Back came the highly official answer: 'Oxfam has not campaigned specifically against the policies of commercial lending banks, whether British or foreign. Our campaign has focused on the impact of the debt crisis is on the poor in the world's poorest countries, which are mostly in Africa, and where most of the debts are owed to Western governments. A second focus has been the severe impact on the poor of "adjustment measures" imposed by the World Bank or IMF. We do believe however, that commercial banks and Western governments have a responsibility, which has not yet been fully developed, to find ways to ease the burden of commercial debt.'
What appears to have gone totally by the board here, is the principle of Oxfam's good name being associated with a financial corporation engaged in making an awful lot of money out of the poor nations of the South. It is a logical development of the syndrome whereby tobacco companies sponsor sport. An industry whose product severely damages health and shortens life wants to be publicly associated with clean, good-living activities. Somehow the aura rubs off, the pressure eases.
It is a corporate advertising strategy that is popular these days. Who can forget those pictures of sea birds vainly flapping tired wings mired by oil leaks? Perhaps you might if you are a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds now accepting sponsorship from Esso. In effect the good name of the charity and what it stands for, is being sold off.
To return to Oxfam - and I hasten to say we are only talking of the policies of Oxfam UK - what do people in the headquarters staff privately think about Lloyds sponsorship? I phoned again. Some are concerned. Others put it frankly: 'Well Dexter we are trying to help with the appalling tragedy of the Bangladesh floods this autumn. Is this sponsorship so important? '
Is it? After all, sponsorship money provides further funds to help the poor and deprived become self-reliant. And there has never been a more desperate need for such funds. This means increasing the income from business as well as private donors - granted. But if you raise money by any means you lose sight of what the agency is about. As a previous Oxfam Director once assured me, 'If we were just about maximizing our income, we might just as well open up a string of knocking shops.' The morality, or principle in this case is whether the good name of Oxfam should be publicly linked with business corporations whose income from overseas may reasonably be argued to come from activities which contradict the development process which Oxfam stands for. For there are many with questionable connections to the Third World - Nestlé, Ciba Geigy, Union Carbide, perhaps some arms-exporting corporations - who might be happy to publicly shake hands with Oxfam too.
By the way, just how much did Lloyds pay to sponsor the Annual Review? It was £10,000. Now this great charity is a democratic one. Our opinions as donors are listened to - even if we do not give such sums. And I am sure that the Oxfam UK Chair, Chris Barber, would be interested in hearing your views on this issue.
Please write to Chris Barber, Oxfam House, 274 Banbury Road, Oxford, 0X2 7DZ, United Kingdom.