Clean cash and filthy lucre

14th February 2012 by

At Otesha we’ve just been through the fascinating and sometimes difficult process of reviewing and updating our corporate donor screening policy. And we think we’ve now got one of the toughest donor screening policies around.

So what’s one of them, then, eh? Well, as a charity, Otesha depends on grants from foundations and trusts. Not just on those. We’ve also got regular gifts from our fantastic members (what do you mean you’re not a member? You can join here!), money raised from cycle tours, honorariums from schools and festivals where we perform or run workshops, money-raising events organised by our amazing alumni and one-off donations. But at the moment most of our money comes in the form of grants – and sometimes those are from corporate foundations.

The screening policy is there to do a few different (all brilliant) things:

  • Set out what lovely activities and practices we’d really like corporate funders to do – these are the things we’ll look for if we’re ever going out looking for corporate funders
  • Lay down some clear no-no’s that will mean we just cannot, no way Jose, take money from a company
  • Tell the world what we believe in – what our values and principles are
  • Inspire confidence in our staff team, our volunteers and everyone we work with that we try really hard to walk the talk

So what’s changed after our review? Well, I’ve got to say it was already a really strong policy. But we were worried that it might let some companies, particularly financial ones, through the net. That would be ironic, given the strong lead we’ve given in the past – such as when we decided to pull out of Climate Week because it was sponsored by ‘the oil and gas  bank’, RBS. So we’ve got a new clause on banks and other financial companies.

Other things we’ve done include tightening up our wording on labour rights to make it clear that companies should allow workers to organise through unions. We’ve also added a clause saying we won’t accept donations from any company whose business involves sexually objectifying people – men, women or children. And we’ve kept in big red ‘NO’s to the things you’d expect us to turn our noses up at, like nuclear energy, weapons and pollution.

The whole process has been really interesting and useful, because of course it made us all sit down and talk about what our principles are and how it is possible to put them into practice in the messiness of the real world. We wanted to be as true to our values as we possibly could.

Of course, we’re not swashbuckling private detectives who can devote endless time to researching everything that a company has ever done. We’ll do our best. We’ve got a research procedure in place. But we’ll always be looking to improve our policies and the way we enact them. We’d really welcome hearing what you think.


Positive impact Christmas

9th December 2011 by

I have avoided cycling through central London in an attempt to ignore the spirit of consumption that’s hanging from lampposts, exhibited in shop windows and adorning Christmas trees.

It seems the terms and conditions of Christmas include tons of waste in the shape of cards, wrapping paper, useless unwanted gifts, disposable decorations, broken light bulbs and “unstorable” Christmas trees. Were the pagan and Christian origins of Christmas so waste-oriented?

I’m sure lots of traditions and cultures sculpted our current festive season. Can we shape it even further with the choices we are making today?

I’m sure we can by prioritising values over stuff and by trying to minimise our impact. What are our options then?


Get crafty and make your own cards with recycled materials. Cereal boxes, old maps or tetrapacks are a great starting point. If you have kids or know someone who has, have a card making session with them (it helps the creative mood if cake or ice cream is included).


Give time instead of products. Who do you know that could benefit from your cooking, gardening, sewing, singing or baby-sitting skills? Make your own tailored coupons (you could even add a ‘use by date’). If you are keen to spend some money then visit your local charity shop in search of hidden treasures, or support local traders. Think about all those friends trying to make a living selling their music, paintings, photos and books. We could all have a happy festive season supporting each other. You could always just re-gift.

Wrapping paper

Tea soaked newspaper looks amazing. Or just use it as it is preferably in sections with lots of images or nice patterns. Magazines, posters, old promotional material is also useful. You could also use a forgotten blanket. How? Check out this website to find out all you need to know about cloth wrapping.


Last year I came across home made edible Christmas decorations. What a great idea! You just eat them through out the season or afterwards. If you think mice will eat them before you do so, try swapping decorations with your relative / neighbour or give a new look to the ones you have. Ideas for hand made Christmas decorations here.


I’ve got mixed up feelings about lights but I guess that if you can’t live without them go for solar powered ones. If all you want is to impress your friends, use Shelter’s housebling to avoid scary electricity bills (it includes snow). Check how mine looks below.

Christmas tree

Ever tried a totally different approach? How about a wish list post-it note Christmas tree? I thought it was a fantastic new idea but a quick Internet image search proved me wrong.

Check out this guide with 19 Christmas tree alternatives. It might be already too late for a pallet Christmas tree but you could keep it in mind for next year.

We can all make the world a better place this festive season by finding more sustainable ways to celebrate it.

Smiles and positive vibes, Calu

Cleaning up Climate Week?

30th November 2011 by

This week the (R)oyal Bank of Scotland announced that they are cancelling their sponsorship of Climate Week.  This sponsorship arrangement from a bank which used to call itself the ‘Oil and Gas Bank’ was considered nothing more than a bit of nasty greenwash by many organisations and individuals. Letters were written (including this one from us at Otesha), protests were made, and RBS are no longer sponsoring Climate Week.

In our letter addressed to anyone and everyone involved in Climate Week we called for concrete action, rather than rebranding, from the “UK bank most heavily involved in financing fossil fuels”, and argued that “(s)ponsorship from companies with such weak green credentials lends legitimacy to the flawed concept that one small action is a sufficient reaction to climate change and that changing the lightbulbs allows us to continue ‘business as usual’.”

We’re pleased to hear of these cleaning, greening developments: greenwash is a tricky thing to get one’s head around. There are so many familiar questions: Can ‘bad money’ do good? Is a small change better than no change? Would we be able to achieve anything if Lord Greenwash doesn’t give us any money?

It’s incredibly important that the messages we try to spread aren’t undermined, though – so we need to keep on calling out greenwash: letting polluters know that putting a little cash into events like Climate Week won’t save the planet; and that exploiting the earth at the expense of current and future generations as well as the local and global environment is not okay.

Maria Lam of Climate Week says the 2011 event was “the biggest environmental occasion ever run in Britain”.  It’s great to get thousands of people involved, interested and hopefully taking action, and I hope that as Climate Week gets cleaner and greener, more organisations and individuals will feel able to participate.

But aside from ensuring a greenwash-free event, we also need action to be sustained across months and years. Questions about the value of individual media-intensive environmental events could probably give me enough material for at least one more blog, so I’ll leave this here after one last thought: climate change will be for life, folks, not just for Christmas – our actions have to match that.

My burning question on bankers’ bonuses and CEOs’ salaries

10th November 2011 by

Not very often, but once in a while, a top-tier banker or CEO will appear in a broadcasting studio or broadsheet newspaper interview and be asked: Are you worth it? Do you deserve it?

It seems the answer they give is always yes, sometimes with some humility and sometimes all-guns-blazing, arguing that their know-how and talent creates wealth for the rest of society.

George Monbiot this week pointed to research showing that bankers’ performances are no better than if they had thrown dice to make investment decisions. But, as he admits, present them with this evidence and it often makes no difference to their self-belief.

For me, these TV studio encounters are frustrating. There is a burning question I want to see the financiers answer. I think it would be illuminating and help blow some fresh air through the debate, opening up an important angle that’s often not looked at.

It’s not ‘Are you worth your salary?’ It’s not ‘Isn’t the gap between the richest and poorest hurting the whole of society?’ – though these are important questions.


“Why do you want so much more money than anyone actually needs?”

Pressing them to answer this question would make for an absolutely riveting interview. Many of the honest, or even dishonest, answers I can imagine being given would confront viewers, and perhaps the interviewees, with the question of how much wealth and how much consumption is enough, and how much is moral.

What might the honest answers be? Here are a few guesses:

“I want to earn enough so that I can move only in circles of similarly rich people and so I don’t have to mix with ordinary people unless I choose to.”

“I like to know that I possess more money than I could spend because the knowledge of this abstract wealth gives me a feeling of security and self-affirmation.”

“I want to buy stuff: Rolexes, swimming-pools, multiple homes with more rooms than I can use, haute couture, yachts, limousines, racehorses and private jets.”

“I want to reach that point where my wealth is so great that I can live off the interest on my existing wealth without having to do work that is actually productive.”

“I want to live with and die with more money and material possessions than 99% of human beings.”

“I want my children to go through life knowing only ease and total material security, provided for in every way so they don’t have to learn how to make their own way in the world.”

Their claims that they deserve their remuneration seem to convince some people, even some of those who can never hope to earn such sums themselves but respect those who have been able to.

But what would it do to the debate to air this question of what we might want enormous incomes for? Many people, most likely, would still identify with these desires, still want them for themselves and still see them as legitimate and justified reward for supposedly hard work and irreplaceable talent.

Many others, though, might find themselves feeling new disgust, anger, alienation or even pity towards those who want incredible wealth.

Airing the question, though, would help bring out some deep questions for all of us, because the gap between top-flight financiers and the rest of us arguably has a parallel in the difference between most of us in rich industrialised countries and the vast majority of the world’s people who would regard our lifestyles as those of kings and emperors.

It would put on the table for all us the question of how much is enough, whether there is a gap between what we desire materially what we need to live decently, whether our desires are compatible with natural limits and others’ well-being, and what we are prepared to forego for the greater good and greater equality.

This is an increasingly important question, because if we cling to a sense of entitlement to riches and great material ease, but the economy and declining available energy make these less and less attainable, the anger that may result can take ugly political directions into scapegoating and extremism. We all need to be prompted to re-evaluate what we can collectively afford to have and afford to desire.

So come on, Paxman, give it a shot.

Striving for less (stuff)

1st September 2011 by

Returning to the UK more than six years ago after spending 20+ years in Colombia was a great opportunity to get rid of a lot of stuff. When you have to fit your entire life in 2 suitcases you quickly learn to prioritise. While saying good-bye to my family I felt light (the bags were really heavy though), fresh and resourceful. I had myself + 2 suitcases and it was enough. It was like starting from scratch but knowing that there was nothing I couldn’t do without. Of course we all need food, shelter and clothing but by stuff I mean all the things we buy that end up piled somewhere, thrown away, stored under the bed or in our to-sort-out drawer. I stopped buying clothes 2 years ago but tops, trousers, and shoes keep coming my way. I still have the first mobile I bought upon arrival. It restarts when it wants to but it has never let me down. When I’m out and about and get lost I just ask people for directions. I can’t remember how many times someone has contacted me to let me know they are lost because their mobile phone map app isn’t working. My only advice in these situations is to ask bystanders like in the old times.

A year ago I came across a guy named Dave and the 100 thing challenge, his way to personalise his efforts to fight consumerism and “live a life of simplicity, characterised by joyfulness and thoughtfulness”. Dave has been inspiring hundreds of people around the world to reduce (the amount of stuff you have), refuse (to buy more stuff) and rejig (your priorities). When we realise we don’t need all the things we think we need we are taking our first step into reevaluating what’s important for us. Needing less stuff means we need less money, therefore we no longer have to accept the “default” working hours. What would we do with all that spare time? Probably more of the things we love doing. Happy people do the things they love doing. It probably also applies for most healthy people.

I like how Leo Babauta puts it:

1. Identify what’s most important to you.

2. Eliminate everything else.

He’s got a longer version here under the heading 72 ways to simplify your life.

Inspired by Dave and Leo I started to strive for less stuff and once again I feel like when I left Colombia.

So, if you:

1. have a sort-out you’ve been postponing,

2. misplaced your shed/garage keys on purpose, or

3. can’t fit one more thing under your bed;

striving for less could inspire you to get that job done. And remember, your unwanted, unused or used-but-forgotten stuff is someone’s treasure.

I’m a radiant sun now

Activate your money for Living Wages

31st May 2011 by

Guest post by Juliette Daigre from Fair Pensions

When was the last time you contacted your bank? I’m willing to bet it was for something pretty head-ache provoking – finding out why the bank has inexplicably stopped sending you statements, or how some one appears to have been able to use your bank card to buy furniture.

It’s time to make conversations with your bank a whole lot more interesting. When you pop into your local bank branch, do you know how much the cashier is getting paid? What about the security guard or the cleaner? Next time you visit, why not ask them?

Across the country, workers at some of the best-known high street banks struggle to survive on poverty wages. Whilst these banks award their top executives bonuses worth millions of pounds, they continue to employ people – in particular contract workers such as cleaners – on minimum wage, making less in a year than those at the top make every week.

And at a time when Britain is facing massive public service cuts and inflation is on the rise, it is becoming ever more difficult for low paid workers to get by. Despite working several jobs – keeping them away from their family and communities and often at cost to their health – workers still struggle to meet costs for housing, food and other basic needs.

I work for shareholder activism charity FairPensions, and we’re trying to curb the shocking pay gap by pushing for the adoption of Living Wages by some of the UK’s biggest and best known companies – starting with the banks, but we’ve got our sights on some other high-street names too…

You might feel cash-strapped, but the money – no matter how little! – you hold in your bank account gives you real power to influence companies’ behaviour. Banks want you – they want your student overdraft, and most importantly they want your loyalty. And so as their customer, when you speak, they will listen. If together we organise our money by asking banks to pay their workers a Living Wage, we have a real chance to lift families out of the grim reality of working poverty.

Ask your bank to pay Living Wages at:

In praise of fuss

1st March 2011 by

I’m sadly prone to moaning about stuff and not getting off my behind and doing anything about it. So this month I encourage you, in fact I challenge you, to make a fuss.

You don’t necessarily have to superglue yourself to a bank to make a difference. Fuss may also be easy, fun and polite.

Sign an online petition, or, now and again, reply to a consultation and send an email to your MP. Get to know your MP, (mine is currently asking calm informed questions about carbon emissions from coal fired power stations – and getting real answers for the minister for Climate Change Charles Hendry* – get free alerts from this wonderful website ). Pat him/her on the head when s/he gets something right. Who’s a good elected representative? You are! Yes you are! Get out of your comfort zone.

When you are boycotting something, send a short note explaining you are doing so (otherwise, trust me, they won’t have a clue). Boycotts do work and they have a long history of contributing to social change. In 1791 following Parliament’s refusal to abolish slavery, a boycott led to a 30-50% drop in the sales of sugar. Shops responded by selling sugar guaranteed to have been produced by ‘free men’. Learn more here.

Or write to a company of a product or service you do use to ask them about their ethical policy – you’ll have a lot of sway as a proper consumer what gives them money and everything.

If you made a fuss and it didn’t work? Well maybe it did in an intangible way, maybe you inspired someone else to make a fuss and they did get something done, maybe you helped to create a backdrop for a more fuss-making society. As a person who I can’t remember once said; democracy is only as good as we make it.

*His mum was in our shop (at CAT) yesterday. Oh my, we did get excited. Yeah, we get all the stars here.

RSA Animations

24th January 2011 by

If you’re yet to discover the RSA Animate series, I suggest you have a look. They have great illustrations to accompany some of their amazing lectures. Great little sound bites and inspiring thought pieces. I plan to watch them during a work break, feeding my brain as well as my belly!

Do it like the french do it

21st October 2010 by

Last Saturday hundreds of activists descended on Coryton oil refinery in Stanford-le-hope, the biggest oil refinery in the UK, and blockaded the only road in and out. The protest was entirely peaceful, there were no arrests and an estimated 375,000 gallons of oil were prevented from reaching factories, airports and petrol stations in and around London.

All well and good. But look what the french have been up to! France is facing an oil crisis after over 3.5 million people took to the streets. This week 4,000 petrol stations ran dry after a week long blockade of France’s 12 oil refineries. And they’re not even protesting about oil!

If we want our government to sit up and take notice of us whilst they up the retirement age and cut the public sector into smithereens, we’re going to have to shout a lot harder (possibly in french). And if we really want to move our economy, our infrastructure and our lives away from oil, we’re going to have to try a lot harder.

Here’s a little video of the Crude Awakening action at Coryton.

Josie Long & Otesha meet Climate Camp

2nd September 2010 by

Ta da!! Here is our first foray into film with our patron, comedian Josie Long! Over the next few months, we will be showcasing some of the coolest and best aspects of the social and environmental justice movement here in the UK and relating it back to our daily lives.

This month, we went to Climate Camp in Edinburgh. A thousand activists camping outside RBS headquarters and protesting against their investment in fossil fuels and destructive projects like the tar sands may not seem relevant to a lot of us, but when you think that the bank is 84% owned by the UK taxpayer, it makes you wonder where your money is going.

So this month, we’re not necessarily asking you to siege your local bank branch (although, that of course, is your individual choice). We are asking you to put your money where your ethics are, pester your parents about their pension and above all, be honourable. That’s the title of Josie’s current show (nominated for an Edinburgh Comedy Award!), which is about trying to act in line with your beliefs, saying goodbye to complacency and just being aware that there are people out there fighting for a cleaner, greener, fairer world. Sounds pretty good to us.

You’ll have to excuse some of the poor sound and light quality in the video – it was me, Josie, a flip cam and a bike light running around in the dark! The next one will be more fancy.

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