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.

 

An open letter to Climate Week

15th March 2011 by

Dear Climate Week Supporters, Sponsors, Organisers and Judges,

We are writing to you because of your involvement with March 2011 Climate Week. This signifies a clear commitment to taking strong action on climate change, and we applaud you for this. Whilst we are completely behind the aims of Climate Week, we have concerns about Climate Week’s corporate sponsors, the Royal Bank of Scotland in particular. Some organisations who were invited to enter the Climate Week awards, including the Otesha Project and Magnificent Revolution, have been unable to do so because they feel that the association of RBS with Climate Week constitutes ‘greenwash’.

We support Climate Week’s intention to ‘shine a spotlight on the many positive steps already being taken in workplaces and communities across Britain’ and use these examples to inspire others. However we do not agree that RBS is ‘supporting the transition to a low carbon economy’.

Unfortunately any positive steps taken by RBS in their business operations and in their investment in the renewable energy sector are far outweighed by RBS’ continued investment in carbon intensive industries. Whilst sponsorship of Climate Week could constitute a welcome first step on a journey to more sustainable practice for a bank which self-identifies as ‘The Oil and Gas Bank’, there is currently no evidence to suggest that this sponsorship represents anything more significant than ‘greenwash’.  Perhaps this rebranding is a response to continued criticism from numerous NGOs and grassroots campaigns, which has led to more widespread negative publicity for the bank. However it is concrete action, not rebranding, which is required.

RBS cites its high ranking by the Carbon Disclosure Project as testimony to its environmental credentials. Unfortunately the CDP ranking does not appear to have sufficient scope to capture the entirety of carbon emissions for which a company such as RBS is responsible: only the energy usage within bank branches and offices is taken into account. Whilst every action taken to reduce carbon emissions is important, it is vital that we do not allow the championing of RBS’ weak energy saving measures to obscure the far more damaging practices financed by RBS, such as the coal, oil and gas industries. We are particularly concerned with RBS’ financing of the Canadian Tar Sands, the exploitation of this resource is trampling indigenous rights, destroying vast areas of ancient boreal forest, and has the potential to cause runaway climate change (for more information see ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/03/canadian-oil-sands/kunzig-text).

Sponsorship 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 light bulbs allows us to continue ‘business as usual’.
We urge you to reconsider your involvement with Climate Week and to raise these concerns with others involved in Climate Week.

If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this letter further, please contact Jo Clarke (jo@otesha.org.uk).

Your Sincerely,

The Otesha Project UK
www.otesha.org.uk

People & Planet
www.peopleandplanet.org

Magnificent Revolution
www.magnificentrevolution.org

The Climate Week Conundrum

9th February 2011 by

Last week we had a phone call inviting us to enter the Climate Week Awards. Climate Week is a new national event to get individuals, schools and businesses taking action on climate change. So far, so good. But closer inspection reveals that Climate Week is sponsored by RBS, the infamous publicly owned bank sometimes also known as the ‘Oil Bank of Scotland’ (see Platform’s report on RBS’s financing of oil and gas industries). So it would appear that while RBS are funding Climate Week, they’re also funding climate change.

Other dubious sponsors of Climate Week include Tesco and EDF Energy. Tesco now controls over 30% of the grocery market in the UK. In 2010, the supermarket chain announced profits of £3.4bn. Growing evidence indicates that Tesco’s success is partly based on trading practices that are having serious consequences for suppliers, farmers and workers worldwide, local shops and the environment.

EDF Energy produce almost one-quarter of the nation’s electricity from nuclear, coal and gas power stations, as well as combined heat and power plants and wind farms. 25% of their electricity is produced through burning coal and only 7% comes renewables (less than the UK’s target to get 10% of all electricity generation from renewable sources by 2010).

So what to do? We are taking a multi-pronged approach:

  • Otesha will not be entering any Climate Week Awards. We have a corporate screening policy that prevents us from accepting donations fromcorporations whose practices or reputation might, in the opinion of staff or management committee, diminish the credibility of Otesha UK; corporations that actively promote environmental citizenship without actively adjusting corporate practices to respond to those needs; corporations that through advertising methods actively participate in green washing‘. Although any Award we might receive would not be financial, we consider an ‘in kind’ donation of publicity or any other support to also be subject to the same criteria.
  • We are writing an open letter to Climate Week, Climate Week’s judges, sponsors and supporting organisations explaining our decision and our concerns.
  • Whilst we have concerns about the funding of Climate Week we are completely supportive of the aims of Climate Week. We are inviting schools to partner with Otesha to mark Climate Week with hands-on sustainability workshops on Fairtrade, bike maintenance, recycled fashion, the media and consumerism, growing food and energy use in the school.

We know that lots of other organisations have been considering the same Climate Week condundrum, and we’d be interested to know what other people think.


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