Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 7, 2005
He who pays the piper . . .
Does corporations' funding of a campaign compromise it?
By SUZANNE ELSTON
Within days of its January launch, The Campaign to Control Cancer was embroiled in controversy. The campaign, which is also known as the C2CC, has at its heart the goal of putting what we know to work to prevent, detect and treat cancer and pushing for faster, more effective implementation of Canada's National Strategy for Cancer Control.
All good stuff and all very much needed.
June Callwood is dying
As the C2CC website states, "More than anything else, the Campaign to Control Cancer wants to convince you that cancer leadership is everybody's business, everybody's challenge." The highly visible web-based campaign includes a national petition, an outline for a national cancer strategy, cancer facts and other resources. The C2CC's national spokesperson, June Callwood, is herself dying of inoperable cancer. All this makes for a powerful, effective and focused campaign.
The C2CC is also well financed by the very companies that stand to profit from cancer not being prevented, and therein lies the problem. Among its members, the campaign lists drug giants AstraZeneca, Biomira, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche and Sanfino-Aventis.
According to the Green Guide, "Forty-nine per cent of Zeneca's 1997 profits came from pesticides and other industrial chemicals, and 49 per cent were from pharmaceutical sales, one-third (about $1.4 billion's worth) of which were cancer treatment drugs." One Zeneca's other philanthropic gestures was to establish National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Fellow campaign member GlaxoSmithKline was recently named one of the Top 10 Worst Corporations of 2004.
Apparently mindful of the criticism that the C2CC would receive for taking drug company money, the National Cancer Leadership Forum, which spawned the C2CC, developed a Statement of Values and Code of Practices for National Cancer Leadership and Corporate Sponsors. (It's interesting to note that this statement was based on guidelines developed, in part, by The Canadian Centre for Philanthropy. Through its commitment to the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy's Imagine program, Imperial Tobacco donated $8.8 million in 2003 alone as part of its community outreach work.")
While the statement calls for the nonprofit community and corporate sponsors to "adhere to the highest ethical standard because it's the right thing to do," it also states that, "Donors and volunteers support charitable organizations because they trust them to carry out their missions, to be good stewards of their resources, and to uphold rigorous standards of conduct."
And that's the crux of the matter. Companies are in the business of doing business. Their mission is to increase profits for company shareholders. This isn't controversial; it's called fiduciary responsibility. According to the Statement of Values, any non-profit that receives support from corporate donors is also accountable to that mission. And when that mission is to sell drugs that treat cancer, rather than prevent it, that's called conflict of interest.
Let's face it. Corporate sponsorship is a marketing tool used by companies to sell their products. In return for product endorsements, direct financial contributions, sponsorships and funding of research, companies improve their corporate profile with their target audience with an eye to increase product sales.
As Judith Richter wrote in Engineering of Consent: Uncovering Corporate PR, "Most are unaware that sponsorship and dialogues can be used for 'image transfer' - the transfer of the good reputation of the sponsored or invited group, organization or person to the sponsor or organizer of the meeting."
Companies that donate to registered charities also get the added benefit of tax write-offs in return for their corporate donations. Improved company profile, increased product sales, and tax write-offs - no wonder so many companies are lining up to provide sponsorships!
Even more sinister, corporate sponsorships can be used to give the appearance of concern when the real motive is to control organizations that are critical of certain products or company policies. Marketing lecturer Craig Smith advises, "embarking on corporate philanthropy is one means of infiltrating organizations who oppose their operating practices."
Or seek to eliminate them. If the goal of the C2CC is to simply control cancer, then the partnerships are valid. But if the first goal of the C2CC is to prevent cancer, as the website states, then the drug companies that sell billions of dollars in cancer treatments have the most to lose by the C2CC's efforts, and the most to gain by controlling them.
The Campaign to Control Cancer website is located at www.controlcancer.ca.
Judith Richter's must-read "Engineering of Consent: Uncovering Corporate PR," is available free-of-charge on at www.thecornerhouse.org.uk.
For more on the 10 Worst Corporations of 2004, go to Liberty Post at www.libertypost.org.
The Green Guide is a great source of green home tips, product reviews and environmental health updates and advice. Visit www.thegreenguide.com.
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