There was an interesting article in the Guardian in the last couple of weeks covering a report looking into alcohol firms and their funding of charities. The piece took a negative standpoint arguing that this was being done to gain political influence.
Alcohol firms are adopting contentious tactics pioneered by the tobacco industry by funding charities in order to gain influence inside government, researchers claim in a new study published on Tuesday.
Drink manufacturers, retailers and grant-making trusts have given five alcohol charities donations of up to £1m each in recent years as they have deliberately “used corporate philanthropy as a political device”, according to research by academics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Addaction, which works with people addicted to drink and drugs, has received £1.56m during the past three years. That includes £1m from Asda to work with young people aroundon harmful alcohol consumption and £560,000 from Heineken for a variety of projects.
Similarly, the researchers’ trawl of Charity Commission records showed that Mentor UK, which seeks to prevent alcohol-related harm among children, took £421,000 between 2008-09 and 2012-13. It has also accepted a further £100,000 since. That included £371,000 from the drinks company Diageo and £100,000 from two trusts funded by profits from sales of alcohol.
The revelations have caused concern because both charities are the only health groups that remain involved in the coalition’s public health responsibility deal, which tries to reach voluntary agreements with food and drink firms on how to tackle the huge harms associated with obesity and alcohol misuse. They have continued to participate despite all other alcohol charities and medical groups that initially took part pulling out owing to concerns that the process – organised by the Department of Health, which lauds it as a vital contribution to solving public health problems – was too dominated by representatives of the alcohol industry.
“The fact that the only people left inside the responsibility deal process who are advocating for health are both industry-funded is a cause of great concern, because everyone else who was representing health walked out as they had no confidence in it,” said Dr Jim McCambridge, lead author of the paper, which appears in the European Journal of Public Health.
Alcohol industry funding for the two charities confers a legitimacy on the responsibility deal which it does not deserve, he added. “This [funding] is an example of the industry sowing division in the public health community. It keeps alive the responsibility deal, which otherwise might be dead.”
“Funding NGOs is a longstanding tactic used by tobacco and alcohol companies. It can help bolster corporate reputations, but, more importantly, it can provide greater access to government officials with the potential to influence public policy,” said Brown. She called for greater transparency about the backers of organisations lobbying government on alcohol.
Now if this is a tactic it is a very clever and subtle one because it could be argued that the drinks industry funding these charities is helping them. However they are helping them treat issues that have been caused by the drinks industries own products in the first place and the article goes on to make exactly that point saying:
Given its work with people whose lives have been wrecked by alcohol “it may seem incongruous – or even compromising – that the charity takes money from the UK alcohol industry”.
What do you think?
80 days to go