The company they keep
Ian Brown on the love-in between the big charities and transnational corporations.
Save the Children’s message couldn’t be clearer: ‘Teaming up with Save the Children to market a new or existing product could boost your sales, profile and customer base.’
But do such partnerships offer the win-win solution claimed by the NGOs and their corporate funders, or are there losers? Does Erinch Sahan, an Oxfam private-sector adviser, have a point when he blogs: ‘I want to believe that pursuing profits will result in a sustainable world and the end of poverty’? One such partnership involves Save the Children and pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Since 2011 Save the Children has benefited from GSK’s initiative to reinvest 20 per cent of the profits it makes in the world’s least developed countries (a fraction of its global $7.5 billion profit in 2013) back into projects which strengthen healthcare infrastructure and support the research and development of child-friendly medicines. Save the Children’s website claims a million children will be helped as a result of a ‘ground-breaking’ deal signed with GSK to improve children’s health in some of the poorest countries of Africa.
‘Teaming up with Save the Children to market a product could boost your sales, profile and customer base’ – Save the Children’s assurance to potential corporate partners
No mention on Save the Children’s website, however, of one of GSK’s less child-friendly products – the antidepressant Paxil (Seroxat/paroxetine).
In 2012 the company was fined $3 billion by the US government after pleading guilty to criminal charges, including bribing doctors and encouraging the prescription of Paxil to children, even though the drug was unsuitable and unapproved for this use.2‘
We would never refrain from speaking out on an issue because we had a partnership with a particular company. That would clearly compromise our values,’ claims Save the Children.
When contacted for a response, it admitted it was ‘aware of reports on the historic issues relating to Paxil… but our belief is that the risks are outweighed by the benefits of the partnership.’3