Archive for January, 2011

The Moral Dilemma of (RED): What To Do When You Know Your Donations Are Being Stolen

The Associated Press is reporting that as much as two-thirds of some of the grants given out by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria–the charity supported in part by Bono’s (Product) Red initiative–is being pocketed by corrupt government officials. So bad is the situation that Sweden, one of the fund’s largest contributors, is suspending its $85 million annual contribution until the problem is addressed.

The news is unsurprising to anyone who has followed the history of celebrity-backed efforts to ease the misery of Africa. We know, for instance, that the Ethiopian thug Mengistu Haile Mariam swiped millions of dollars donated by western do-gooders at Live Aid and used it to finance the army that was inflicting harm on precisely the people the charity was intended to help. Other examples are legion.

This raises a moral dilemma for brands that participate in (Product) Red. Do they ignore the breathtaking corruption and accept it as the cost of doing business in Africa’s kleptocracies? Can they in good conscience urge consumers to buy products with the promise that part of the profits will go to charity without disclosing that an even larger part of the profits may go to purchasing cars, motorcycles and other playthings for dishonest bureaucrats, as it did in Djibouti (to name but one example)?

There is no doubt that some people have been helped by (Product) Red. Nor is there any question that all decent men and women wish to alleviate the suffering caused by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The thorny issue is this: Does the charity, by allowing billions of dollars to be stolen, actually prop up the bad governments that are largely responsible for the plight of their people in the first place? How many hospitals have not been built, how many pharmacists have no drugs to dispense because a crooked health minister wanted  a Mercedes-Benz, because a dictator wanted his own Versailles?

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January 24, 2011 at 5:38 pm 2 comments


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