Some Corporate-Nonprofit Sponsorships Yield Hypocrisy Charges

Photo by Matteson Norman via Flickr

July 30, 2012; Source: AlterNet           

AlterNet’s Alyssa Figueroa lists what she considers “the top 5 most hypocritical corporate sponsors” of nonprofits. Her list excludes past candidates for the award, such as the partnership of Kentucky Fried Chicken (not the healthiest of food choices) with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Her “most dangerously iconic corporate sponsorships…[that] are especially hypocritical (and really piss [her] off)” are:

  1. Walmart’s sponsorship of the American Cancer Society’s annual Relay for Life fundraising event: Figueroa whacks Walmart for destroying habitats, producing millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide, undermining good diets, and offering its employees health care plans they can’t afford.
  2. Wells Fargo’s link to Habitat for Humanity: She identifies Wells as the nation’s largest mortgage servicer and, therefore, a poster child of responsibility for the millions of Americans whose homes were foreclosed from under them. She notes that Wells is guilty of practices such as robo-signing and racial discrimination in the subprime mortgage debacle.
  3. McDonalds and Coca-Cola’s London Olympics sponsorship: She suggests that unhealthy food and beverage corporations like these corrupt the Olympics’ goal of encouraging physical activity, though London’s over-the-top conservative mayor, Boris Johnson, condemned criticism as simply “classic liberal hysteria about very nutritious, delicious, food…not that I eat a lot of it myself…”
  4. United HealthGroup and WellPoint’s sponsoring the American Red Cross: Figueroa suggests that there is a contradiction between “the two largest health corporations…more concerned about profit than the wellbeing of their patients” and “an organization dedicated to providing medical assistance to those in need,” particularly given the health insurers’ lobbying for loopholes to weaken the Affordable Care Act.
  5. ConAgra Foods’ link with Feeding America: Feeding America is a network of more than 200 food banks, which Figueroa says are needed because people can’t afford to buy food, including workers in starting jobs at ConAgra who, she writes, earn incomes as low as $18,000 a year. ConAgra, she argues, “doesn’t care if the food it serves is healthy” and has been charged with salmonella in its facilities and products and lobbying to keep French fries and pizza on school lunch menus.

Figueroa and other corporate critics could have a field day with many other corporate marketing efforts like these, and she could logically extend her critique to nonprofits that accept charitable donations from these and other corporations. But isn’t this partly the way of the nonprofit sector—being increasingly desperate for charitable capital and forced to turn to the corporate sector for partnerships and sponsorships? Is Figueroa really critiquing these corporate sponsorships with nonprofits or suggesting that the whole notion is more than a little morally corrupting? On the other hand, the nonprofits involved are hardly naïve newcomers to the party. In the cases of Habitat or the American Cancer Society, particularly, these aren’t nonprofit ingénues. Does the nonprofit tax status always elevate organizations to a level of moral function above corporations, or does the profit motive make any and all corporations morally inferior when compared to their potential nonprofit partners?—Rick Cohen