No machine-readable author provided. Edward assumed (based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

April 19, 2017;

Whenever advocates of social enterprises as potential cash cows for the larger missions of nonprofits treat the notion as modern and innovative, we think of endeavors such as the one described below. This social enterprise is nothing if not financially successful, but it may be somewhat wanting in the alignment-to-larger-mission department. At this point, it may also be a hard creature to put down.

The Devon Monks of Buckfast Abbey in Scotland are fighting the good fight against a campaign demanding that they be stripped of charitable status. The challenger is the National Secular Society, which works to challenge religious privilege. It claims that the abbey’s main product, Buckfast Tonic Wine, made since the 1920s and otherwise known as “Buckie,” provokes dangerous behavior.

Police in Scotland and the Scottish Labour Party have tried to ban the wine. Dundee Sheriff Alastair Brown said recently that the drink is “something which is often seen as a feature of cases involving violence.”

According to this article, “Buckie” has been linked to 6,500 reports of antisocial behavior and violence in just two years. However, it has been a cornerstone social enterprise for the Buckfast Abbey Trust, which brought £8.8m in 2014–15 mostly from its wine. That it pays no tax on that income is an “abuse of the charitable system” according to the National Secular Society, which has demanded that its charitable status be rescinded.

According to Society vice president Alistair McBay, “The monks should be setting an example as a religious organization, but the opposite is happening.…The question needs to be asked, ‘Are they serving God or Mammon?’”

The Trust said that “following the complaint, it would contact the Charity Commission.” Its charitable purpose is the “advancement of the Roman Catholic religion,” so while this social enterprise certainly has serious and broad social impact, that impact might be antithetical to the larger entity being supported.—Ruth McCambridge