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Funding for a Change, 1996-7

"To achieve its standard of living, a tiny country like Britain had to exploit half the globe. How many globes will India need to exploit to have the same standard of living ?"
Mahatma Gandhi

"Transnational corporations are among the world's biggest economic units. The unwillingness or inability of national governments to control TNCs in a period of deregulated global trade and investment does not bode well for people's health or the environment. TNC operations routinely expose workers and communities to an array of health, safety and ecological disasters. For example, TNC activities generate more than half of the greenhouse gases emitted by the industrial sectors with the greatest impact on global warming"
Jed Greer and Karanjit Singh, Corporate Watch, 1997

"Man is dangerously altering the Earth's climate"
Bert Bolin, UN Cliimate Convention, Geneva, 1996

"The world is our village : if one house catches fire, the roofs over all our heads are immediately at risk. If any one of us tries to start rebuilding, their efforts will be purely symbolic. Solidarity has to be the order of the day; each of us must bear his own share of responsibility"
Jacques Delors, UN Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, 1992

In a world where global interconnectedness between peoples, industry, culture and environment is becoming increasingly hard to ignore, FUNDING FOR A CHANGE takes as its premise that new relationships, strategies and pressures need to be forged between business and communities in order to ensure the best chances of mutual survival. John Gummer (UK Secretary of State for the Environment) recently defined sustainablility as “Not cheating on your children.” However, more and more people are insisting that for true global sustainability, the “your” must logically be replaced with “our”. In amongst the complex processes of global trade, social justice, ecology and Transnational Corporations, is the role and impact of corporate sponsorship and resultant PR implications for both giver and recipient.

Funding for a Change was a national initiative arising from growing concern over the moral complexity of accepting funding from transnational corporations (TNCs). This was precipitated by issues arising from organisations who felt compromised by taking money from Shell Better Britain Campaign in light of Shell's environmental and human rights impacts in the Niger Delta, as exemplified by the Nigerian Government's execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and nine other Ogoni environmental activists. As state funding contracts in the future, this issue in general will only become more urgent. In the mid- 90s, a growing number of people including some from the corporate sector, were asking the following questions:

  • What responsibilities do community, scientific, ecological, and arts initiatives in this country have when they receive funding from TNCs whose business activities in other parts of the world have considerable, often negative, social and ecological impact ?
  • What can fund recipients do to encourage TNCs to identify the benefits in developing consistent ethical procedures towards the environments and communities where they operate?
  • What are the parameters for relationships between fund recipients and the corporate sector - what tangible good can arise from dialogue ? What good from boycott?
  • Where does such sponsorship fit in the TNCs’ overall strategy? And how does such support affect the activities of the funded organizations?
  • How can potential recipient organisations, often fighting for their survival, be supported to question their potential benefactors about the nature of the sponsorship transaction ?

Funding for a Change created five discussion fora for sharing experience, insights, and strategies on the question of ethics and corporate funding. The gatherings targeted people from:

  • corporate sector : strategists, PR, sponsorship, community relations depts.
  • community initiatives and voluntary sector
  • arts practitioners - community, venue-based, individuals, policy makers
  • scientists, ecologists and economists

The discussion fora explored case studies and analysis of TNC funding of community, environmental and arts initiatives in the UK, particularly looking for examples of NGO's and groups devising ground-breaking and/or model strategies.

The last event was a two-day conference "Pure Profits : Fair Grounds" , held at the Globe Gallery, North Shields, England, in November 1998, where 70 people came together for a series of workshops and presentations, including provocative and powerful artwork from Shelley Sacks, Peter Kennard, and James Marriott.

Funding for a Change
was devised and co-ordinated by AN Publications, Artists’ Agency (now Helix Arts), (Newcastle Upon Tyne), PLATFORM (London), Projects Environment (Manchester), Quaking Houses Environmental Trust (Co. Durham), with independent researchers in the three fields. The project was endorsed and supported by Black Environment Network and the Ethical Consumer Research Association. FFAC thanks Greenpeace Business Network, LIFT Business Arts Forum, New Economics Foundation, Shell Better Britain Campaign for advice and input. The 1997/8 events were funded by the Arts Council of England.

PLATFORM employed an Ethical Finance Officer, Rosey Hurst, in 1996/7 to help address these issues internally. As a result of this process, PLATFORM developed its Ethical Funding Policy and has since offered workshops to support other organisations who wish to address these questions. These include Black Environment Network, Magic Me and the Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers (UK).

Arts Council of England, London Arts

What’s the problem with seeking funds from big business ?
A challenge for the voluntary sector

Background material, written 1996

Transnational Corporations (TNCs) have greater power today than they have ever had, and recent developments such as the new G.A.T.T. will only serve to strengthen their positions. Checks and balances or any kind of accountability hardly exists: between 1977 and 1992 an organization, the U.N. Centre on Transnational Corporations, was working on a Code of Conduct, however, the U.N.C.T.C. ceased to exist in 1992. There is wide consensus on the vast power and influence that TNCs now command; sources as politically diverse as Robert Reich, moderate Labour Secretary in the present U.S. Administration, and George Monbiot, prime mover in the radical ‘This Land Is Ours’ campaign agree on this much:

“We are living through a transformation that will rearrange the politics and economics of the coming century. There will be no national products or technologies, no national corporations, no national industries. There will no longer be national economies, at least in the way we have come to understand that concept. All that will remain rooted within national borders are the people who comprise a nation... Each nation’s primary political task will be to cope with the centrifugal forces of the global economy which tear at the ties binding citizens together.”
(Robert Reich:The Work of Nations, 1992)

”The power of TNCs is less visible than before, which has led some to assume that it is receding. But all that has happened is that governments, the multilateral banks and institutions, science and the media are now doing the companies’ dirty work for them. It is arguable that the single purpose of our government is the re-shaping of our society to provide better opportunities for its friends and funders among the big corporations..... Policies such as a minimum wage, paternity leave, traffic reduction, energy conservation and sensible eco-labelling, are resisted. Damaging and unpopular policies which happen to be good for big business are backed to the brink of electoral or economic colllapse. The government will fight almost to the death to promote road- building, rail privatization, open cast mining, nuclear re-processing, the privatization of education and health, genetic engineering, tobacco advertising and superstore construction, while dismantling the bodies - such as the pollution inspectorate, the old Nature Conservancy Council and most recently, the Nutrition Task Force, which threaten its friends.”
(George Monbiot:The Guardian, 8.11.95)

The TNCs are certainly less visible in their operations than they’ve ever been. More and more energy goes into enabling them to avoid the media spotlight. Shandwick plc (The 2nd biggest P.R. company in the world) have recently been appointed by Shell - they will have fulfilled their brief if they can enable many of Shell’s recent activities to ‘disappear’ from the newspapers and media. P.R. companies are the new magicians, being paid millions to make unpleasant truths vanish from the headlines. And of course the media collude in this process in the fickleness of their coverage. They are easily persuaded that Nigeria, the Ogoni, Brent Spar, these were “last year’s stories”.

One of the primary aims of Funding For A Change will be to shine a light on TNCs’ activities, and more than simply not allowing isues to ‘disappear’, it will seek to make the invisible visible, to look at connections which are often hidden from us.

A traditional left critique of multinationals was grounded in pure oppositionism. Multinationals were “evil”, ‘they’ had no sense of social responsibility, ‘they’ should not be spoken to, dealt with in any way. Such a stance seems sterile today when, like it or not, vast corporations are actually taking over many of the state’s functions (eg. pension provision, health schemes, even prison construction), when such TNCs contribute billions of pounds to the government via corporation taxes, when TNCs are replacing state funding for the arts and sciences at a rapid rate. Fundamental changes in the way society is structured calls for a vastly more imaginative response than simply raising two fingers.

Funding For A Change will challenge traditional notions of ‘them’ and ‘us’ and recognise that all of us, and especially those of us in receipt of funding, have a responsibility to look at how we are intimately linked to the activities of TNCs. Even those organizations who refuse to be ‘seduced’ by TNC funding are not clean - their pension schemes are 99% dependent upon the high returns that the huge pension funds can only achieve by investment in TNCs engaged in short-termist, high return activity. Corporation taxes from TNCs pay for the hospitals we use, the sewers beneath our feet, the transport we travelled on today.

As cultural practitioners we form a link in the chain for TNCs, and, from their point of view, a very necessary one. One that associates the Corporation with imaginative and beneficial artistic and community initiatives.

Finally, it is vitally important that connections are made, and are seen to be made. The present system can only exist because at all levels, from the individual to the state, there is no connection between producer and consumer, or between citizens in different regions or different lands. - In whole tracts of the Niger Delta a process of land carbonification has set in down to 3 feet below the earth’s surface; - In parts of Northumberland rivers and steams run orange, and it is unsafe for children to even step in them, let alone drink the water.

In both these cases, the energy industry has behaved in an entirely short-termist way, sucking the maximum amount from the earth and caring the minimum amount about the long-term environmental and human devastation caused. A graphic example of the lack of social responsibility embodied by T.N.C. behaviour was given by Robert Reich in the Harvard Business Review, 1991: “One of the more chilling threats has come from Charles Harper, head of ConAgra, a giant food-processing and commodity-trading company, which is crucial to the economy of Omaha, Nebraska. Harper threatened to move the company unless the state changed its tax code. The bonds of loyalty could slip over the weekend, Harper warned: ‘Some Friday night, we turn out the lights - click, click, click - back up the trucks, and be gone by Monday morning.’ "

Funding for a Change will begin the process of addressing these issues, and will use the imagination and creativity of inter-disciplinary art practices to establish forums where these issues can be discussed in the most innovative way. It will also support the establishment of research posts which will be published independently, but also feed into the conference/ event in Autumn ‘97. Finally, it is envisaged that the dialogues inititated with TNCs will continue and develop beyond the life of the event and the research, and will contribute to a radical shift in the social and environmental practice of the corporations.
(December 1996)