Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Charity Business

Comic Relief holds tens of millions of pounds at any one time.

The charity uses a number of managed funds which invests that money on the charity's behalf, including in the stock market. Panorama has learnt that between 2007 and 2009, some of these investments, amounting to millions of pounds, appear to contradict several of its core aims.

Despite its mission statement claiming it is committed to helping "people affected by conflict", in 2009 the charity had £630,000 invested in shares in weapons firm BAE Systems.

Comic Relief also had more than £300,000 invested in shares in the alcohol industry despite its mission statement saying it is "working to reduce alcohol misuse and minimise alcohol related harm". The majority was invested in Diageo, which manufactures dozens of alcoholic drinks and was recently criticised by the Health Select Committee for exploiting weaknesses in the regulation of alcohol advertising.

Comic Relief also appeals for money to fight Tuberculosis and has given over £300,000 to a charity called Target Tuberculosis. Target TB believes that smoking may be responsible for over 20% of TB cases worldwide. While raising funds in 2009, nearly £3m of Comic Relief money was invested in shares in tobacco companies.

Comic Relief has now changed the way it presents its accounts and it is currently impossible for the public to tell which funds the charity currently invests in. It declined to comment on whether any money invested since 2009 is in shares in alcohol, arms, or tobacco companies.

Sam Younger, Charity Commission chief executive, said: "If a charity says 'we need to invest for the maximum financial return' that is right. If they go on to say 'we therefore can't have an ethical investment policy', that's wrong," he said.

Panorama has also seen evidence to suggest that Save the Children censored its criticism of the energy industry to avoid upsetting potential and existing corporate partners. Its 10 year relationship with British Gas ended in November 2012 having yielded £1.5m.

Dominic Nutt, its former head of news from 2007 to 2009, told the BBC that he was keen to campaign on the issue of rising energy prices when he worked at the charity but was stopped from doing so. "Every year I would prepare a line on that, to go to the media, to criticize British Gas. Every year, it would be quashed," he said. "It was a clear, 'We can't do that, because we take money from British Gas...' - that would have come down from on high." Mr Nutt says: “When British Gas put their prices up, our policy colleagues asked us to send out a press release condemning them… I wrote the release, got it approved by the policy experts and prepared to press ‘send’. But the release was spiked because, I was told, it would upset British Gas who were Save the Children donors. The quest for money is beginning to destroy the mission.”

Save the Children ran a fuel poverty campaign in January 2012 which criticized the Big Six Energy suppliers but it singled out British Gas as doing the most to help poorer families. The charity is also accused of dropping a potential campaign on the effects of fuel poverty on children while it was under consideration for funding from EDF. Internal emails obtained by The Independent show senior staff were worried about publicity that could “risk the EDF partnership”.

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