American Red Cross: tobacco funding risks global brand

The American Red Cross is under increasing pressure to refuse tobacco industry donations, to bring it into line with guidelines of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and most of the 189 national affiliates. Accepting tobacco funding is in clear breach of the first of the seven Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement – Humanity, which includes the statement: “[the Movement’s] purpose is to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being”.

The principles and rules for Red Cross and Red Crescent Humanitarian Assistance (principles 7.5 and 7.6) state in regard to relations with the external actors: “National Societies and the International Federation shall enter into partnerships with private sector actors that…have a positive image, and a track record of good ethical behaviour” and “…shall not accept donations from sources which risk the image or reputation of any component of the Movement”. On both counts, the association with Altria Group fails.

The value of partnering with the Red Cross is clearly outlined on the International Red Cross website, which includes among the benefits to corporations: demonstration of corporate social responsibility and “that consumers – both current and potential – have a more positive image of a company that supports a cause they care about.” The American Red Cross website recognises Altria Group on the webpage of its Annual Disaster Giving Program (ADGP), which notes that “…ADGP members are valued Red Cross donors. They receive a high level of recognition and access to Red Cross information and leadership.” About Altria Group, it says: “Altria and its companies…have a long-standing relationship with the American Red Cross; we share a tradition of providing support to people and communities in times of need”. The millions who have lost family members to smoking, hooked by Marlboro’s seductive advertising while they were kids, may disagree.

A spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Laura Howe, was quoted in a Reuters report of the issue that the organisation was “happy to accept any funds that support its efforts to assist disaster victims.” The double standards implicit in the statement is striking, given the annual death toll from tobacco products in the USA is over 400,000 – far in excess of any other natural or human-caused disaster. By way of comparison, Altria Group donated US$1 million to assist with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, for which the US death toll was 117.

While the American Red Cross won’t engage in cause marketing or imply an endorsement of a tobacco product, the value of the association to Altria Group is as clear as would be the case if the Red Cross allowed its logo to be merged with the Marlboro logo.

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