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The Top 5 Most Hypocritical Corporate Sponsors

Foreclosure giant Wells Fargo sponsors Habitat for Humanity?
 
 
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A couple of years ago, Susan G. Komen for the Cure raised some ire when the breast cancer organization teamed up with Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was an unlikely partnership between a health advocacy organization and a fast food corporation, and considering the research on the health effects of fatty foods, many thought it was highly inappropriate.  

Sadly, these kinds of fiscal arrangements are not an anomaly. Many non-profits and other charities rely on corporate sponsorships to keep them afloat – and some of those partnerships seem as counterproductive as KFC's and Komen’s “pink bucket” campaign.

See, corporations and these “do good” organizations have a harmful yet cyclical relationship. As corporations continuously strive for more customers to increase profits, many non-profit organizations, which often struggle financially, rely on corporations to sponsor them in exchange for lots of advertising. Corporations often jump at the chance to sponsor popular causes and events in order to enhance the corporation’s public image and increase its customer base.

People may argue that these organizations need money to help others, so it doesn’t matter where the money comes from. But it does matter if the organizations accept money from corporations that generate revenue by undermining the public good, and if corporate financial success comes at the expensive of the rest of us, especially those being served by hardworking nonprofits.

What would our world look like if we broke free from corporate power? Imagine, for instance, if the American Cancer Society and its millions of donors stormed the fortress of the dirty gas, oil and coal industries, which have caused cancer rates to soar, and forced them to shut down. A pipe dream? Not if we start realizing just how far corporate dollars have penetrated our lives and begin working to pressure organizations to cut harmful corporate ties.

The following are my top five most dangerously ironic corporate sponsorships. It’s important to note that numerous corporations sponsor these organizations, not just the ones I list. But these are especially hypocritical (and really piss me off).

1. Walmart Sponsors American Cancer Society

Nothing annoys me more than seeing the Walmart logo on the bottom, right-hand corner of every Relay for Life sign I come across. Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society’s annual fundraiser, which has raised more than $3 billion since 1985. I’ll never forget first seeing the logo as I was walking around the track at my local Relay for Life event — I was furious. As someone whose family has been deeply affected by cancer and who has raised a significant amount of money each year for the event, I was shocked that the American Cancer Society would allow such a disgraceful corporation like Walmart to be one of the main sponsors of its event.

Cancer growth parallels the growth of industrialization and has been proven to be linked to polluted environments. Despite the reality that industries are antithetical to the environment from the start, Walmart, no matter how much it tries to greenwash its reputation, is especially unsustainable. In fact, in an investigative series produced by Grist, the journalist found that Walmart destroys habitats, produces an annual 3.5 million metrics tons of CO2, donates money to anti-environment candidates, and its cheap products have increased the amount of items we buy. Walmart’s practices also undermine two crucial elements of good public health: a good diet and access to healthcare. Walmart sells not only processed foods, but has such rotten produce that not even its poor workers buy it. Speaking of workers, many don’t have access to health care, as Walmart offers plans its employees can’t afford as well as continues to cut their health benefits.

2. Wells Fargo Sponsors Habitat for Humanity

If Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization dedicated to building “simple, decent, affordable housing,” wanted to build a house for every family kicked out of theirs due to foreclosure, they would have to build fast. Very fast. In fact, between 2007 and early 2012, about 4 million families lost their homes to foreclosure. And in April it was estimated that around 9.5 million homes are at risk for default. Who’s to blame? Well, a lot of corrupt banks, but especially Wells Fargo, the nation's largest mortgage servicer.

Wells Fargo has continuously participated in fraudulent procedures that have resulted in thousands of people being illegally forced out of their homes. The corporation has practices robo-signing, a process in which foreclosures are approved without properly reviewing cases and then fabricating documents in court, as well as dual tracking, which offers homeowners loan modifications while simultaneously pushing them toward foreclosure. Recently, Wells Fargo was even caught targeting minority groups and just recently paid a $175 million settlement of mortgage discrimination complaints for steering African American and Latino mortgage borrowers into subprime loans with higher rates and fees.  

Foreclosures have devastated families nationwide. One man even committed suicide two days before Wells Fargo was going to foreclose his house after a long battle.

3. McDonalds and Coca-Cola Sponsor London Olympics 2012

Across the pond, a controversy has sparked on whether or not McDonalds and Coca-Cola should be allowed to sponsor the 2012 Olympics in London. The London Assembly, an elected body, stated that one of the Olympics’ goals was to promote health by encouraging physical activity. But unhealthy food corporations sponsoring the Olympics, corrupts that message. Meanwhile, a projected 60.8 percent of adults and 31.1 percent of children in the U.K. are overweight.

The Children’s Food Campaign authored a recent report called the Obesity Games, which calls for a ban on junk food brands sponsoring sporting events. The report stated that these corporations were given an “unrivalled platform” to market their unhealthy food. Yet, these corporations only contribute 2 percent of the International Olympic Association’s income. The report stated that taxpayers thus have to fund the majority of the Olympics andthe increased healthcare costs due to obesity issues.

Malcolm Clark, campaign coordinator, said to The Independent: “The Olympics have become a celebration of big. For the junk food companies who sponsor the Games that means big restaurants, big audiences, big brand value, big profits. But for children that could also mean bigger waistlines and bigger health problems later in life.”

Despite the on-going debate, McDonalds and Coca-Cola are still sponsoring the Games. On the day before the opening ceremony, London’s mayor Boris Johnson responded to the criticism by telling reporters, “This is all just bourgeois snobbery about McDonald’s … It’s classic liberal hysteria about very nutritious, delicious, food — extremely good for you I’m told — not that I eat a lot of it myself … Apparently this stuff is absolutely bursting with nutrients.”

4. United HealthGroup and WellPoint Sponsor American Red Cross

Health insurance corporations funding an organization dedicated to providing medical assistance to those in need — sounds nice right? Until you learn that United HealthGroup and WellPoint, the two largest health corporations, are more concerned about profit than the wellbeing of their patients.

In fact, the two corporations met with other health insurance giants last year to discuss ways they could weaken the Affordable Care Act and have continuously lobbied for loopholes in the law. Just recently, they all joined up to donate $100 million to the Chamber of Commerce, which will use the money for election advertising in an attempt to take down Democrats who supported the Affordable Care Act.

5. ConAgra Foods Sponsors Feeding America

Feeding America is the country’s leading hunger-relief charity, consisting of more than 200 food banks nationwide. Why do they need to provide this service? Because, simply put, some people can’t afford to buy food. Including, perhaps, the workers at ConAgra, one of Feeding America’s largest corporate sponsors. Workers in starting positions at the corporation can make as low as $18,000 a year.

ConAgra customers may also have trouble affording food. Recently, when the multi-billion-dollar corporation was faced with rising costs for raw materials and was afraid to lose any profit, it chose to pass on costs to consumers.  

Besides not caring about whether or not people can afford food, ConAgra also doesn’t care if the food it serves is healthy. Meanwhile, Feeding America has stated that one of its top priorities is “increasing the access of nutritious food to struggling Americans.” In addition to selling a variety of unhealthy, processed foods, ConAgra has also been found to have salmonella in its facilities and products.  

ConAgra has also been sued for bribing consumers by putting fraudulent labels on its products. It is also one of the main food corporations the American Farm Bureau Federation invests in and lobbies for. The Bureau just recently spent $1.2 million lobbying for cuts to food aid and large handouts to industrial agriculture and pesticide corporations. ConAgra Foods once spent $400,000 in lobbying to preserve French fries and pizza on school lunch menus.

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.