My Activism is Not For Profit

Poppy appeal activism

It’s that time of year again – when newsreaders get crucified if they don’t pin a bit of black plastic and red paper to their lapel. But it’s also the time of year when our favourite failed political party, Britain First, push their support for our troops on unsuspecting Facebookers to boost their own support and hopefully line their own pockets in the name of activism.

You might be thinking “A poppy is a poppy, isn’t it?” Any support for our forces is what we want, right? Well, no. We buy and wear poppies to support the British Legion. The poppy box in the local newsagents donates that money to The Royal British Legion – Registered Charity No 219279 – who support past and present veterans in multiple ways.

In recent years, Britain First put themselves first when a bunch of merch featuring the recognisable red flower appeared on their website just in time for remembrance. Wristbands, jewellery, stickers – there was no shortage of things featuring probably one of the best recognised symbols in this country, items I spotted on the British Legion table in my local supermarket. Except, the British Legion didn’t see a penny from Britain First’s items. They hadn’t sanctioned the sales and they weren’t receiving the proceeds. Britain First hadn’t specifically said they were paying the profits to the British Legion, but unsuspecting customers thought that their enamel badge supported the poppy appeal in the same way that their paper one did – until it was revealed otherwise.

There was a copyright claim and Britain First were made to stop selling misleading merch. This year, a glance at their social media reveals they’re more concerned with the legal battles of their leaders and their usual Muslim bashing to have tested the waters on how much exploitation of the poppy appeal they can get away with – although it’s still early for that. In fact, both of the (different) website links on their Facebook and Twitter pages go to sites that don’t even exist — which makes me smile just a little bit.

So why bring it up? As a warning. Britain First can still use social media to their advantage to post their general support for the poppy appeal, luring in unsuspecting people who support our troops but don’t realise the racist intentions they’re unwittingly lending their numbers to. They’re not the first to use the veil of activism to boost their own personal popularity and profit, and they certainly won’t be the last.

“Too often, corporations make money in the name of activism by claiming to ‘raise awareness’.”

In fact, every year, not too far ahead of poppy season, the rather more wholesome George at ASDA gets taken over with racks of pink clothing with the Breast Cancer ribbon sometimes hidden, sometimes not (it’s definitely there though, because Awareness, innit?). “Tickled Pink,” as they’ve dubbed it for years, is HUGE. Year after year, they sell pink items of clothing, and have also moved into food and drink and household buys to support Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now.

It’s 20p from your £3 Herbal Essences shampoo, or 40p from your £7.50 crate of Diet Coke, split between the two charities; which is all well and good if you were going to be buying those items anyway, but it’s the clothing items you’re probably most aware of. This year’s crop includes a £12.50 jumper with a motivational slogan, the usual pyjama sets ranging from £10-15, and £7 bobble hats because it seems they’ve realised that October is generally cold. But I can’t give you the figures on how much of the sale goes to charity, because that information is not provided when you buy the item. It’s crystal clear on your shampoo and your fizzy drink, but the main item — the t-shirt and/or jumper that we used to buy every single year for my mum’s birthday — doesn’t provide that information at the point of sale.

According to Breast Cancer Care, more than £40 million has been raised for them over two decades – and this is fantastic for charities like this who do help so many people. But what you’re not seeing, is how much ASDA are making by doing this campaign. They are giving, so they do better than Britain First who were purely lining their own pockets, but they are also making a killing. Even if we assume 20% of the purchase price is being donated, that means we’re looking at a turnover of over £200 million on Tickled Pink products. I’d appreciate it if ASDA could be 100% transparent on how much profit they end up rolling in in the name of activism.

Donating to charities isn’t something that we can all do, so being able to give while buying stuff you actually need is a blessing for working class activists such as myself — and does shift the burden over to the corporations who can afford to give in a lot of circumstances. But if you see a “Proceeds to Charity” on anything, then ask for specifics. What charities? Exactly how much? Do they have a certificate that shows they’ve donated? Can you Gift Aid it?

Too often, corporations make money in the name of activism by claiming to ‘raise awareness’. But raising awareness is free. I can raise awareness of breast cancer by tweeting ‘CHECK YOUR BOOBS’ at the start of every month (by the way, do this!) What I can’t necessarily do is donate large quantities of money to charities that do vital work. Corporations can, and if they’re not 100% transparent about where the money goes or how much profit they’re making then they need to be held to account.

Activism is not for profit, and we can’t allow corporations to use the charity angle to line their own pockets.

Image by Howard Lake

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