Tag Archives: corporate social responsibility

Save the Children save Uber’s children

On Monday at 1230 I will be joining a small delegation of United Private Hire Drivers members to deliver an important message to Save the Children at their offices on St John St. Its an open initiative, if you care about charity ethics and worker rights do come along and join us.

We believe Save the Children has allowed the promise of cash to get in the way of seeing what is really important. Worse, I happen to think by supporting Uber’s PR campaign they are actively participating in creating the problems they are trying to create.

By way of background, during the autumn Uber and Save the Children teamed up in support of Syrian refugees. On the surface of it nothing wrong with that. Except this – Save the Children’s policy position on child poverty says that employers and policy makers should:

Ensure that those in work are not being paid below the poverty line, by backing the living wage and increasing the minimum wage.

And therein lies the problem. Should Save the Children:

  1. take Uber’s money and look the other way when it comes to drivers being paid below minimum wage and denied any rights here in London?
  2. refuse Uber’s money and therefore raise less aid for Syrian refugees?
  3. take Uber’s money but also take the opportunity to speak out on worker rights?

I can’t solve that dilemma for Save the Children but I did reach out to their CEO and the senior management team twice in the autumn but was soundly ignored. In fact it was not until UPHD announced it was going public on this in advance of the Uber GiveBack campaign due to kick off on January 23rd that I got this reply from interim CEO, Tanya Steele:

Thank you for your letter and your expression of support for our work with refugees from Syria. Donations from the public will go towards our life-saving work with them.

We can assure you that every opportunity with a corporate or brand is considered independently, reflecting its potential impact for children. As a children’s organisation we work tirelessly to protect children and during an emergency such as the refugee crisis, we do whatever it takes to help save children’s lives. This means responding quickly to opportunities that will support our work, such as the opportunity to raise vital funds that was presented to us by Uber last year. We would like to thank all the Uber drivers who supported the clothes collection appeal. I am sorry that you are disappointed with the decision we took and I appreciate you are likely to continue to raise your concerns directly with Uber.

Nice try at deflecting but, in fact, I never expressed disappointment at the partnership with Uber. I expressed concern that the charity ignored Uber’s exploitation of drivers in the rush to the bank. It is a move that is contradictory to Save the Children’s own policy. Here is what I wrote:

Dear Justin and Team

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that nobody – yes, nobody – from Save the Children has seen fit to address our concerns about your partnership with Uber. You will be well aware from the media of our protests and our active legal pursuit to secure worker rights for private hire drivers in London who mostly earn below minimum wage, lack holiday pay or even rights to rest breaks.

Save the Children, as Uber’s partner, has a unique opportunity, nay, obligation, to use this position speak up for worker rights for Uber drivers. To look the other way while benefiting from a partnership that exploits drivers and impoverishes the children of 100,000 London drivers would be surely not just be a betrayal of vulnerable workers but also of your own principles. Your own policy position is quite clear on what needs to happen to stop impoverishment of the children of Uber drivers:

Ensure that those in work are not being paid below the poverty line, by backing the living wage and increasing the minimum wage.  
I would still like to believe your oversight in not communicating with us is just a miscommunication rather than a misjudgment. Nevertheless, we do plan to visit your office next Monday January 18 at 12:30PM with a delegation of drivers to deliver a hard copy of our letter in person to your office. If you happen to be in the office perhaps you might consider meeting with some of us. We also plan to issue a press release at 12:00PM on Thursday January 14 and we will invite representatives of the media to join us as we deliver our letter to you at St. John’s Lane next Monday.

 

I also wrote later asking if I could read Save the Children’s donation acceptance and refusal policy – something that is recommended as best practice for fundraisers – but have been met only with frosty silence. I thought the policy might at least help me understand Save the Children’s policy. However the failure to communicate meaningfully on well founded concerns just convinces me that all is not as it should be.

Unfortunately, Save the Children has form here and has been accused in going too far in accepting corporate cash unconditionally. In 2010 the New York Times reported how Save the Children dropped the soft drink sugar tax campaign after taking money from Coca Cola and putting a representative from the firm on their board. Then in 2013 Save the Children was exposed for suppressing any criticism of British Gas home energy prices in its fuel poverty campaign lest it threaten the regular cash injections it was receiving in its partnership with the energy firm.  In 2014 the charity attempted to give Tony Blair a ‘legacy award’ before 500 of their own staff mutinied and the award plan was dropped. Save the Children has an impressive line up of donors, many of whom have questionable ethics including Exxon Mobil, Wal Mart, Chevron, Cadbury raider Mondelez as well as Uber investor – and the firm Rolling Stone magazine famously tagged ‘a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money’ – yes, Goldman Sachs.

UPHD decided to raise the matter once more ahead of Uber’s latest do good PR scheme set to kick off on January 23. Uber is not giving much in the way of driver compensation, corporate tax, VAT or national insurance contributions but none the less it wants to #GiveBack. If charities like Save the Children want to participate in this reputation laundering exercise with Uber then they must not abandon principle. They must stand in solidarity with those oppressed by the Uber business model.

Before Uber takes license to #GiveBack it needs to show that it gives a damn.