This soup spoon costs almost sixteen euros. It is made from melamine, which is nice enough as plastics go, but it’s ultimately just plastic. (Also, I hear it smells of rotten fish if it’s heated up too much.) Sixteen euros, that’s about 23 dollars by the way, is a whole lot of money for a plastic spoon that smells of fish.
“But,” says Rice (the manufacturer), “fear not, dear middle-aged European women of above-average income, this spoon stands for a worthy cause!”
Ah, what a relief. I was worried there for a moment. So, you say my sixteen euros will go to a good cause? Let’s have a closer look at that.
“By purchasing a Spoon Full Of Hope,” says Rice (on their website), “you give poor refugee families in Mogadishu in Somalia 24 servings of soup, preventing them from starving as they flee from war.”
Twenty-four servings, you say. Of soup, you say. Bullshit, I say. Soup, and we’re assuming decent soup made from ingredients bought in ridiculously expensive European supermarkets, is cheap. Just like talk.
Now imagine what soup costs in Mogadishu. Subtract that amount from sixteen (or twenty-three). Do the same with what you imagine the actual spoon and the pwetty, colourful packaging cost. And don’t forget about the VAT, which currently is at 19% here in Germany.
If you arrive at the end of that calculation, you will have come up with maybe six or seven Euros of profit for Rice. Just Rice, that’s not even what the shop earns, which is a whopping seven euros. Bravo, Rice! You managed to screw both your customers and those poor refugees in war-ravaged Mogadishu, which you probably wouldn’t even be able to find on a map. I applaud you, Rice. You are true humanitarians.
Unfortunately this isn’t the only case in which companies blatantly screw over both the trusting public and those that need their help. Take Rewe (local supermarket chain), for example. Now, I have got a bit of a bone to pick with Rewe anyway, because they keep selling me rotten vegetables, but this goes a bit beyond that. A while ago they worked in cooperation with a German charity organization called the Tafel (translation: feast) to bring needed foodstuffs to the poor here in Germany. My uncle, who is retired, does volunteer work for the Tafel in his hometown; these people really try to do good. In a nutshell: they collect foodstuffs, mostly vegetables, dairy products and other things that spoil easily, from local supermarkets when they are just before the sell-by date and give them to the poor. Okay. Here’s what Rewe had to say on the subject. (I might be paraphrasing a little.)
“Isn’t it a shame,” says Rewe, “that we only give vegetables and milk to these people? Tell you what… here’s what we’ll do. We’ll put together some goods. Maybe some flour, salt, noodles, sugar… stuff that doesn’t spoil easily. And we’ll sell that package for five euros. And for those five euros all those fine, needed products will go to the poor. How does that sound?”
Someone, somewhere probably put two and two together and mumbled something about the fact that all those products would come from Rewe’s private brand Ja! and would cost Rewe maybe fifty cents to produce all in all, but he or she was quickly shouted down.
And Rewe, taking advantage of this great chance to do something for the world, went even further:
“How about,” says Rewe, “we also give our customers the opportunity to put these little red and white stickers on other products that they buy, and whatever gets thus marked and placed in the appropriate bin by the exit will also go to the poor. That is a really good thing, right? What? No, of course not, how dare you suggest that. All these things will really go to the poor. Honest.”
Right. See that little sticker on that pasta package there? Wonder how that ended up back in the shelf. Funny, someone must have accidentally placed it there, when the collection basket for the Tafel was being emptied out and… eh… given to the poor.
In case you’re wondering, Rewe’s current charity project is in collaboration with the WWF. They’re selling little booklets for collecting stickers (one sticker is free! with every ten euros that you spend at Rewe!!!) and mugs and pencils and whatnot. Fifty cents of every sold item go to the WWF. But don’t spend it all at once on those pesky pandas and whales and gerbils, okay?
It sickens me. Rewe and Rice are only two examples amongst many. Companies all over the world gorge themselves on wealth in the name of so-called charity. And it is charity, I know that. I do not doubt that those 50 cents will go to the WWF, or that the Tafel needed those noodles and the flour (maybe not the 138 tons of salt though). But how much money did Rewe make off those deals? How much money does Rice make, or all the retailers that sell those damn Spoons, and how does that gel with how little will go to Mogadishu?
It gives me hope that there are some companies that are a little less full of it. I would like to name Lush, a company that I have worked for myself, and who seem to be genuinely interested in helping out. Nächstenliebe (brotherly love) is a skin cream that sells for about 20 Euros and all of that (minus the VAT) goes to a variety of good causes. Lush doesn’t even keep a token amount for the packaging or the ingredients. Charitable organisations can apply for the money and Lush picks several to which the money will go in even amounts. Lush is not perfect – having worked there I know that a few of their claims along the lines of “everything we sell is natural and 100% organic” are, if not lies, somewhat open to interpretation – but they try. That’s how it should be, but unfortunately good programs such as this one are few and far in between.
My advice is to think long and hard before you give money to corporations such as Rewe or Rice or even Lush. Look at the project, look at what it costs, what it will achieve and at how much that is actually worth. I am not saying that giving to charity is always futile, but sometimes you might just be giving to the CEO and not to people in Mogadishu or pandas or homeless people.