Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Multinational support for community campaigns doesn't buy them carte blanche to act with impunity

A thought-provoking letter in last Friday's Brighton Argus challenged me over my public involvement in the campaign to stop Starbucks opening a store in St James's Street and my condemmnation of the attitude of giant US bank American Express, which dominates much of the Edward Stret area, to its neighbours.

The author argued that, as the firms had donated more than £10,000 between them to the area's Christmas lights over the last two years, I should rethink my condemnation of them.

Of course it is good that both Starbucks and AMEX have made contributions to the St James’s Street area Christmas Lights.

I hope the display encourages residents and visitors to the city to visit the area and support local businesses – who have had a tough couple of years – in the run-up to Christmas.

But let’s be clear: both firms decided to donate some money to the lights only in the face of PR disasters, and compared to their bottom lines, the amounts donated in attempt to buy the goodwill of the community are pretty derisory.

Last year Starbucks was trying to tackle its public image as a ‘bulldozer’ which opened without planning permission and ignored public concerns – and local democratic opinion.

Having ‘bought’ the goodwill of some members of the community for a mere £3,000, it has declined to make any contribution at all this year.

As for American Express: it is an important local employer, but the construction of its new HQ in Carlton Hill is making residents’ lives a misery, and it is steadfastly refusing to compensate them.

I would have preferred to see the firm’s largess directed at its neighbours who are suffering daily road closures and traffic chaos, noise, dust, structural damage to their homes – and a complete loss of business for those who work from home.

The community campaign against Starbuck was about preserving the street for local business and residents.

So, no, whilst I am glad the firms concerned have helped the area fund its much-needed Christmas Lights, I haven't changed my view.

And while I'm delighted that our comunity campaign against Starbucks prompted them to give £3,000 to the fund, I'd much rather they hadn't opened here in the first place.

On a recent trip to London I came across this image of a good-old fashioned bit of 'subvertising' on a so-called 'Boris bike' which I though summed up the issue quite neatly really: sponsoring something for the community (be it Christmas Lights or a public bike-hire scheme) really doesn't give big business the right to act with impunity in other areas - whether it's opening a cafe without planing permission, refusing to compensate your neighbours for years of disturbance, or supporting the arms insdustry.

1 comment:

  1. Chances of this comment being published are slim to none, but at least you get to read it, Ben.

    On what planet precisely do you perceive that a company (any company, but as we're discussing Starbucks and AMEX, let's use them) should donate hard-earned profits to something that is a) pointless, and b) fairly anti-green anyway? I appreciate you seem to have an inherent dislike of Starbucks, but have you actually been in to the one in St. James St recently? It is filled with local people, who absolutely love not only it, but the coffee, the atmosphere and the staff. I know, because I'm one of those "local people". The staff work extremely hard to make it what it is, and despite the Starbucks "mother ship", it's the individual staff and management (who are people as well!), who make the place so special.

    As a local resident, I'd far rather have the Jimmy St Starbucks with their awesome staff and coffee, than Christmas lights paid for by corporations under threat of "PR Disasters" any day of the week. I believe that's generally called blackmail in the eyes of the law??