Squande(RED)?

I'm not a big fan of Bono or his ego-charity RED and I've said as much elsewhere. American industry magazine Advertising Age angered the charity recently by claiming that RED had raised just $18m since launch although companies have spent $100m marketing it. RED responded by saying the article was mistaken, putting the figure raised at $25m and the marketing spend at around $30m. The charity said the amount raised was five times that of the previous four years put together.

Even so, Popbitch last week had a lot of interesting numbers about Bono, who does a lot of work for charidee but doesn't like and loves to talk about it:

  • Bono doesn't invest his own money in RED
  • The $389m U2 made on their last tour was funnelled through companies mostly registered in Ireland and structured to minimise taxes
  • U2 moved its music publishing company to the Netherlands from Ireland in June last year, six months before Ireland ended a tax exemption on musicians' royalty income
  • Richard Murphy, adviser to the Tax Justice Group, said: "This is somebody who's exceptionally rich taking the opportunity to shift his tax burden to somebody else but then asking Government's around the world to spend that tax in the way that he would like."

Indeed. Just to recap: Bono wants to minimise the amount of tax he pays. That's his privilege and many people would do the same in his position. However, he then wants to call on governments to spend the tax money they've collected on projects that suit him. That's hypocrisy.

Having maximised his private income, Bono then uses precisely none of it to finance Project RED.

As pointed out above, RED has done some good. The $25m raised will hopefully make a difference to suffering people. However, the companies involved in RED have undoubtedly made far more money than they have given to charity.

When Motorola launched their RED phone, Ron Garriques, the president of Motorola mobile devices, said the plan was to use the charity to reduce customer "churn". They aim to produce one RED product every quarter.

I know this is obvious. These companies want to make money and if they generate a little for charity on the way, surely that's a good thing? Isn't it better than nothing?

Perhaps, but the alternative isn't nothing. And I'm irritated by the moronic ads, the fatuous celebrity endorsements and the reduction of a major global issue to a simple transaction. I'm annoyed by the prostitution of media companies - first the Independent and soon Vanity Fair - and the exclusion of Africans from this debate in favour of rich, white men.

RED is cynical, patronising and empty. Couldn't we all just Buy Less Crap?

[Hat tip to my wife's favourite blog: Carlagirl]