Thursday, May 8, 2008

Colgate-Palmolive Won’t Wash Hands of Sharpton Award

The well known maker of cleaning, health/beauty products, and toothpaste holds its annual shareholders’ meeting in New York City today, a city that the Rev. Al Sharpton, activist and President of the National Action Network (NAN), a national civil rights organization, has vowed to shut down with protests over the not guilty verdict in the Sean Bell shooting case. The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) is an ostensibly non-partisan, but decidedly conservative, NGO promoting ethics in the public and corporate sectors. This morning it denounced a response from Colgate-Palmolive Chairman, Reuben Mark, to its April 14 letter urging the company to “repudiate” a National Action Network Corporate Excellence Award for “fostering diversity in the workplace”. The response was a very politely worded “thanks for sharing”.

NLPC, which has a history of campaigning against Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, another well-known and sometimes controversial civil rights activist, wrote to the Colgate-Palmolive Chairman on April 14 demanding that he repudiate the award from NAN because, according to NLPC President Peter Flaherty, “Receiving a ‘corporate excellence’ award from Sharpton is a dubious honor indeed. His organization, the National Action Network, has been beset by legal and accounting problems for years, prompting a number of investigations. Moreover, recent media reports indicate that Sharpton may soon be indicted by a grand jury. Colgate-Palmolive received the award for fostering an ‘inclusive workplace.’ But who is Sharpton to be handing out such an award in light of his involvement in hoaxes such as the Tawana Brawley episode and the Duke rape case? Sharpton is not a legitimate civil rights leader.”

“Strong words and a tough stance by NLPC, but if being ‘beset by legal and accounting problems for years’ and ‘pending grand jury indictments’ were to become barriers to corporate engagement with politicians, it would mean the end of corporate lobbying on Capitol Hill.”, said the Bloated Plutocrat. “Colgate-Palmolive are shrugging off their extortion payments to NAN. This should come as no surprise to anyone. But with every pressure group out there, including the loony enviro-thugs, doing the same thing, the cost of doing business is being driven up sharply and tax write-off corporate philanthropy that would have gone to the arts or other good causes are being diverted to fill the coffers of every activist/stuntsman with enough media-savvy to carry off a ‘donate or pay’ scheme” he added. The Bleeding Heart was beside himself over the NLPC. “These right-wing hit-men hide behind the veil of ‘ethics’ when all they really are is another wet-work character assassination unit for the vast right-wing conspiracy that stole the White House for George Bush and dragged us into war. I’ll bet that Flaherty and his minions are out there digging away trying to fabricate some story about Sen. Obama at this very minute.”, remarked the Bleeding Heart.

While there is no question that NLPC has unearthed real issues of concern with regard to transparency and accounting rules in Sharpton’s dealings, this effort to force a “repudiation” of the NAN award that Colgate-Palmolive received looks a lot like the very type of NGO extortion to which the Bloated Plutocrat refers. The fact that NLPC chose to wait two and half weeks after receiving Mark’s response for the day of the Colgate-Palmolive shareholder meeting to comment on the letter is a transparent act of PR stuntsmanship lacking in both subtlety and good sense. Sharpton’s arrest yesterday during the protests he arranged to “shut down the City” will certainly generate more news coverage than NLPC’s press release and additional NAN organized protests blocking traffic today will cause more inconvenience and annoyance to the company than NLPC criticism. Colgate-Palmolive were recognized by a leading, if controversial, civil rights organization for doing a good job of fostering diversity in the workplace. Why should they repudiate that?

On the other hand, as Flaherty notes, they don’t seem that proud of it either. Perhaps it’s just a case of poor website management, but the NAN “Corporate Excellence Award” is not listed alongside the many other awards for promoting diversity in the workplace given place of honor under the rubric “Awards” on the company’s site.

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