Should we hold our sponsors to a moral standard or just take the money and run?
A friend of mine recently announced that she is riding in The Ride to Conquer Cancer BC this year, and would like us – her friends – to support her ride and raise money for cancer research. As I am cancer researcher at University of British Columbia myself and furthermore have very strong personal and work-related ties to other cancer research agencies in Vancouver as well as a small non-for-profit organization struggling to raise money for research in pediatric brain cancers, you would think I would jump for joy at this announcement from my friend. I did not and neither did about half of my friends. This raised a great debate amongst my friends and colleagues. A debate that I would like to open up to the general public: Should we hold our sponsors to a moral standard or just take the money and run?
The conflict lies not in The Ride to Conquer Cancer, which I think is an outstanding event and have supported in previous years. It lies in the fact that this year, the ride has accepted Enbridge as their main sponsor, and the ride is thus called “Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer”. As an avid opponent of the Enbridge pipeline scheduled to run from the Alberta Tar Sands through Northern BC to Kitimat, it left me with a really bad taste in my mouth to see my beloved cancer research connected to a company that in my eyes holds no regard for public health and safety. Cancer research is very important - yes - but if the quest to conquer cancer happens at the expense of other aspects of health, does that not defeat its purpose? Can we accept a sponsor that gives with one hand and takes away with the other? That was the debate that I offered to my friends and colleagues. The responses were many but could all be categorized roughly into two groups: 1) Take the money and run (research money is very tight these days, and we should take anything we can get!), or 2) as cancer researchers, we are working to defeat sickness and improve the health of human beings and thus cannot ignore the detrimental impacts on human health (mental and physical) that an oil spill from the Enbridge pipeline would cause.
I contacted the Ride to Conquer Cancer with my concern, and they were kind enough to give me a personal answer. The reply however only addresses the financial commitment that Enbridge has made to cancer research in BC and nationwide, and that was good enough for them. The organizers of the Ride have apparently chosen to ignore the impacts on human health and safety that the Enbridge pipeline will force onto BC residents should a leak occur (which Enbridge has themselves stated is not unthinkable), and adapt the “take the money and run” approach. This led me to a new discussion with my peers. How directly in disagreement with the cause of an organization must a sponsor be before we reject their money? Most people agree that e.g. Marlboro is not a suitable sponsor for the ride to conquer cancer. But is it only sponsors engaged directly in cancer-promoting activities that we feel obligated to reject, or should our “sponsor screen” stretch further into physical diseases or maybe even general health? I believe that Enbridge is in conflict with our goal for better health in BC in general, but it might not be directly related to cancer. Does that make them a legitimate sponsor for a cancer event?
Several of my friends have decided not to donate this year, and one even decided not to ride, breaking a four year tradition for her, and although that money might not measure up to whatever Enbridge is sponsoring, there is a moral obligation to fundraising too. The Ride to Conquer Cancer deserves so much better than to get bogged down by a sponsor like Enbridge.