Tampax aid to African girls – profit vs. altruism

December 10, 2007

logo_tampax_01.gifI recently caught the tail end of a Tampax commercial that talked about its program to supply school-aged girls in Africa with sanitary pads. This caught my attention because of an experience I had a couple of years ago when I delivered a workshop at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Turns out, there’s a bit of controversy about the program with respect to the motives of Tampax.

In 2006, I delivered a workshop at the United Nations for its 50th session of the CSW. It covered the importance of language with respect to the issue of child sexual exploitation and how we can influence the media to change the way it often negatively depicts child victims.

Prior to my workshop, I attended a girls caucus session and was blown away by two young women from Kenya who spoke about the very issue Tampax is seeking to address.

One of the young women presented the fact that many girls miss an average of one school week per month due to menstruation and the lack of affordable sanitary supplies. A month’s supply, she reported, cost $2.00 and the average family subsisted on only $1.00 per month.

The young woman was part of a grass roots initiative to distribute reusable, cotton pads. The other young Kenyan woman challenged this initiative stating that water was so precious in her village, that using it to wash out a used pad was preposterous. As the debate raged on about how to tackle this problem, I began to feel sheepish about my upcoming workshop topic, fearing it would seem abstract and esoteric in comparison.

It was eye-opening to hear that something as basic as the lack of a hygiene product meant that on average, girls missed a month of school per year and that by high school they began to fall behind their male counter parts as the result.

So when I heard about the Tampax initiative, I was interested enough to look online to find out more about it. One of the first hits was a November 12 New York Times article that characterized the program as ambitious and questioned the motives of Proctor and Gamble in undertaking it.

Of course the initiative makes good business sense for Proctor and Gamble. The initiative introduces its product to a new market and by increasing the opportunities for girls in school it is more likely that those girls will be able to purchase that product when they later enter the labour market.

Does the fact that the initiative is not entirely motivated by altruism diminish its potential impact? Can big business do something good while still having an eye on future potential profit?

This topic was touched upon in episode #297 of the For Immediate Release podcast. Carmen van Kerckhove submitted a comment criticizing the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty for being insincere due to the fact that other brands under its parent company, Unilever, perpetuate the very beauty images Dove purports to be trying to counter. Show host Shel Holtz defended Dove stating that its management team could not be held responsible for other companies within Unilever and the fact that Dove stood to financially benefit from its campaign does not mean those behind it don’t genuinely believe in its tenets.

I think it’s wise to critically evaluate every company’s social responsibility activities. Clearly, some companies simply pay lip service to CSR by engaging in superficial, low-impact activities and should be called on it when they do.

On the other hand, I don’t think the fact that a company’s CSR activities benefit business means they should be criticized out of hand. I think if more companies saw the connection between genuinely trying to make a difference and improving their bottom line, the world would be better off.

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15 Responses to “Tampax aid to African girls – profit vs. altruism”

  1. cheritycall Says:

    How are you?, Do something to help the hungry people from Africa and India,
    I created this blog about them:
    in http://tinyurl.com/5t2jg6

  2. messagecom Says:

    Thanks again Jessie for sharing your research with us. I’d love to hear P & G weigh in on this and to know how they are measuring the impact of this initiative.

    Deborah

  3. Jessie Says:

    Obviously most product sponsored campaigns ultimately help sell the product, that being said, it doesn’t mean a company should be criticized for taking up measures that genuinely improve people’s lives even if the company makes a profit in the meantime.

    However, it is hard for me to believe that P and G could ever have altruistic motives. P and G has a longer history with menstruation than most people are aware of. Ever heard of Rely tampons? IF you were a menstruator in the early 80s, before I was born, you may have received Rely tampons in one of the most expensive advertising campaigns in nondurable history. Proctor and Gamble sent out samples to 80% of U.S. households of its superabsorbent tampon made of polyester and carboxymethylcellulose (at the time, a known cancer-causing agent) chips wrapped in netting.
    P and G received over 100 complaints a month for a year after the product was introduced from women who were becoming sick after using the tampon. It received multiple warnings from the FDA and scientists studying the ability for Rely to foster toxic bacterial growth in its suberabsorbant chips.
    Since P and G had already spent millions on their campaign, they realized how much they had to lose if they fessed up to their product being dangerous, so they refused to, at the FDA’s recommendation, put warning labels on their boxes.
    Only after women started dying and an estimated 60,000 women became sick from using the product did P and G pull the tampon from the market. Nearly 40 known deaths occured from TSS in the first few years of the 80s, over 70% which were linked to use of Rely Tampons.
    P and G has the largest advertising budget of any company in the world (over 3 billion dollars was spent on advertising in 2007). A company this wealthy could afford the best legal protection available, and thus fewer than 100 cases related to TSS ever went to court. P and G was able to avoid paying punititve damages to most families by buying up expert medical witnesses with lucrative research grants and passing out free samples of their 200+ products throughout the towns their cases were held in.
    The TSS crisis scared women enough to make most switch to pads for the next decade. Ironically, yet sadly, the largest beneficiary of this trend was a pad company called Always.
    P and G didn’t dare re-enter the tampon industry until the TSS scandal could be forgotten. Time passed, women regained trust in tampons and P and G bought Tambrands, maker of Tampax in 1992, which would soon become the most successful tampon brand in America.

  4. Tammy Says:

    everyone has great points! but, when i watched the commercial the one thing that crossed my mind was the garbage! i’ve never been to Africa, but i would assume that they don’t have garbage trucks in these villages. It might be a stupid question, but, what do they do with the garbage??
    I personally will use a menstral cup in the future, if only for our environment, but , do these girls get the choice?
    i applaud p&g if this program is a success, and i hope they realize that this is a very long term commitment!
    So I may be idealistic, but i think that large companies can do both… sometimes we just have to have faith, show our support, while at the sametime letting our expectations be known! we have the power! we are their customers. lets hold them to their promises!

  5. Becky Says:

    P&G is providing girls in southern Africa (not South Africa) with pads. The cause is being sponsored by Always and Tampax, both P&G brands. A commercial is too short to explain everything – but it’s all there at protectingfutures.com. And it’s so much more than pads – it’s school rooms, dormitories, fresh running water, food, toilets, education about puberty, etc.

    I’m sure LastLaugh is richer and more privileged than most girls in North America. So surely even she knows that in the vast continent called Africa, there are millions of girls not nearly as well off as she.

    I was there when these commercials were filmed. Their uniforms were purchased for them. Also, their shoes, socks and underwear. They ate like there was no tomorrow. They are beautiful, sweet, smart girls who will undoubtedly be stuck in a cycle of poverty unless they can manage to graduate from high school. In this village…not one girl has…yet!

    So…I think helping make sure these girls don’t have to miss a week of school every month is good.

  6. LastLaugh Says:

    Thank’s Maggie! America needs to hear that. In fact the thing that has bothered me, whether it was the Tampaz ad or the Always ad, they reference to SOUTH Africa, like that is going to make a difference since there are more WHITES that live there. I have MANY friends in South Africa and we all laugh as the ad is just another form of deceptive advertising. AND what about the “GREEN” campaign? Politics! *laugh* Yet America constantly takes a BLIND eye to the astounding number of “couch surfing kids” in this country and the problem with the abuse and stealing of prescription drugs by young people IN THE U.S.!! Geez people, and irresponsible parents, open your eyes. America has a huge tendancy to throw money at something and “think” they have done their humanitarian part? Often it is money they don’t even have! SLOW DOWN, CUT BACK, QUIT THE RAT RACE and get in touch with your own! The problems are multiplying at an astounding rate…

  7. maggie Says:

    I am from Africa and I find this commercial quite funny actually. How many years have african girls gone by without TAMPAX. I think that it is bogus to claim that an african girl who can afford a uniform can not pay for a simple tampax. So she she has to stay home for a week.I think Africa is becoming the scapegoat for anything nowadays.I was raised there and never have I missed a class because I didn’t have a pad.Africa is the number one producer of cotton, so I don’t think they have any problems making pads. Just because a girl chooses to live in a village does not mean she is poor. I think Tampax is only trying to make money and they went the wrong way for their commercial.Africa may need help like any other continent ,but I don’t think they need help with their periods.

  8. messagecom Says:

    Jessie thanks for your thoughtful research and analysis of the Always sponsorship campaign. I think you’ve struck on a number of the controversial issues at hand.

    Your comments about the implied environmental waste reminds me of the news of the future launch of the People’s Car in India. There was lots of outrage about that in the western world regarding the environmental impact of unleashing an affordable car ($2,500) in this highly populated region. Others criticized the west for denying India the same privilege many of us would never dream of giving up. How many of us would adopt the cup here in the west?

    It’s clear that companies rarely engage in sponsorships that don’t benefit their own financial goals. Given your research, have you found any examples of those who have? Do you think it’s possible or will you always suspect corporate sponsors as acting solely upon their own interests?

  9. Jessie Says:

    After doing a little research I have determined that the Always campaign is undoubtedly an attempt to not only widen P and G’s market share in the U.S. by luring in women currently devoted to other brands and products, but also to establish new dependent markets abroad. One might argue that these African women do not have financial means to purchase these products, but as mentioned earlier, the goal of the programs Always is encacting is to “empower” women in an educational and financial sense. Thus, some of these women may later be able to afford these products.
    I’m sure that next we will see Always begin a huge advertising campaign in China, only this time we won’t be seeing commercials about little Chinese girls missing school. Here is a huge market of middle-income nation status, where a massive part of the population is becoming more aquainted with “western” notions and luxuries of hygiene, disposability and “freshness”. Once these women start buying up pads and tampons, not only do we have half a billion Chinese women throwing away up to 10,000 pads or tampons a year, but also American Super Corporations like P and G and Kimberly Clark are getting richer and achieving further means to exploit more women.
    I use the menstrual cup, a fantastic product, which I highly recommend. I realize that limitations for this product’s application and usage in parts of Africa and other low-income nations include access to water and cultural norms (i.e. the non-acceptance of devices worn inside the vagina). However, part of Always’ campaign involves providing access to water and “hygiene stations to deal with menstrual care”. If money is devoted to this cause, then it seems as though alternative, sustainable products could be adopted with NGO and local support.

  10. kuba Says:

    i think they are using this “cause” (a rather weak one in my opinion, they could be doing much more in their protecting futures program for even poorer regions in africa) as an ad campaign.

  11. myspace.com/evol101 Says:

    2 things i’d like to ad

    1. would any of the women on here even use reuseable pads and how do they expect other women in other parts of the world to do so?
    GROSS!!!

    2. this one is for the faceless coward that wrote to hell with africa.

    first of all we can never forget that AFRICA(the mother land) is being and has been raped and pillaged for centuries due to AMERICA’s evil ways. the least we can do is send a little girl in a developing country some gad damn pads so that she can go to school and not have to end up prostituting her body to take care of the nine(in most cases 1) kids she had , due to lack of education and hope, maybe rape. As for the cheesy and cliche “illegal’s” comment. People come to this country to make something of their lives and end up contributing to this country in very positive ways. You your self are illegal here unless you are native to america, which I don’t think you are. And as far as the “healthcare” issue, WHAT HEALTH CARE?!!! do you even live in this country? We have no real health care here, what we do have is a false sense of security with the so called “health insurance companies” that lie and cheat people out of their hard earned money and let HUMANS die everyday , because they don’t have the money “to pay” or are not “covered”… People like yourself who have to the classic “white” and misinformed outlook on the world around them, piss me off. you should only be dropped in africa and left to fend for yourself and your kids and have to watch family members die, for a few days. Lets see how you feel afterwards…

    Oh! very simple. NO “ILLEGALS”, NO AFFORDABLE PRODUCE.
    ENJOY YOUR BREAKFAST…

    yes, i think a company can do both.

  12. messagecom Says:

    There has always been debate about helping at home (Canada for me, US for you) vs. helping in developing countries. I believe we can do both. If nothing else, the Internet has given us a sense of “global community”. Perhaps one day we won’t have a sense of any borders.

    Regardless, the question I was posing in my post was about corporate social responsibility as it relates to potential increased profit. Can a company do both ethically?

  13. kuba Says:

    to hell with africa, america has its own issues with the homeless the sick, as well as homeless and sick veterans and illegals who come here sick looking for health care. the only thing we should do for africa is give them condoms so they help stop spreading aids and stop having more kids than they can handle. that would do them more good.

  14. messagecom Says:

    Thanks for your comment Rachel. It is a very complicated situation but on the face of it something reusable would seem to be the better route.

  15. Rachel Says:

    You know, I had wondered if something like reusable pads or a Keeper/DivaCup might be better, because they require fewer “payments” over the long term, but I can see the water issue being a big barrier to that. Interesting post.


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