To mark a new year committed to creating a “world where everyone gets the help they need in a crisis”, the British Red Cross has recruited 2 Sisters Food Group’s chairman Sir Charles Allen as the incoming chairman of their board of trustees. That is the very same man who has attained a certain level of infamy amongst low-paid workers across Britain for his ongoing contributions to a series of vicious attacks on their livelihoods.
There is no doubt that many good people work for the British Red Cross, but with corporate leaders like Sir Charles Allen having always stood at the helm of their institution, it would seem likely that their humanitarian efforts might serve a greater good elsewhere.
Ostensibly the British Red Cross’ mission is “to mobilise the power of humanity so that individuals and communities can prepare for, deal with and recover from a crisis.” But if the very same capitalist elites who regularly force crisis upon our communities are overseeing the Red Cross’ operations, serious questions must be asked about the utility of such work.
For example, take the individual whom Sir Charles Allen is replacing at the Red Cross. A man called James Cochrane who prior to joining the Red Cross had just ended a 30 year career in the pharmaceutical industry having served on the board of GlaxoWellcome plc in charge of all of their international operations.
Now known as GlaxoSmithKline, it is highly significant to note that Cochrane sat on their board of directors between 1995 and 2001, a time during which GlaxoSmithKline participated in the biggest healthcare fraud in US history.
Sir Charles Allen is of course no man of humanitarian impulses, and it should come as little surprise that capitalist charitable organizations like the Red Cross continue to provide a service that grossly distorts the humane impulses of the majority of their supporters. So while critical studies of the British Red Cross are yet to be written, a rare investigation into the history of the American Red Cross brings to light many of the problems that arise from trusting capitalists to organize humanitarian enterprises. (See “The truth about the Red Cross: The right-wing, scandal-ridden ‘charity’ that isn’t really a charity.”)
The British Red Cross’ latest move to appoint a man, whose entire career seems to have been dedicated to attacking workers rights demonstrates the need to reconsider the manner in which our society is run. A political and economic system, like capitalism, that places profit before all else will always require charitable organizations to tend to the needs of the most vulnerable. On the other hand a socialist society, run for the needs of the many, will by its very nature strive to ensure that charitable organizations committed to humanitarian ends will no longer be necessary.