Fabricated Stories & NGOs
The Daily published an today building upon an investigation into alleged misleading (if not unethical) marketing from the Somaly Mam Foundation and Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire (AFESIP) in Cambodia.
Bending the truth and outright falsification are not new in the non-profit marketing & communications space (see Save the Children in the 1990’s or read “The Road to Hell” by Michael Maren). However, this article warrants attention because of the comments from other NGO leaders in Cambodia.
From Handicap International:
“The stories are personal stories which give the general public an insight into both the wider situation and the lives of many of our beneficiaries. This enables us to raise the awareness of the public and private donors in countries where HI is represented by national associations (UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and USA). We would also point out that beneficiaries are informed of HI’s actions and are asked to give their permission to use their image,” he said.
From Hagar International:
…the practice of using victim testimonies in order to sell an NGO’s work abroad raises serious questions due to the pervasiveness of using images in fundraising that fully identify the face and names of sexual abuse or trafficked minors.
“This violates a number of best practice protocols about protecting clients and many national laws—even if the story is true,” Mr. Payne said.
He added that the Somaly Mam Foundation’s use of a 14-year-old alleged victim of sex slavery could even be in violation of Cambodia’s Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, which states that “Newspapers and all other mass media shall be prohibited from publishing or broadcasting or disseminating any information which can lead to public knowledge of identities of victims in the offences stipulated in this law.”
“The well known and well regarded [NGO] brands are very careful about this with strict protection standards. It’s a problem on the fringes. It’s not a norm or mainstream,” Mr. Payne said.
From Friends International:
…the situation regarding the fabrication of victims’ stories had arisen as “a direct consequence of the interconnected actions of the child protection organizations, the media, the donors and the general public; all wanting the best for these children, but instead turning them into victims.”
“[A] large number of organizations get sucked into using children to raise funds: making them talk about the abuse they survived in front of a camera, having their picture in a pitiful situation published for everyone to see, allowing non-professional visitors into their centers [like orphanage tourism],” Mr. Marot wrote.
“The impact on the lives of these children is terrible: if they come from an abusive situation, such a process retraumatizes them and in any case it stigmatizes them forever.”
For more of my thoughts on marketing/communications in NGO’s, INGO’s and social businesses, check out: