WASHINGTON, D.C. — With seemingly boundless fame, Bono has extended the power of his voice and his presence beyond the stage by contributing to and beginning charitable organizations for years. One such example is the campaign called (RED), which was established in 2006 and has been largely successful in funneling funds from purchases made by Americans toward the fight against HIV.
Co-founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver, a nephew of John F. Kennedy, the operation of (RED) involves various corporations opting into the organization and donating a portion of their profit to the campaign, which then uses the funds to fight HIV in various countries affected by the virus. The companies determine the percentage of the profit that goes toward HIV, some of the criteria based on the type of item as well.
The campaign has garnered an impressive list of partners, including Starbucks, Apple, Bed Bath and Beyond and Bank of America. In lieu of direct advertising from (RED), companies that want to be a part of the movement pay a fee to the campaign to label their products “Product(RED).” A portion of the sales goes to the Global Fund, another charity that has been contributing to the fight against HIV for years. The rest goes to (RED).
The companies benefit, too, by promoting themselves as HIV-conscious, making them more attractive to consumers, a win for both the corporations and those infected with HIV in struggling countries.
(RED)’s efforts are focused in Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia, Rwanda, Kenya and Ghana, all of which have received sizable contributions from the campaign. The campaign has helped 55 million people, and given $275 million to the Global Fund.
The type of work related to HIV varies from region to region based on need, but often consists of things like providing counseling, setting up treatment and testing facilities, and working to minimize the number of women who transmit the disease to their children while pregnant. In Ghana, for instance, (RED) provided testing and counseling for 1.2 million people and provided treatment to over 12,000 HIV positive mothers.
(RED) has also worked to raise awareness in the United States, partnering this past September with Mars Chocolate UK to work on the Make Lives Better campaign which hoped to raise $950,000 for the battle against HIV, in addition to raising awareness about preventing transmission of HIV from mother to child.
In the midst of all of this success, (RED) has received criticism for its methods. Some believe that promoting consumerism in America is an inefficient way to make change. Mark Rosenman, a professor at Cincinnati’s The Union Institute, explains, “There is a broadening concern that business marketing is taking on the patina of philanthropy and crowding out philanthropic activity and even substituting for it.” There is a fear of taking the real purpose out of the endeavor by promoting spending rather than direct donations.
In response to this criticism, the president of (RED), Tamsim Smith, explains that it’s more about seizing an opportunity than changing behavior, saying, “We’re not encouraging people to buy more, but if they’re going to buy a pair of Armani sunglasses, we’re trying to get a cut of that for a good cause.”
Despite the criticism, (RED) has impacted millions of lives and used American consumerism to better the world. The areas that the campaign targets are often impoverished and lack the necessary resources to assist those with HIV and limit the number of future cases. Initiatives like (RED) make this effort easier. As it continues to raise awareness and provide people with resources, (RED)’s campaign will serve as an effective mechanism in the fight against HIV.
– Maggie Wagner