Innocent Smoothies run an annual campaign where they ask knitters to make little hats to go on top of smoothie bottles. In return they donate 25p for each hat to Age UK. In case anyone doesn’t know Innocent are owned by Coca Cola – a huge multinational company with profits in the billions each year.
Let me start by saying that I think businesses donating to charities is a fantastic thing. Age UK seems like a great charity.
So what’s my problem?
There are lots of things wrong with this model.
Innocent proudly says that since 2003 it’s raised over £2 million for Age UK. On average that’s just over £140,000 a year – for 560000 hats a year.
Let’s start with a little look at the value Innocent puts on the time of the knitters who make these little hats.
Innocent make a 25p donation for each hat. The national living wage in the UK is £7.50 an hour. That means that Innocent put a value of 2 minutes worth of minimum wage work onto a knitted hat. I know some pretty speedy knitters, but none that wouldn’t starve to death on that rate. I know that knitters are doing this for free, and because it’s for charity – but it devalues knitting in the most horrible way.
Then let’s look at what happens to these hats afterwards. I suspect that a few will be treasured and kept, but that most will end up as landfill. Saying that Innocent have helped contribute 5,000,000 extra items to landfill since this started doesn’t have quite such the same feel good vibe. I suspect that quite a bit of the yarn used is acrylic, and that doesn’t break down in a hurry. I’ve seen several different dates, and there are lots of variables – however 30-40 years seems like a reasonable figure.
I also have an issue with this yarn being wasted. I live in the UK and fuel poverty is a real and worrying issue for many people, including some who are target users for Age UK. Wouldn’t it be better to have used the yarn from 5,000,000 bits of landfill to makes hats, socks or squares for blankets – something which could have a positive and lasting effect?
Then back to the numbers. In order to get your hat to Innocent it has to be posted (unless you live locally to Innocent Towers and can pop round). 2nd class post for a large letter is 74p. So with a penny for your envelope it’s cost you 3 times what Innocent are going to donate just to get the hat to them. The madness continues, as Innocent say they hand write and post thank you notes to every knitter. I’m sure they get a great deal on postage, but even so that’s likely to be the value of at least another couple of donations. It’s a massively inefficient way to support a charity.
Innocent say that they donate 10% of their profits to charity, mostly through the Innocent Foundation. I can’t find evidence of any other charity they support that’s being asked to exploit knitters in order to receive donations.
One final lot of numbers for you. Remember the £140,000 average donation each year? I was channel hopping last night and caught the Innocent smoothie Big Knit ad in the middle of the X Factor. I suspect that prime time Saturday night advertising doesn’t come cheap – and google suggests between £10k and £30k for one 30 second ad. That’s just to air the ad. So by the time you’ve added up the cost of making the advert plus the cost of showing it, plus cots for print media it’s likely that Innocent will have spent more on their adverts than they will have donated to Age UK.
I’d love to see Innocent address these issues. I’d like to believe that this just hasn’t been thought through as well as it might be, and that once someone looks at the costs against the benefits they’ll realise there’s a better way to do things. Until then? Just don’t ask me to knit little hats.