The Barnardo’s deal with KFC doesn’t sit well with me
You know that feeling when you read something and it makes your heart soar and slouch at the same time? Well, I do and I’m not afraid to admit to some complex, rather mixed and possibly entirely contradictory feelings.
Barnardo’s, that consistent defender of disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people, has partnered up with “chicken-based quick service” restaurant giant KFC, once but no longer known as Kentucky Fried Chicken. They have been piloting a programme of training and work placements in the North West for Barnardo’s service users, it’s gone very well, so now the national roll-out is announced.
What sounds brilliant about this partnership is that KFC is well known for its staff training and development programme; they have pathways for their workers that can lead to degree-level qualifications. They have shaped their training to help young people who are very vulnerable to move into a working environment, building their confidence while providing transferable skills, and they have clearly created something that has worked very well. Their publicity includes testimony from young people who have gone through the programme and benefited enormously. I’m happy for them.
But, I have to confess to my unease as I read about it.
Let’s get the first thing out of the way. Stop me if you’ve heard it, but no private company of that size gets into corporate social responsibility activity and partnering with charities without a really strong business case, whether it’s sales or workforce. We all know that, so let’s put it to one side.
No, my first reaction was a sigh that Barnardo’s chose to partner with a fast-food company. We all know that rates of obesity amongst children and young people are rising and that poor and disadvantaged communities have more fast food outlets than their better-off neighbours. Disadvantaged young people in this country are being harmed by poor diet, so is it wise to partner with one the world’s largest producers of processed food?
And then I thought about the environmental impact of some of these very large fast food companies. KFC has hired Edelman to manage their reputation in Australia after accusations that its paper products are sourced from protected rainforest and, perhaps inevitably, the company is under constant attack by those who accuse it of animal cruelty – something KFC refutes with gusto.
Then I felt a bit depressed and wondered if we really ought to be aspiring to training and work experience for disadvantaged young people in a wider range of companies and organisations, not just the food service industry. Was it possible that this is another example of low aspirations in action? Fortunately, I could cheer myself by thinking about From Care2Work’s partnership with Marriott Hotels.
I think the thing that bothered me most was the gnawing feeling that the response to my unease would be the well-founded argument that, in a time of appalling youth unemployment, any job training – any job – is a good thing, and we shouldn’t be sniffy about from where those opportunities come, so long as a fair wage is being paid.
And here’s the thing: despite my unease, I’m concluding that it’s true, perhaps there are times when we stretch our values a little. Just one proviso though, I still get to argue for something better.