LUSU torn over Ethical Sponsorship debate

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Lancaster’s Ethical Sponsorships and Donations policy came into question when the University’s rugby league team agreed a sponsorship from KPMG. The ethics of the organisation KPMG, who specialise in auditing, tax and advisory, came under scrutiny regarding its assisting companies in tax avoidance and bribery, evidence which LUSU said came from Private Eye and Google searches. As a result of these findings, the LUSU executive initially voted not to approve the sponsorship request from the Rugby League a few weeks before the start of Michaelmas Term. However, after this, the viability of this policy came under discussion and due to the ranging opinions between Executive members on the policy, the issue was taken to the Trustee Board to be discussed. As a result, the Trustee Board decided that the discussion of the policy was to take place in Union Council as a result of it being a political decision for members of the council.

Speaking on the policy at Union Council in Week 3, CCO (Environment and Ethics) Polly Davis said: “Obviously this is something of a concern to me, because one of the biggest things we’re working on this year with ethical investment policies, is trying to get the University a better green rating and things like that, so therefore to me it seems only logical that we also screen sponsorship partners for sports teams… Quite frankly we don’t want students to feel uncomfortable. We want ourselves to look like a greener cleaner more ethical institution.” When several members questioned how LUSU would decide what they deemed as ethical and unethical, Davis suggested a committee for this “would be a really good idea.”

The proposal to have a better screening policy was also something several members mentioned throughout the discussion, including VP (Activities) Salman Rukhsar who said: “I personally completely agree that we should have a screening process, just like NUS, but we need to start speaking to the people we are trying to affect, rather than we all decide. It’s quite easy for us to say, ‘we don’t want any unethical corporations sponsoring our teams’, but it’s not affecting us, it’s affecting them and what they’re doing, and if we are going to do that we need to start helping them we need to help them find alternatives, rather than say, ‘No, you can’t have KPMG sponsor you, but we are not going to help at all in securing any other funding.'”

The lack of communication between LUSU and the sports teams was also an issues raised by member of Rugby League Executive and Furness President Will Hedley who said: “The Rugby League Exec were never actually told that the sponsorship deal was not allowed. There was no communication between the executive committee and the rugby league team after the sponsorship agreement was made.”

Furthermore, as LUSU itself uses KPMG as its auditors, the suggestion that the organisation was unethical, and consequently the introduction of this policy because of this issue, has caused some controversy. President Laura Clayson addressed this in the agenda for council, saying: “Naturally, this discussion does open up the wider issue of the use of KPMG by LUSU as Auditors, as well income generated through marketing sales from LUSU Trading Services Ltd”.

However, she said: “This will need to be discussed in a separate paper due to time constraints and is largely dependent on the outcome of this conversation.”

Damon Fairley VP (Union Development) revisited this issue during council. He said: “KPMG are our auditors as a student union and there is an element of, we have to practice what we preach. We pay this company to do our own audits so I think it is slightly hypocritical of us to say no to the rugby league team that you can’t have this sponsorship when we are currently using the services of this company. The short term resolution is that we allow this sponsorship but with the very clear resolution that we need to go away and find a framework of how we apply this policy.”

As no decision was made by LUSU or the trustee board regarding whether or not the Rugby League team were allowed to accept the sponsorship from KPMG, the team went ahead with accepting the money. Speaking at the end of the discussion, Hedley said, addressing LUSU: “Seeing as there was no consultation with you and with the rugby league, our chairman made several attempts at getting an answer from LUSU, but he didn’t receive any communication back. As we had to order the kit, he took the decision to order it and take the money. KPMG is already on the kit so on behalf of Rugby League I apologise, but it’s already been done. As the rugby league exec was not told they just did it. I apologise for that decision.”

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