St. Michael’s College is being lambasted by an anti-smoking organization after it was revealed that its new program for corporate social responsibility is heavily funded by the largest tobacco manufacturer in Canada. The program, which gives out certificates to business executives upon completion, has already received $100,000 from Imperial Tobacco and is scheduled for a donation of $50,000 next year.
“Considering the track record of the tobacco industry of lying to the public about the health effects of its products, its subversive disinformation campaigns and its predatory marketing, this company is clearly not suitable to fund such a program. It harms the reputation of the university,” said Garfield Mahood, Director of the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association.
Mahood says this donation demands the same public outcry that occurred in Britain when Imperial Tobacco’s parent company, British American Tobacco, donated over $8 million to the University of Nottingham to help create its International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility. In protest, a professor of medical journalism at the university resigned and a cancer research team relocated.
“There is no recognition of the company or strings attached to this donation, as far as I’m aware of,” said Richard Alway, president of St. Michael’s College.
He pointed out the president and CEO of Imperial Tobacco is an alumnus of the college and without his company’s donation, the program could not have been created. Also, the donation followed the ethics guidelines of both St. Michael’s and U of T.
“It seems to me that this program is a good place for this money because of the relevant questions caused by it,” said Alway.
Though Imperial Tobacco is a prominent, multi-million dollar donor to Canadian universities, this is the first time it contributed to a corporate social responsibility program in Canada. The donation was revealed to the public in the St. Michael’s College fall 2001 alumni newsletter.
Mimi Marrocco, director of continuing education at St. Michael’s College and chair of the program’s committee, said despite public views of the company’s practices, it is a lawful and legitimate business.
“The donation allowed us to offer a distance Internet-based version of the program,” she said. “Besides, most of the money has already been spent.”
According to Marrocco, the donation is slated to fund all new and developing programs of continuing education, not just the Certificate Program for Corporate Social Responsibility.
These other programs she described as “on-going” in their development, but could not remember their names or content besides a tentative course that analyzes leadership crises in English literature.
“I don’t see any conflict between the program and the donation. There are no strings attached,” she said. “Cigarettes are not an illegal or immoral product. Sure it’s unhealthy, but smoking is a personal choice.”
Similar to the University of Nottingham case, three members of the program’s committee had resigned over the donation last year, including one of the original founders of the program.
Laurent Leduc, director of Leadership Horizons, a consulting firm in corporate leadership that initiated the program, said his relationship with the college turned sour after it became apparent how successful it would be.
Following his awareness and protest of the college’s decision to accept the donation in July 2001, he was soon asked to leave due to concern of the quality of his company’s involvement in the program. The remaining partner was the Conference Board of Canada.
Leduc contacted the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association after having settled with St. Michael’s College over disputed ownership rights to the program.