Thursday, 11 August 2011


A curious nexus is under-way in Ireland between Tesco, who the BBC reports as the world's third largest retailer by sales (behind Walmart and Carrefour) and St Vincent de Paul, a major Roman Catholic charity. 

For every 20 euro a person spends in a Tesco Ireland shop on 'back to school' clothes, the company will donate 5 euro to The St Vincent de Paul Society for use in alleviating poverty in their local area. This promotion runs for the first two weeks of August, a highly charged period for retailers of school uniforms. It is an unashamed action by Tesco Ireland to steal a march on their competitors by using charity to the poor as a marketing tool.

The motto on the logo of The St Vincent de Paul Society reads 'Turning Concern into Action.' Tesco Ireland's re-writing of the logo would read 'Turning concern into profit'. The BBC reports that the most recent account of Tesco's global profits shows them up by 11.3%, a whopping UK£ 3.54 billion, on the previous year.

Saint Vincent de Paul, who founded the society that takes his name, was canonised in 1737 and his heart is held in a reliquary in a chapel of The Sisters of Charity in Paris (48 degrees North, 2 degrees East). It is said to be incorrupt.

Tesco Ireland's marketing ploy cannot be said to be corrupt in current economic terms, but, given the massive profits the global giant enjoys, it gives off an unpleasant whiff. It can certainly be labeled crass. The company makes profit using charity to give it a competitive edge, then gives some of the extra money it takes to an organisation to disburse to the poor in the local area. 

Wouldn't a direct (and quiet) donation to the St Vincent de Paul Society from recent huge profits have been a more efficient way to do this? And greater evidence of the company's commitment to sharing with the poor? 

Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher, who wrote The Guide of the Perplexed, notes we should:
Anticipate charity by preventing poverty. 
Tesco Ireland re-write even Maimonides as:
Use charity by marketing poverty. 

The 'local' angle is another clever marketing hook from the global giant.


The Guide of the Perplexed; Maimonides; The Horovitz Publishing Company;1952


  1. Reminds me of Dostoevsky who said (in The Idiot) something like this:

    Charity corrupts both giver and taker alike and only increases poverty

    Perhaps Tesco Ireland could re-write this, e.g.:

    Charity consumes both giver and taker alike, and only increases profits

  2. Sound man Martin.
    Dave Duggan