No, buying that really is NOT going to 'help the bees'...
... Ok, the claim in the title will not apply to everything you see advertised, as there are some really good eggs out there, but sadly, there are a fair few businesses who are capitalising on kind hearts and good intentions. I've written this to help flag the issue and offer some pointers to fellow consumers.
Anyone who knows me in the slightest will know that I am a fan of bumblebees. All the cookies I have accepted in my online life, and social media algorithms have correctly pegged me as punter who might have an interest in bee related things, and I therefore see a lot of 'targeted' adverts on Facebook. I was initially impressed and bee-lighted to see my feed strewn with images of bumblebee jewellery and other items, particularly when supported with claims of helping bees. I couldn't help but be a little curious though - how were my precious bees being supported by these companies...?
So what have I noticed?
The 'questionable' companies are quite vague about what exactly they are doing to help bees, or why your purchase of their product is going to make a difference. The most I've seen is the claim that wearing these items 'raises awareness'. I imagine this is much in the same way that me blinking 'raises awareness' that I have eyelids.
No, it isn't sad that the company of going out of business and has to sell its stock off 'discounted' - one has popped up in my feed today claiming this, yet their page was created in the last week and they have zero posts. All the others making this claim that I've looked at have only been formed in recent months. The claim of 'closing down' is just another ploy to pull on our heartstrings. There are businesses that are genuinely struggling and need our help and this is a simply awful sales tactic.
Even when some companies do donate, they are using imagery of bumblebees in the products, yet are donating to one of the large honeybee causes. Those of us who know anything about bees will see the conflict here - introducing honeybees to a location has a negative impact on the local bumblebees. I'm going to avoid companies who are 'beewashing' in this way. and who haven't thought it through enough to use the correct charity/imagery combination. An afterthought of 'Oh let's donate to that (honey)bee charity when we launch our (bumble)bee range to look environmentally responsible' isn't going to be swallowed by all.
The companies that actually do support charities tend to mention this on their websites. They are proud to be doing their bit and will shout about their associations and the good work they are helping to fund. The 'questionable' ones are vague in this regard. A couple of them in their 'about us' did have a generic spiel about how precious our bees are (I do not disagree there!) but all they said was that buying their product would 'raise awareness'. Another said they were 'raising awareness' and that they donated to charities but were light on the details. In that there were none. Companies who do support causes are usually explicit in who they support and by how much, whether that is X per sale or by donating a certain percentage of profits. It is worth noting, that there are companies who are selling bumblebee items and do apparently donate to charity, but not charities that are related to bees. I'm not saying don't buy from them, but if the cause is important to you, it is worth checking.
The ones to watch out for seem to be selling the same stuff. Identical. I am so grateful for the fact that I can right click on an image and search for it on Google. It was here that I was able to validate my instinct that these were mass produced items from far afield and have racked up a fair few air miles. Claims of 'despatch from the UK' are carefully worded and of course correct if the items had previously shipped in bulk for onward despatch. I noticed that comments such as 'My skin started going green after I wore this' and observations of poor quality didn't remain on posts for long. I was blocked by one company for simply asking why they used bumblebee imagery in the product but donated to a honeybee charity.
Just because something has a proactive word such as 'Project' or 'Mission' in the brand name, doesn't mean that the company actually engages in any activities to help bees/the environment. Again, it's a case of drilling into the small print to determine whether they are a worthwhile cause or simply a cleverly named company taking advantage of well-meaning consumers.
This mass produced jewellery design is very popular on Facebook, with a number of different businesses stocking it and claiming to help bees. It was available for $2.72 with a shipping time of around 6 weeks.
The $2.72 necklace has been generously 'reduced' from £80 to 'just' £30 on this page that purports to donate to relevant charities, but when you click on the link it takes you to a '404 Not Found' page. Note the lack of detail on how much/who they donate to. The whole site is very cleverly presented and is obviously one of a set of sites designed to capitalise on different environmental interests, as elsewhere, their 'mission' page takes the viewer to a page about the ocean. This jewellery design is just one example of many out there being sold in a similar way.
Facebook suggested these as I was writing this blog. Are they cute designs? Yes. But they are mass-produced, widely available and I couldn't see any evidence that bees benefitted from the sales, despite the inference in their posts.
I am so utterly disappointed that people who want to help bees (and I imagine this issue is not limited to bees but probably extends to other worthy causes) are being taken advantage of. And that the bees are missing out.
I thought it may help if I pulled in an expert's input on issues around businesses supporting environmental charities, and picked the bee-autiful brain of Tessa Brooks, the Fundraising Officer at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
1) I've only really recently started drilling into the 'small print' on adverts for things claiming to support environmental causes, particularly bumblebees. Is it me, or are there an awful lot of misleading companies out there, trying to capitalise on shoppers good intentions? Have you encountered many?
Yes and no! it’s fantastic to see that there is an increasing awareness of the plight of our wild bees in the UK and we have some bee-rilliant business supporters who help spread the word like pollen. Unfortunately, this interest inevitably attracts “beewashers” where a business makes people believe that they are doing more to protect the bees than it really is. In the majority of cases though, I find that UK businesses simply don’t realise that a) they may well be breaking the law by promoting to customers that a portion of profits from sales will be donated to a UK-based charity and could risk a hefty fine from HMRC. Occasionally, a business will “pitch” a campaign idea based on saving honey bees, despite the fact that they are not in decline in the UK! It’s our wild species – bumblebees and solitary bees who need urgent action to support.
2) So what sort of things should we as consumers be looking out for if we want to buy responsibly, and from companies who actually are trying to help?
Ah, that’s a good question! From an environmental perspective, have you seen the items advertised by other online businesses with the same images? Ask the business where the products are made and proof of any environmental accreditation of being sustainably sourced for example. Don’t be afraid to question the business, do they have official receipts from the Charities they support for donations?
We encourage our business supporters who do cause-related marketing, to participate in the Supporter Spotlight on our website and it’s a great resource for some online retail therapy because you can click straight through to the businesses own websites to shop to your heart’s content, knowing that the donations from sales will indeed be made to help our fuzzy little winged warriors.
The consumer champions organisation Which? published a great article in July 2020 on how to spot scam adverts on Facebook and Google too which is worth spending a few minutes having a look at.
Lastly, charities are always happy to answer queries from people who wish to check claims of support from businesses. We can’t help with product information or orders though – you’ll have to go to the business for these enquiries. For Bumblebee Conservation Trust enquiries about businesses, I’ve provided an email address below to contact us on.
3) You mention 'cause-related marketing' - can you say a little about what it is, and any tips for best practice?
I’m really glad you asked me about this! Cause-related marketing is where a business promotes to its customers that it will give donations to a charity when the customer buys the item. This activity is a very powerful marketing tool and sadly, I suspect that the Charities Act (1992) and Fundraising Regulator were created because there are companies who use this type of promotion to encourage customers to buy but never actually make any donations to the charity “beneficiary.” The laws and regulations mean that any “for profit” business must be in a formal agreement with their charity beneficiary to do cause-related marketing and there are specific requirements that charities and businesses must adhere to. I am the Fundraising Officer for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and it’s me who works with our fantastic business supporters, it is absolutely the best job I’ve ever had!
4) And finally, what advice or suggestions would you give to companies wanting to work with charities such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust?
I’d love to hear from you! Whether a business is looking to do cause-related marketing, become a business member or chose us as their Charity of the Year, I will be very happy to explore the best way we can work together to raise your company profile and awareness and action to support our precious bumblebees.
Contact us at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
There's no shame in wanting to feel good about ourselves by making a purchase which will also help to make a positive difference to the world. It is such a pity that we cannot take everything at face value - we have to push and ask the right questions or research before making a purchase.
As someone who doesn't have many strings to her bow (I'm no big bee-brain for example, and I have the artistic skill of a cupboard), I try to make the most of what I have. It struck me perhaps I could record videos of me gently reviewing products from companies that actually do help bees and donate to charity, in this case the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
Long term readers will be aware of my anxiety issues, which I try to push past for the sake of the bees. Every time I hit 'publish' on a blog I feel sick and want to crawl under my bed. This all terrifies me, but I've stubbornly decided to try it. Anyone interested in seeing my reviews of Tree-approved bee-supporting products will be able to see them on my YouTube channel. Any subscribers would really be most welcome. I have just finished the first video, which is 'Tea with Tree' - a bit of an intro chat about why I want to spotlight the good guys and a review of a bumblebee book that I think everyone with an interest in them should have. There's a lot of room for improvement, but I hope that this might be the start of a journey for me.
For anyone interested in treating themselves, with the confidence that they are buying from a one of the good guys, you will find details of companies who donate to the Trust HERE - perhaps in due course I may talk you through more lovely bee-supporting products.
Given that above I highlight some t-shirts whose purchase doesn't help bees, I think I'd be remiss if I didn't point out THE WONDERFUL SELECTION OF DESIGNS AVAILABLE ON THE TRUST'S TEE-MILL PAGE. There's also a range of art, bags and other accessories. I feel the bee-ginnings of a collection coming on...
It's a shame that we do need to be wary and careful to ensure that our kindness and big hearts aren't being taken advantage of, but we can take comfort knowing that there are some wonderful companies out there that genuinely do care and really are trying to do their bit.