Of all the companies I've criticized over the years on my blog, Janji stands alone in their willingness to engage me in dialog. They took my critique seriously and have really impressed me.
The original title of this post was "Janji displays ignorance of Haiti but still would love to make money off your desire to help Haitians"
[[UPDATE Feb 10th
The comment I posted below received a reply within 10 minutes by one of the owners of Janji, Dave Spandorfer.
The way he addressed my concerns has changed my opinion of their company.
First off, it turns out that Runners World was not correct, they donate a percentage of sales, not profit (currently approximately 22.8% of sales).
Additionally, even though they were unaware of the issue I raised, they had already redesigned the shirt to be less generic. He sent me an image of the new shirts but asked that I not post that online.
Dave told me that he was going to forward my message to the entire staff and ask them to keep this in mind so they can make sure they do not make similar mistakes in the future.
He also said that they were going to get in touch with all the other groups they work with in other countries to ensure that they are not making the same mistake in other cultures.
Once the new line is available, I might just run a race in a Run for Haiti shirt.
My criticism was, in my opinion, correct. I still am not a big fan of consumerist activism. However my assumptions about the folks involved was off base. It is nice to be wrong sometimes.
Original text of the post is below.
In general, I have a lot of problems with consumerist activism. Purchasing goods that generate a lot of profit for a company and a tiny donation to a cause might make someone feel good, but it does little to really impact anyone's life.
Also, it does little to connect someone with the cause they are trying to support. It is based on a distanced idea of charity and not a closer idea of solidarity.
Having just returned from my second trip to Haiti, where I participated in the first ever Hackathon aimed at improving the situation in Haiti that actually happened in Haiti, I was completely blown away by the article on a company named Janji in the March issue of Runners World that was waiting for me when I got home.
Janji is a for-profit company that sells technical running shirts in the colors of countries that Janji's owners have decided to support with a small percentage of their profit. Janji's owners keep 80% of the profit and claim to send the rest to help the poor of those poverty stricken lands far away. They sell charity.
I also tend to be suspicious of companies that donate a percentage of profit and not of sales. Most small companies make 0 profit in their first few years (and Janji is a small company in its first years). Also, profit is a variable that can be, and frequently is, manipulated. Increase the pay of the top executives, and profit goes down; give better health insurance to your workers and profit goes down. Profit goes down; taxes go down. Simple accounting.
Normally my criticism would end there, but the photo of the founders of the company shows one of them wearing their "Run for Haiti" shirt.
From the design of the shirt it is very clear that they have no connection to Haiti, no one that knows anything about Haiti or Haitian history reviewed the design, and from that I can only assume that the tiny percentage of the profits that they say are being donated are most likely not going to a group that is seriously connected on the ground to communities that need the help. It is the worst possible example of the failure of this model of charity. [Correction: it turns out that the tiny percentage of profit are being donated to a group that produces a medication that is used to confront malnutrition in Haitian children, which is certainly not the worst possible place to put some funding -- although it is still an effort organized by Americans on behalf of Haitians and has not real direct connection to people on the ground and is not going to do anything to address the core and systemic issues at the heart of the problem]
If you know the Haitian flag, it has one dark blue stripe and one dark red stripe. The first thing that seems off about the design is the pale red and blue used. It can be compared to making an American flag inspired design that uses baby blue and pink. But the most glaring problem is that between those two colors is a white stripe with "Run for Haiti" written in it.
While that stripe might have made sense to the designer (hey, I need a spot to put this text, how else will people know that the person purchasing it loves Haiti), in context of Haitian history it is very wrong and somewhat offensive.
To quote from the wikipedia page about the Haitian flag: "Haitian lore holds that the newly-appointed revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines created the flag by taking a French tricolor and ripping out the white center, which he discarded."
The white stripe of the French flag was removed to symbolize the expulsion of the French colonialists; to symbolize the end of slavery and the freedom of the Haitian people.
To add that white stripe back in as part of this act of for-profit pseudo charity speaks volumes about the people that are selling this shirt and the idea of consumerist charity itself.
|The Haitian flag (left) and the shirt being sold by Jinji (right)|
I am a runner. I love Haiti. On my most recent trip I managed to find the time to run a short but seriously hilly 2.5 miles in Haiti through the Pacot neighborhood of downtown Port-au-Prince. I would love to combine my passion for running and solidarity with the Haitian people. I would not be caught dead in the Run for Haiti shirt being peddled by these well intentioned but completely clueless charlatans and I hope I'm not alone in that feeling.