Treading the narrow path of virtue while still earning enough to keep a roof over your head is not always that easy. Last week, the splendid new Archbishop of Cantebury found himself in the embarrassing position of vowing to put pay-day loan operators out of business only to discover, on the very next day, that the Chrurch of England’s massive pension fund had invested in one of Wonga’s (one of the leading pay-day loan companies) financial backers.
I did hear the archbishop the following morning on the Today programme when, yes, he did admit that it was of course embarrassing to discover that his ‘company’ was investing in the very trade that he was vowing to exterminate and that he would ensure that investment policies were reviewed. But he also explained how horrendously difficult it was to guarantee that your investments always upheld all your moral principles. For example, should you never invest in a hotel chain if it offered pay-per-view pornography, or in a company which makes socks if it supplies socks to the army?
Most people only see the ‘front end’ of awards – the presentation party – and have no idea of what is involved in getting that far: criteria to be agreed, websites to be set up, entry forms to be set up and sent out, entries to be logged and organised, judges to be booked, judging samples to be organised and got, food to be prepared for judging, judging to be done, judges comments to be transcribed and logged, winning certificate to be printed, winning logos to be created for each category winner – and then you have to organise the party! And in the case of the Freefrom Food Awards, that also now includes organising a buffet of the winning products without the winners finding out that they have won! All of which takes a good deal of time and effort – which means a good deal of money.
As anyone who has run informational websites will know, they are not money spinners and scarcely generate enough income to keep themselves afloat without paying for awards. So, if we are to run them, we have to get some money from somewhere.
We do charge for entry to all of the awards, although a good deal less than most other industry awards, and we give a very substantial discount to small companies with less than three employees. We also give one free ticket to the party to every entrant which, given that the party costs well over £50 a head to throw, means that we do not earn that much from entry fees.
We therefore need sponsors. But whereas in other industries, it is possible to find sponsors who are not directly involved in the products being judged, the freefrom industry is still too small for this so that, with very few exceptions (the testing laboratories such as Genon who have been among our sponsors for the last few years, and RSSL who joined us last year) they all make products which they want to enter into the awards and hope will win. And if, perchance, they do enter a product which does win, then we are always open to the accusation that they only won because they were sponsors!
In fact, if anyone cares to look back over the past few years’ winners they will see that, as it happens, our major sponsors very rarely win categories and have never won the FAIR trophy. But, more to the point, we go to considerable lengths to ensure that there will be no bias of any kind.
No sponsor is allowed to enter a product in a category that they have sponsored, all judges have to tell us if they have any professional involvement with any company entering a product so that we can ensure that they do not judge that category and, most important of all, all products are judged ‘blind’. This means that although the judges know exactly what is in them, what their allergen declarations are, what they claim to be free of etc, they do not discover who made them until after they have made their final decisions on winners. Moreover, all our judging sessions are open and, even if they are not judging, we are happy for outsiders to sit in on a session to see for themselves how we do it.
This is the protocol we have followed for some years and we feel comfortable with it. However, this year we had another hard decision to make as one of the new arrivals in the UK freefrom market was, we are flattered to say, keen to be headline sponsors for the 2014 awards as a good way of launching into the UK. However, they also wanted to enter lots of products into the awards. But, much though we would have loved the money, and even though we do feel entirely comfortable with the integrity of our judging system, we finally said no.
They wanted to enter lots of products which they obviously hope will win. If they did, even though we are quite confident that they will have won fairly and there will have been no bias, no one else is going to see it that way and we felt that we just could not risk the hard-earned reputation of the awards for independence and integrity.
Ah, the costs of virtue… The archbishop has our sympathy!