In two weeks time, myself and my family will be travelling to Haiti as part of a week long Caribbean cruise. I want to contribute to the Haitian community while we are there, so I thought it would be helpful to take clothing and bedding with me to give to the community when we arrive. Through my involvement with a local collection for the Philippines appeal towards the end of last year, I am aware of how costly it is to ship a container of stuff half way across the world – so I figured I may as well make the cost of my plane ticket (and the damage to the ozone layer in kerosene fuel) worth it.
My first port of call (scuse the pun) was to contact Royal Caribbean, who we are cruising with, to find out if they are OK with me bringing clothing donations via their huge vessel to Haiti to distribute. I was put on hold on the phone for a short period while they call centre lady checked with her colleague and she confirmed that it was absolutely fine (although I got the impression that this request isn’t something that they receive a lot, judging by the tone of voice and the lack of any topics relating to donations on their website’s FAQs.
So with one multinational corp ticked off as a positive, I then approached Virgin Atlantic and they asked me to send an email to their ‘Community Investment team’. Below is my email to them nd the response that I received….
From: tom marter Sent: 03 January 2014 13:10 To: Community Investment Subject: Travelling with donated goods for holiday in Haiti
We will be visiting Haiti as part of a package cruise booked through Virgin with Royal Caribbean. RC have said to us that we can bring donations of clothing and bedding to give to the people of Haiti during our stay. We wondered if there is a special luggage allowance provided by Virgin for charitable donations as we would like to take a suitcase worth of clothing for Haiti residents in addition to our own personal luggage.
From: Virgin Community Investment team
Thanks so much for your email requesting free of charge excess baggage.
Regrettably, in the face of extremely high fuel prices, we’ve had to make the tough decision to discontinue our policy of waiving the cost of excess baggage for charities and individuals.
Although we have always been happy to allow free of charge excess baggage, we have on some occasions felt that the items being taken could have been purchased in the country that is being visited rather than here in the UK which is also a boost to their local economy. However, we do realise this isn’t always possible and you can still purchase an additional 23kgs for £55.00 online at http://www.virgin-atlantic.com.
So sorry we cannot help on this occasion but we do hope you understand.
With warm regards,
Community Investment Team
……Although this email was very mindful of pleasantries, ‘Kay’ is basically saying, ‘the price of environment polluting aviation fuel is eating into Branson’s disposable income, so if you want to help the poor people in Haiti either buy a load of stuff from them and then give it back to them while you are out there OR give Branson a 55 quid tip and you can be charitable. Shit isn’t it? So this was my response (also ccd to the editorial desk of the Guardian’s travel section and reporters from the Third Sector magazine….
I am disappointed about this change in policy, I expected Virgin, of all airlines to have a corporate social responsibility policy resilient to economic forces. The items we intend to take are good quality second-hand clothing and bedding, as far as I am aware the cruise only resort of Labadee mainly sells tourist items that would not necessarily be of use to the average family. We will do our best to take what we can within the limit. As for the suggestion of an additional 55 pounds – I think Oxfam or Unicef would benefit far more from a donation of 55 pounds than Virgin Atlantic Inc.
I am hoping this will not be a problem and we will be able to make a positive contribution to the local community in Haiti during our visit without having to pay unnecessary fees. It is a shame that big corporates put barriers up to goodwill – this policy is more in keeping with British Airways’ corporate reputation.
Thanks for reading