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Last week, retail behemoth Walmart announced a $1.01 million donation to Milwaukee-based Growing Power, a well-known urban farming nonprofit, whose founder Will Allen has gained many accolades for his hard work to bring local, healthy food to low-income areas.
So far the online debate over Growing Power taking this funding is predictable: Some defend it for pragmatic reasons, while others deplore the move, either because they don't like this particular company or they think all corporate money is evil. However, this donation cannot be viewed in such a narrow context. There is a pattern here that spans decades. By partnering with a group that could otherwise be one of its staunchest critics, Walmart is taking a page right out of the Big Tobacco playbook: buying silence.
Philanthropy to win over potential critics is a time-honored tradition in Corporate America, and this is the just the latest installment. The tobacco industry saw great success with sponsorships of women's causes (Philip Morris promoted its support of women's shelters in ads, for instance) and both the tobacco and alcohol industries have simultaneously made significant donations to Latino groups while heavily targeting them with advertising. In fact, they've done the same with a number of other minority groups, as I've described before.