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Activism for profit?

Cindy Gallop's new business venture seeks to bring together business and change for good.

Most of us are suspicious of any claim to the fusion of business with activism.

Historically, companies' interest in the social good has extended only so far as their PR departments deem necessary -- think Ronald McDonald House Charities or the more recent phenomenon of greenwashing, whereby corporate environmental offenders like TXU market questionable claims about their purportedly "green" initiatives. In any event, public interest projects have always functioned as a corollary to companies' "real" work.

But seasoned advertising whiz Cindy Gallop hopes to change all that with her latest venture, a for-profit enterprise which, she tells me, enables companies "to make money because they do good".

UK-born Gallop, a lauded speaker and former chairman of creative advertising firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty, based her new project on the premise that "good intentions- of individuals and of corporations- are the single most untapped resource in the world", she says. And with denim giant Levis recently signing on as a corporate member, Gallop has lofty ambitions for the site; In fact, she declares, she intends it to transform the faces of advertising and business forever.

The project adopts a social media structure that invites users, upon entering the site, to summarise their vision for changing the world. The site then instantly displays a range of suggested "action platforms"- similar visions already instigated by other users- which are conveniently broken down into "micro-actions"- 132-character propositions reminiscent of Tweets- that would assist this vision. The user can elect to take on a micro-action and complete one, or alternatively can plug in his or her own micro-action and distribute it to other like-minded users for completion.

Thus, a user who submits a desire to "increase awareness of domestic violence" will be immediately presented with a range of related, existing user projects ("work with men and boys to end violence against women and girls"). The user can then click into one of those projects and view suggested micro-action tasks ("ask your city or town council to proclaim a White Ribbon Campaign day"). Once completed, each task appears on the user's profile, along with clickable information about the networks the user has been working on it with.

While the site's commercial viability may not be immediately clear, the magic lies in its ability to match corporations with causes- and, therefore, selected portions of the public. After paying an annual participation fee, companies can determine the action platforms supported by its target demographic, and can work with the site to craft action programs aimed specifically at these users. Companies may, for example, offer product giveaways as task completion incentives, thus ensuring product placement amongst its target market.

Corporate member Levi's has opted to spearhead two projects on the site aimed at revitalizing the crumbling manufacturing town of Braddock, Pennsylvania. These action platforms- focused on restoring the town's library and urban farms- at once confirm to other users the company's genuine, regular involvement in redevelopment projects - and harness a brilliant marketing opportunity, replete as they are with images of "real folks" gardening in Levi's jeans and links to their broader We Are All Workers campaign on Youtube.

In another context, these getting-back-to-our-roots images of "a new generation of real American workers... rolling up their sleeves to make real change happen" may come off as artificial and twee. Ultimately, however, the ability of users to view real-time progress on the company's fundraising tasks and other actions legitimises the campaign by validating that these are real workers and this is real change.

The effectiveness of this variety of brand promotion is no accident. In designing her new venture, Gallop has specifically employed a concept called "action branding" as a business tool. Action branding conceptualises brands as the sum of their actions, she tells me, and allows companies to demonstrate and thus authenticate the character and values they claim to have. In other words, by engaging with socially-minded actions on, she explains, companies can interact with individuals in a transparent way and thus create their brand by doing- rather than merely by saying, as in traditional PR.

By instigating its interactive, trackable town redevelopment initiatives on the site, then, Levi's is telling its target demographic not to just take the company's word for what it stands for. Rather, Levi's is saying "I am my actions- and my actions are good, grounded, and 'American'."

It's an anti-greenwashing, or indeed anti-advertising advertising plan- and therein lies the key to its potential success.

While Gallop says it has received "a lot of positive responses, both from individuals and corporate members", the project is barely past the teething stage- so it's too early to tell whether will grow to represent "the business and marketing platform of the future" as Gallop hopes. What is clear, however, is that Gallop's vision is as positive as it is compelling- doing business through change for good is not a bad way to run the world, after all.

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Why is the government charging more women for selling sex but turning a blind eye to buyers?

Since 2013, the number of women charged for selling sex gone up while the number of men charged for buying it has gone down.

It’s no surprise that prostitution policy is an area rarely visited by our legislators. It’s politically charged - a place where the need to prevent exploitation seemingly clashes head on with notions of liberal freedom; where there are few simple answers, a disputed evidence base, and no votes.

There’s also little evidence to suggest that MPs are different from the rest of the population - where one-in-ten men have purchased sex. It is little wonder therefore that our report on how the law should change, published in 2014, was the first major cross-party intervention on the subject in twenty years.

Some take the view that by removing all legal constraints, it will make the inherently exploitative trade of prostitution, safer. It’s not just me that questions this approach, though I accept that - equally - there’s no consensus that my preferred measure of criminalising the purchase of sex, while decriminalising the sale, would fundamentally change the scale of the problem.

Where all sides come together, however, is in the desire to see women diverted from the law courts. It is still possible for women (and it still is women; prostitution remains highly genderised) to go to prison for offences related to prostitution. Today, in 2015.

The total number of prosecutions for all prostitution offences in England and Wales has been decreasing since 2010, but not in a uniform fashion. This does not reflect a reduction in the size of the trade, or the violent nature of it.

There were once consistently more prosecutions for kerb crawling, profiting, and control of prostitution. But since 2013, there have been more prosecutions for soliciting or loitering than for profit from prostitution and kerb crawling each year.

In simple terms, offences committed by men with choice, freedom and money in their pocket are having a blind eye turned to them, while women are being targeted - and this trend is accelerating. In the law courts, and in prosecutions, it is the most vulnerable party in the transaction, who is taking the burden of criminality.

Take on-street sex buying as an example. In 2013-14 just 237 prosecutions were brought for kerb crawling, but there were 553 - more than twice as many - for loitering and soliciting.

There is a similar pattern in the 2014/15 figures: 227 charges for kerb crawling reached court, while 456 prosecutions were initiated against those who were selling sex. Just 83 prosecutions for control of prostitution, or ‘pimping’, were brought in that same year.

These are men and women on the same street. It takes a high level of liberal delusion to be convinced that prostitution is caused by a surge of women wishing to sell sex, rather than men who wish to buy it. And yet women who sell sex are the ones being targeted in our law courts, not the men that create the demand in the first place.

This situation even goes against the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) own guidance. They say:

“Prostitution is addressed as sexual exploitation within the overall CPS Violence Against Women strategy because of its gendered nature… At the same time, those who abuse and exploit those involved in prostitution should be rigorously investigated and prosecuted, and enforcement activity focused on those who create the demand for on-street sex, such as kerb crawlers.”

Why then, is this happening? For the same reason it always does - in our criminal justice system stigmatised, poor women are valued less than moneyed, professional men.

My debate in Parliament today raises these issues directly with the government ministers responsible. But to be honest, the prosecution-bias against women in the courts isn’t the problem; merely a symptom of it. This bias will only be tackled when the law reflects the inherent harm of the trade to women, rather than sending the mixed signals of today.

That’s why I welcome the work of the End Demand Alliance, composed of over 40 organisations working to end the demand that fuels sex trafficking and prostitution, advocating the adoption of the Sex Buyer Law throughout the UK.

This would criminalise paying for sex, while decriminalising its sale and providing support and exiting services for those exploited by prostitution. Regardless of these big changes in the law, I don’t see how anyone can support the current state of affairs where there are more prosecutions brought against women than men involved in prostitution.

The authorities are targeting women because they're easier to arrest and prosecute. It goes against their own guidance, common sense and natural justice.
And it needs to stop.

Gavin Shuker is MP for Luton South and chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.