Corporations mount major relief effort

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In the face of the staggering devastation wreaked by last weekend's tsunamis, many of the biggest and best-known global corporations are rushing to aid victims in the Indian Ocean countries in what is shaping up to be an unprecedented relief effort.

Businesses, including the world's pharmaceutical giants, oil companies, food conglomerates and retailers, are initially sending cash donations to the Red Cross and other aid organizations because supply routes have been disrupted. But they also pledged to send drugs, fuel, clothes and other supplies - many made in the hard-hit countries or with their resources - when possible. Airlines and shipping companies are shuttling goods and workers.

Merck & Co. has pledged $3 million to the Red Cross, UNICEF and several local agencies, and an undetermined amount of its drugs. Pfizer Inc. said it would give $10 million in cash to relief organizations and $25 million in medicines and health care products. And Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said it gave $1 million to the Red Cross and will also offer its products. Combined, the aid from these companies alone surpasses the $35 million initially pledged by the United States.

"We're in touch with relief organizations and ministries of health to determine what is needed," said Anita Larsen, a spokeswoman for Merck. "The problem is that there is no system in place, and some of our medicines need refrigeration. We don't want fresh medicine sitting on a tarmac somewhere getting ruined."

Total figures of cash and in-kind donations are not yet tallied, but the amounts pledged are already in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

More is expected as companies file back to work in the new year and the impact of one of the worst natural disasters in decades is tabulated. The death toll, which exceeds 117,000, is still rising.

Relief agency officials and others said companies have different motives for donating. Some want to enhance their corporate image, especially if they have recently suffered a black eye. Some see it as a marketing tool, and others may want a tax-write-off. Still others are anxious to get back on its feet a part of the world they depend on for production, labor, materials and even sales.

New York public-relations guru Howard Rubenstein said an opportunity for some good PR was probably not the only motivating factor in the corporate outpouring.

"I think it's a humanitarian instinct," he said. "And the byproduct would certainly be good PR for the corporation, and more importantly for our country."

Welcome relief

No matter the reason, relief officials welcome the help.

"Corporations are very vital," said Dean Agee, vice president for advancement and communications of Spring Lake, Mich.-based International Aid. "It's because of the generosity of the corporations that we can do what we do. It's been unprecedented for a natural disaster."

Agee said 90 percent of the $3 million raised by the agency so far has come from corporations.

Dianne Sherman, a spokeswoman for Save the Children, based in Westport, Conn., said the group, which works in 40 countries including Indonesia and Sri Lanka, has raised $5 million in cash so far from all sources, including the drug company Pfizer Inc., toy company Mattel Inc., health care product seller Alticorp Inc. and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set up by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Other companies have teamed up with their own groups.

Kimberly-Clark Corp. is contributing $100,000 to the United Children's Fund and is giving Huggies diapers, Kotex feminine products and Safeskin surgical gloves to local relief agencies.

The Dallas company has three manufacturing facilities in Thailand that produce everything from gloves, to diapers to tissues. It also has two plants in Indonesia and one in Malaysia, all unaffected by the tsunamis, to supply goods.

"These are everyday products that become very important to people on a daily basis," said spokesman Dave Dickson.

Other companies said they have yet to determine how to get supplies, even those already in the region, to needy people. Other essential items are on their way.

ExxonMobil has given $5 million in cash and donations of air transportation for medical personnel and supplies. BP PLC, which said it was still confirming the safety of its employees and the security of its facilities in the region, has donated $3 million to the Red Cross, Red Crescent, Oxfam and UNICEF relief groups. It has also been refueling emergency aircraft.

UPS, the global shipping company, which has planes, trucks and workers in place, is working with relief organizations to move supplies. FedEx plans to ship 200,000 pounds of medical supplies to several countries including Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Yesterday the shipping company flew $3 million in supplies from Michigan to Indonesia for International Aid, which will set up a portable health clinic that will treat 10,000 victims.

Long-term relationships

Many of the corporations said they have long-standing relationships with relief groups and have sent supplies and cash during other calamities such as last year's earthquake in Iran, this year's hurricanes in Florida and the 2001 terrorist attacks in Washington and New York. Others provided help in war-torn Kosovo and AIDS-wracked Africa.

Coca-Cola Co. announced yesterday it will donate $10 million to international and local relief agencies. The soft-drink giant also plans to rely on its bottling partners and distributors in South Asia to send out hundreds of thousands of cases of bottled water, food packets, medical kits, clothing, blankets and tents for shelter.

Dan A. Schafer, a Coke spokesman, estimated that the amount of contributions in countries affected by the tsunamis would roughly equal those made by the company after the Sept. 11 attacks. The company's bottling partners also distributed bottled water to victims of the Florida hurricanes in September.

The company's system in South Asia did not go untouched, however. All of Coca-Cola's plants in South Asia are operational, but distributors have suffered losses and many of the businesses that sell the company's products have been destroyed.

"This hits very close to home for our system," Schafer said. "In many cases, our local businesses in these communities were impacted. We're helping where our employees and the members of our system live and work."

Airlines that have regular routes to the region also are aiding the relief effort.

Delta Air Lines is donating a million miles and accepting donations from passengers to send relief workers from CARE, UNICEF and the Red Cross to the affected countries. Northwest Airlines and its cargo subsidiary are working with AmeriCares to transport 200 tons of relief supplies to South Asia, the equivalent of two full Boeing 747 freighters, over the next 60 days.

Wal-Mart Corp., which depends on imports from Asia to stock its stores, said its nonprofit foundation would give $2 million to the Red Cross and would set up collection areas at its stores. The Arkansas company has also reduced the cost to wire money via MoneyGram in its stores to the devastated region.

The Home Depot will be donating $500,000 to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, and its nonprofit foundation is matching individual gifts up to $1,000 from Home Depot employees. Gap Inc. is giving $2 for every dollar its employees donate. Land's End is giving $200,000 in merchandise to International Aid.

Aid tied to purchases

Starbucks Corp., the world's largest coffee chain, said it will give $100,000 to relief organizations and $2 for every pound of coffee from the ravaged island of Sumatra, Indonesia, it sells in the United States and four other countries next month. On Wednesday, its Thailand store gave the day's profits to relief organizations.

Nike Inc., which gets an estimated 40 percent of its shoes from Thailand and Indonesia, said it will give $1 million.

The Altria Group Inc., the New York-based parent of Kraft Foods and Phillip Morris USA and Phillip Morris International, said its companies are contributing $1 million to relief agencies.

Tamara Moore, a spokeswoman for Altria, said the company has offices and manufacturing plants in affected countries, though none were damaged. She said the company was prepared to increase its commitment as needs are assessed.

Other companies said they also will add to their contributions as necessary.

Mercy Corps, a nonprofit, international humanitarian aid group based in Portland, Ore., said it got relief startup money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Nike and Whole Foods Inc. The donations will enable it to immediately purchase blankets, shelter and plastic sheeting for tents, said Eric Block, an agency spokesman.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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