Sunderland's new backer triggers concerns over sponsor suitability


There are growing concerns surrounding the suitability of Sunderland's new sponsor, Invest in Africa, amid claims from the oil watchdog Platform that the initiative's founding partner, Tullow Oil, is responsible for damaging business practices.

In an announcement on Monday, the Sunderland vice-chairman David Miliband MP, the former foreign secretary, said the two-year partnership with the not-for-profit organisation was a "landmark".

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the UK and Africa argue that the oil giant is trying to gain social legitimacy for a profit increase last year of 600 per cent by launching the campaign. They also criticise Tullow for not publishing contracts with African governments.

George Cazenove, head of media relations at Tullow, told i: "We don't publish them [contracts] everywhere, because we're obliged to keep some of them private." He insisted that all payments to, and contracts with, the government of Ghana are declared.

Ben Amunwa, of Platform, said Tullow's operations in Ghana damaged local businesses. He said: "Fishing communities in the western region most affected by the oil rigs have had their traditional livelihoods threatened. As part of the exclusion zone around the rigs, the Ghanaian navy has intercepted fishing boats and physically abused locals."

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was high on the agenda at the January launch of Invest in Africa. Critics claim that Tullow recovers CSR costs from governments.

This was strongly rejected by Cazenove, who said: "We claim back the cost of exploration when we discover oil, but costs for CSR work are not recoverable."

Cazenove added: "Invest in Africa is not a front company for Tullow Oil. The company is the founding partner and Aidan Heavey, our CEO, is intimately involved. It is the clear intention that other partners will join Tullow and Monday's launch was partly a call for partners. This won't work if it's only associated with Tullow. It needs other large, established companies and their networks across Africa to succeed and drive investment."

Some Sunderland fans are sceptical. Martin McFadden, a fanzine editor, said: "It is important to realise that it is not all about the money."

A message on the club website said it aimed "to use the global reach of the Premier League to help spread prosperity across Africa".