The Independent is to turn RED. This newspaper is becoming the first member of the media to join the partnership set up by the U2 singer, Bono, to raise money for the war on Aids in Africa.
The initiative is designed to throw the weight of the corporate world behind the fight against the disease that will kill two million Africans - equivalent to the population of Leeds - this year alone. The big high street names, including American Express, Gap, Converse and Giorgio Armani have already signed up to the scheme - and now so has The Independent. On Tuesday 16 May the paper will be edited by Bono and The Independent will be donating half its revenues to RED.
The Product RED partnership was the brainchild of Bono and Bobby Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family and one of America's leading philanthropists, who chairs DATA (Debt, Aids, Trade, Africa) the lobbying body set up in Washington and London by Bono and Bob Geldof.
The project will augment the rock stars' Make Poverty History and Live8 political campaigning for Africa by harnessing the money and marketing skills of the world's leading-edge businesses to deliver a sustainable flow of private-sector money to the Global Fund to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. In Africa more than 25 million people have HIV.
The world's leading companies are creating specially-designed products and giving a dedicated percentage of profits to programmes for women and children with Aids in Africa.
"People see a world out of whack," explained Bono. "They see the greatest health crisis in 600 years and they want to do the right thing, but they're not sure what that is. RED is about doing what you enjoy and doing good at the same time."
Simon Kelner, editor-in-chief of The Independent, said yesterday: "We are tremendously excited about this innovative collaboration. There is a great deal of compatibility between ourselves and RED.
"Our readers have already shown, by their contribution to our annual charity appeals, their interest and concern in Africa. Bono has a unique insight into world affairs, and, as guest editor, will produce a newspaper that, in the best traditions of The Independent, will be challenging, ground-breaking and exciting."
Bono is already at work on items for many sections of the newspaper, inputting ideas and commissioning articles on the arts, sport, fashion, health, motoring and politics - as well as a number of special features on Africa. One of his staff said: "He is tickled to be let loose on such a great paper. He's enjoying using the talents of its journalists to explore issues that are vital to him. He's looking forward to having a lot of fun on the day and hopes the readers will too."
RED is not a substitute for the political campaigning on global poverty which has preoccupied the Irish rock star since he became part of the Jubilee 2000 campaign for debt relief for the Third World. But Bono is conscious of the fact that, though the Global Fund has raised more than $4.8bn (£2.6bn) from governments since 2001, less than $2m has come from corporations.
The fund is "not an easy sell" to companies, said its executive director, Richard Feachem, because it looks for large sums of money over a long period of time.
RED is an attempt to create a win-win situation for consumers, the corporate sector and the world's poor. Consumers, who are concerned about Aids and Africa can shop for high-quality fashion items in the knowledge that a percentage from their purchases is being paid by the firms to help those suffering. "We're trying to make it really easy for people to help," said Bono.
Firms involved in RED can expect to "broaden their own customer base and increase loyalty", said Mr Shriver who took nearly two years to enlist the major participants who have signed five-year RED contracts. Ethical products are, in the words of Wally Olins, creator of the Orange phone brand, "the last great commodity differentiator".
American Express has introduced a credit card, with free annual membership, that pays a minimum of 1 per cent of everything spent directly to The Global Fund. Gap is developing a special collection of iconic items to be sold initially in the UK and US. Nike is this month launching a special Converse trainer. Giorgio Armani has marketed a pair of Emporio metal wrap-around sunglasses and will launch a collection for women and men later this year.
The Independent's association with RED will be ongoing, with further projects to be announced later this year. "Product RED is a breakthrough in corporate and consumer engagement for the greatest global crisis of our time," said Dr Feachem. "RED can make a substantial contribution to financing the massive scale-up of prevention, testing, treatment and care that is desperately needed in Africa."