When members of the public donate to Friends of the Earth, they think they are giving money to a charity, not a limited company. Their leaflets neglect to mention that donations actually go to Friends of the Earth Limited, the political wing of the organisation, instead of the charitable trust. Why the distinction?
By directing donations to a limited company, FoE avoid being regulated by the Charities Commission. This means that if they distribute leaflets with false claims – such as the above porkie claiming the silica used in fracking fluid is carcinogenic – they escape censure. If the donations went to the charitable wing of FoE, the leaflet would breach regulations on charities fundraising by deception.
The Charities Commission admit this is confusing for the public and will look at their rules to address it:
“The structure of Friends of the Earth is not unique and other organisations work in this way with both a charity and a non-charitable campaigning body. We realise that this can cause confusion to the public and could pose a reputational risk to charity and we therefore propose to look further at this issue. Aside from this, we have no jurisdiction over Friends of the Earth Limited as a non- charitable body, but we have established that charitable funds are not being used to campaign against fracking and your Company.”
A nifty little loophole for charities to avoid regulation…