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As Gucci Uses UN for an Ad, Who Protects UN Left Unanswered by Ban Ki-moon

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, February 5 -- When a corporation openly uses the UN's name to promote its business, what happens? The question was raised Tuesday to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, concerning Gucci's statement that an event Wednesday night on the UN's North Lawn "will celebrate the opening of Gucci's New York 5th Avenue Flagship store." While his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar had said that "Gucci has gone too far," impacting Ban's plans, and his Under Secretary-General for Management Alicia Barcena said on camera that Gucci's statement was inappropriate, Ban dodged the question, saying that the event's proceeds will go to UNICEF for a humanitarian purpose. Video here, from Minute 16:18. Even that is only half true. Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to an entity called Raising Malawi, which is not a registered non-profit corporation. A search of corporate database for Raising Malawi find a single formal reference, in an SEC filing by NutraCea which refers to that company's drive to "utilize our production capacity more efficiently and to focus on driving sales of high-end derivative products."

            Gucci's high-end products, meanwhile, were shown to selected media by "creative director" Frida Giannini on Tuesday at the aforementioned flagship store, in the Trump building on Fifth Avenue and 56th Street. A reporter who has heard the questions that have arisen at the UN asked Gucci about them. "We don't want to deal with that," was the answer. But Gucci CEO Mark Lee gushed, misleadingly, that $4 million would be raised for UNICEF and "for Malawi." But the unincorporated entity "Raising Malawi," affiliated with the Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles, is not the same thing as the country of Malawi. It was said that only fashion reporters are being allowed to cover the event on Wednesday night, reminiscent to some to FEMA's recent fake press conference. But Inner City Press is told for example that a gossip reporter in gaining access, personally approved by Madonna.

            When previously questioned about Raising Malawi, Madonna's publicist Liz Rosenberg responded angrily that of course it was co-founded with the Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles, but that money would be accounted for. Has this happened? Certainly not at the UN. And in fact Ms. Rosenberg this week confirmed that "a 501 (c) 3 application has been formally applied for and the organization is awaiting final confirmation from the IRS" -- that is, it is not yet even a non-profit corporation. While Madonna may, how ever distractedly, intend to somehow help the UN, refusing to answer questions and running roughshod of the UN's grounds and procedures and enabling the misuse of the UN's "brand" for commercial purposes has, in fact, the opposite effect. UNICEF, too, is harming the UN in this instance.

UN's Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday with blurred logo behind - might that be Gucci?

   UNICEF director Ann Veneman has, contrary now to Ban and increasingly troublingly, not answered a single question about her and her agency's actions. Insiders at UNICEF say that Veneman is so star-struck she would give the UNICEF building west of First Avenue away. Officials on the East of First Avenue seem to see the problem, but not have the get-up-and-go to even speak to Veneman, not dissimilar to the way the UN Development Program's Kemal Dervis was allowed to rebuff the UN Ethics Office's whistleblower protections. (UNICEF is more similar to Enron, in that it can use a convoluted organizational structure in order to avoid any oversight or accountability, by referring questions about the corporate use of its and the UN's name to an affiliate, which does not have to, and does not, answer.)

            More fundamentally, if this UN cannot even stand up to Gucci, or to its affiliated UNICEF, how can it deal for example with president al-Bashir of Sudan? Perhaps we'll see on Wednesday night.

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These reports are also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540