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Gucci's Boast that UN Event Celebrates Its Store Is Quietly Withdrawn, Questions Remain

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 6 -- On the day of the event on the UN's North Lawn which Gucci had said was to "celebrate the opening of Gucci's New York 5th Avenue Flagship store," this statement was quietly taken down from the website of the US Fund for UNICEF. Gucci's previously available "UNICEF" web page, which made this and other claims, suddenly became unavailable. And UNICEF, through its spokesman Christopher de Bono told Inner City Press that UNICEF director Ann Veneman "did not vet anything as far as the other part of the money" which is said to be for "Raising Malawi," which is not a non-profit organization.

            Mr. de Bono described a process in which the executive director of the US Fund for UNICEF approached Ann Veneman with the idea of fundraiser on the UN's North Lawn, half of the ticket sales to which would go to UNICEF, half to "Raising Malawi." On this basis, and apparently without conferring with any other UNICEF or UN staff, Ms. Veneman asked UN Under Secretary General Alicia Barcena for use of the UN's' North Lawn, and such approval was quickly given.

            Unwisely, it now appears. Ms. Barcena on February 4 acknowledged that Gucci's claims were "inappropriate," and that night Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar told Inner City Press that "Gucci has gone to far," that Mr. Ban had been "planning to go, but now... he is getting himself a little worried about it." On February 6, it was confirmed that Ban will not be attending, although his associate spokesman, contrary to what the Chief of Staff on Monday said, ascribed this to Ban's travel plans, which may have changed. Against the deadline of the event, six hours off, Inner City Press asked the associate spokesman to confirm or deny that the UN's Office of Legal Affairs had written to Gucci to complain about the exploitation of the UN's name, but that no timely response was given by Gucci.

            Asked on camera by Inner City Press why she gave approval for this use of the UN's grounds, Ms. Barcena said because of her impression of UNICEF. But UNICEF then referred all questions to US Fund for UNICEF, which did not respond to telephone questions, then to written questions. Finally on Wednesday afternoon, four hours before the event, US Fund for UNICEF's Marissa Buckanoff replied in part that Gucci is covering the cost of the event and "making a corporate donation to the two organizations." Inner City Press then asked, since Raising Malawi is not a 501(c)3, to what entity is Gucci would be making a donation, and for an estimate of the costs of the event, and  if they are greater than the amount that will be given to UNICEF and Raising Malawi (or its co-founder and presumptive fiscal conduit, the Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles." Additionally, Inner City Press asked and will continue to ask: what safeguards exist at US Fund for UNICEF and at UNICEF regarding corporate "partners" use of the UN and/or UNICEF and their names or logos for commercial gain or promotion?

  As simply, for now, two examples, UNICEF and Deutsche Bank have been mingled, and US Fund for UNICEF lists as a partner the ExxonMobil Foundation -- the questions is, does ExxonMobil get to claim that the next UN event is to celebrate a new oil well? There is no reason why not, if the process used here is continued.

UNICEF and Deutsche Bank co-mingled logos, as Gucci hopes for Feb. 6

            Requests have been made for UNICEF's Ann Veneman to answer basic questions, which has not occurred as of this writing. A question has been submitted in writing: before asking the Secretariat for use of the UN North Lawn, did you or your staff conduct any due diligence on the other beneficiary of the event, including into whether it is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and the use of funds, and once Gucci and US Fund for UNICEF put out press release that the event would 'celebrate the opening of Gucci's New York 5th Avenue Flagship store,' did you take any action?" Apparently they do not want to answer questions about, or allow questions at, this event which, until the morning of, was to "celebrate the opening of Gucci's New York 5th Avenue Flagship store."

No one has spoken for any improvements to this process; no one at UNICEF or the US Fund for UNICEF has even acknowledged on the record that there's been any problem.

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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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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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

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