‘Promised’ Charity Money to Be Investigated
10 March 2015 at 11:36 am
Consumer Affairs in Victoria is likely to investigate Melbourne businesswoman and cancer survivor Belle Gibson, after allegations that funds raised by her in the name of Australian charities were never paid as promised.
It has been claimed in Fairfax Media that Gibson, the founder of food and health app The Whole Pantry, solicited donations from hundreds of thousands of people in the name of at least five charities that have no record of receiving money from her.
The media reports said Gibson had publicly claimed to have given away 25 per cent of her company's profits and in her book writes that "a large part of everything" earned is donated to various causes.
“Last year she said $300,000 had already been given to charity but now says these contributions were never made because app sales were not as high as forecast. Ms Gibson was unable to provide a list of organisations that have received money or say how much has been donated to date,” Fairfax Media reported.
“She launched her business and her app off her story as a young mother diagnosed with terminal brain cancer who rejected conventional medicine and is healing herself with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
“Ms Gibson has run two campaigns purporting to raise money for five charities, but Fairfax Media has confirmed that none has a record of receiving a donation.
“Four of the organisations, including Melbourne's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, had no knowledge fundraising drives had taken place.”
Consumer Affairs Victoria said organisations found to misrepresent fundraising events could be in breach of criminal and consumer law. Companies face penalties of up to $28,000, while individuals risk 12 months' jail and a $14,000 fine.
“Businesses are obliged to ensure that any representations related to their products or services do not mislead consumers and all representations are true and accurate. This obligation includes any representations that all or part of the proceeds or profits of a sale or event will be passed onto a charity,” a spokesperson for Consumer Affairs Victoria said.
“A business representing that it gives money to charities from its sales, but does not do so, may be obtaining financial advantage by deception under the Crimes Act 1956, which is a matter for Victoria Police but may also constitute a breach of the Fundraising Act 1998 or Australian Consumer Law (Victoria), which are Acts that Consumer Affairs Victoria administers.”
Melbourne-based charity One Girl, which runs education programs in Sierra Leone, was promoted as one of the fundraiser's beneficiaries but said repeated attempts to contact The Whole Pantry about the promised donation more than a year after the event had been unsuccessful.
“In late 2013 The Whole Pantry advised One Girl that they would be fundraising on our behalf in an online fundraising event,” One Girl CEO, Chantelle Baxter said.
“In early 2015 One Girl approached Belle Gibson from The Whole Pantry to enquire about when a donation would be made to One Girl and how much was raised from the fundraising event.
Baxter confirmed to Pro Bono Australia News that Gibson had donated $1000 following questions from Fairfax Media.
“The Whole Pantry responded to these enquiries last week, in-line with being contacted by The Age, and have since made a donation of $1,000 to One Girl.
“Since this donation One Girl has asked The Whole Pantry for confirmation of the total amount raised through the online event and is awaiting their response.”
Belle Gibson told Fairfax Media in a statement that the company had been unable to pass on money raised due to cashflow problems and had hired external accountants to manage its struggling finances and that it fully intended to make the charitable payments.
A statement from The Whole Pantry company appears to distance itself from Belle Gibson.
“[Fairfax] contacted Belle, our previous Managing Director, who addressed some incorrect claims and assumptions.
“We have, like all start ups, struggled with managing all facets of a new business, biting off more than we could chew, juggling internal and external priorities with little staff.
“We have since passed our overdue business records and accounts over to an external Business Manager and Accounts team, an issue we are reassured arises often with overwhelmed new businesses. They have been working over our finances for the last five months, and are still proceeding with a resolution in close sight. We were advised by this team to follow their process and allow them to finalise the donations once all business keepings were accounted first and brought forward."
The statement posted on Facebook said [the Team] “would like to strongly reiterate that in addition to thousands of dollars already donated or gifted to worthy causes, published and otherwise, all remaining promised donations and support will be honoured as soon as the finances are in order, something which has been privately communicated over with the remaining published organisations.
“Moving forward into 2015/16, as soon as we are presented with our Profit and Loss statements, we will endeavour to communicate our two nominated partners from herein via Facebook and The Whole Pantry Website. These relationships and donations will be managed, externally, by those who administer these transactions regularly and fully understand the formal processes.”