The Science Museum has recently been the subject of online criticism from the Guardian newspaper following reports that a donation agreement between itself and the oil and gas giant Equinor contained a gag clause.

This clause prohibited the charity and any of its trustees from making 'any statement or issue any publicity or otherwise be involved in any conduct or matter that may reasonably be foreseen as discrediting or damaging the goodwill or reputation of the sponsor'. This led to concerns being raised about greenwashing from environmental groups. A similar agreement had also been signed with Shell.

The charity initially dismissed the concerns and stated that such clauses were reciprocal and standard for corporate partnerships. However, they have since made a statement stating that they have decided to remove such clauses going forward.

This news comes against a background of concerns being raised by public and private sector leads that charity leaders were underrepresented on current affairs programmes and were not speaking out on topical agendas. A report recently published by the Charity Reform Group concluded that charity leaders needed to speak up and bring their unique perspectives to important issues.

In addition to so-called gag clauses, following on from an earlier article we produced about the draft guidance on social media from the charity commission, the reluctance could easily be explained by charity chiefs wanting to steer away from the perception that they are inappropriately straying into the political sphere. Understandably, it can be difficult to toe the line.

It is important that a balance is struck which enables charity representatives to feel able to add their valuable experiences and opinions and speak out on current issues, whilst also being able to protect their charity’s reputation. 

In relation to reputational clauses specifically, we deal with numerous fundraising agreements and contracts which through careful drafting can achieve workable reputational clauses without inhibiting a charity from speaking out. 

For more information, please contact Natalie Barbosa.