Did Colgate-Palmolive Accept Sharpton Award — or Not?

Colgate ToothpasteAl Sharpton’s group, the National Action Network (NAN), held its annual convention April 1-4 in New York City. The event included NAN’s “Keepers of the Dream” award presentations. Last year, Colgate-Palmolive accepted the “corporate excellence” award, prompting NLPC to ask the company to give it back. At the Colgate-Palmolive annual shareholders’ meeting a few weeks later, I made an issue of the award, calling it a “dubious honor indeed.”

This year, no corporation was identified from the podium or in the program as getting a Keepers award. Yet, a full-page Colgate-Palmolive ad in the same program reads:

Colgate-Palmolive is honored to be named Corporation of the Year by the National Action Network at the 11th Annual Keepers of the Dream Awards.

So, did Colgate accept the award, or not?

Perhaps the company accepted the award, but did not want to be publicly identified with Sharpton at the event itself, in light of the controversy last year. If so, this strategy was undercut by the program ad, not to mention its listing as a sponsor for the overall convention.

Palmolive bottleThere is precedent for such a ham-handed approach. Last year, when I asked Colgate to return the award, the company’s Chairman Reuben Mark, responded with a two-page letter that defended acceptance of the award, but did not mention Sharpton’s name once.

With Mark’s letter in hand, I showed up at the company’s May 8 annual shareholders’meeting in New York City and confronted the Chairman by asking, “If Colgate is so proud of this award, why can’t you bring yourself to use Sharpton’s name?” Mark refused to answer, prompting Flaherty to taunt, “Why not, aren’t you the Chairman?”

CEO Ian Cook jumped in and said he would answer. After a long-winded nonresponse, Flaherty asked, “OK then, tell us how much shareholders’ money went to Sharpton?” Cook said it was a “modest” amount, but refused to specify. Finally, after more prodding by Flaherty, Cook said it was $50,000.

In the interim, Mark has retired as Chairman and Cook now serves as Chairman and CEO.

The “Dream” that is purportedly being kept is that of Dr. Martin Luther King. Since Dr. King is no longer with us, it is not known whether he would agree, or what he would have thought of a demagogue and loudmouth like Sharpton.

This year’s “Keepers of the Dream” award recipients were:

Larry King, “Larry King Live”
Community Service Award

Alfred Liggins, TV One, Inc.
Outstanding Entrepreneur Award

Esther Silver-Parker, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Corporate Executive of Excellence

Dwight Jones, Mayor of Richmond, Virginia
Wyatt T. Walker Service Award

Maurice Cox, PepsiCo, Inc.
Corporate Excellence Award

Andy Stern, Service Employees International Union
Martin Luther King, Jr. Labor Award

Andre Harrell, Harrell Music
Cultural Excellence Award

Robin Roberts, Good Morning America
Women of Excellence Award

The winners accepted their awards in person, with the exception of Larry King, who accepted via videotape. An NLPC staff member in attendance confirmed that no “Corporation of the Year” prize was meted out, nor was there any mention of Colgate-Palmolive.

Other corporate sponsors of the convention included American Honda, Anheuser Busch, Colgate-Palmolive, Comcast, Entergy, Ford Motor Company, Home Depot, Johnson & Johnson, Macy’s, PepsiCo, Pfizer and Wal-Mart.

In addition to toothpaste and dishwashing detergent, Colgate-Palmolive’s brands include Murphy Oil Soap, Ajax, Irish Spring, Softsoap, Speed Stick and Hill’s Science Diet pet foods.