In her fight against the stigmatization of sex workers, Jill Van Gyn has found herself stigmatized.
The founder and CEO of peanut butter brand Fatso decided to raise money through her company for Victoria, B.C.-based sex work charity Peers, but found her sponsored post barred by Facebook and Instagram.
“Either a person has said this is unacceptable, or there is a flaw in their algorithm,” Van Gyn told HuffPost Canada.
Watch: How sex work works in Canada. Story continues below.
The Vancouver Island-based company launched a line of branded clothing in order to use the proceeds to fund Peers’ work, and the publicity campaign for it features the apparel as modelled by former sex workers — a direct strike on the stigma surrounding sex work.
But getting the word out is proving difficult — and proving a larger point Van Gyn is making about marginalized charities.
“The Heart and Stroke Foundation, the (Canadian) Cancer (Society) — not a lot of controversy around those,” she said. But “sex work organizations are both underfunded and highly stigmatized. … We have lots of marginalized people that are involved with sex work. Their safety is always at risk. I thought this is a cause I could get behind.”
For its part, Facebook points to its regulations stating that “any advertiser running ads about social issues, elections or politics in Canada must complete a required authorization process.”
Van Gyn is going through the verification process, but was warned by her digital marketing contractor that businesses sometimes have their sponsored content rejected even after verification.
“I would be interested to see if they would allow a fundraiser for, say, a beach clean-up or a veterans’ organization to be promoted,” Van Gyn said.
So far, Fatso has brought in about $2,000 to Peers and aims to bring in “a few thousand per year” going forward, Van Gyn says.
Though she says funding sex work charities puts her business “at odds with the fundamentals of capitalism,” Van Gyn says she sees potential for companies to get more involved in social issues.
“I’m really hoping to push other companies to support underfunded charities,” she said.
“Before, a company was just a company. There weren’t any personality-heavy brands out there. But with the increase of founder-led brands… The founders personify the company and if we believe in that, we can’t be one dimensional characters.”
Her efforts are helped by the fact that Fatso is quickly becoming a success. In the three years since the brand launched, it has secured nationwide distribution across Canada, and is currently beginning a U.S. expansion with a deal to supply 20 stores in Oregon and Washington state.
Van Gyn intends to keep leveraging that success for social causes, and to other businesses, she offers this advice: “Drill down and find a charity that really, really needs the funds.”