For the past seven years, Trialogue has hosted an annual ‘Making CSI Matter’ conference, with the 2014 edition recently having taken place. The Tiger Brands Foundation, the Corporate Social Investment (CSI) division of Tiger Brands was amongst participants- with a case study of their partnership with the Department of Basic Education focusing on feeding school children presented.
They said the right thing and with “nearly 40 000 learners across 62 primary schools in seven provinces” benefiting from the project, one can easily believe that they are also doing the right thing. Yet, this is the same company that colluded with rivals to fix the price of bread- an act that harmed far more people- some of whom are most likely beneficiaries of their feeding programme.
Although some will argue that they admitted to the collusion, even assisting the Competition Commission which saw their fine reduced to R98,8m- the principle is that the abuse of corporate power renders CSI ineffective, as it contributes to keeping people poor.
This is particularly felt in South Africa, as the price-fixing was done in a context of high unemployment levels; low worker wages, poverty and increasingly food insecure households.
The price fixing has had a significant effect on all consumers, particularly the poor who are disproportionately affected due to the reality that these households have less money to live on. Furthermore, it kills small business as it allows for the creation of monopolies- depriving people of an opportunity to not only sustain themselves, but also to be better integrated into the economy.
In ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, Paulo Freire writes that, “in order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity,” which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty”. If corporates are indeed serious about playing their part in the creation of a more socially just world, more than the ‘feel good generosity’ such as that of Tiger Brands, they should first do no harm. They should not be allowed to abuse their corporate power to exploit the poor and keep people in poverty.
Oooohing and aaaahing over corporate CSI initiatives, whilst turning a blind eye to the serious harm done by the corporates involved only allows this cycle to continue, a cycle which is best described as “false charity constraining the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life,” to extend their trembling hands rather than striving so that these hands — whether of individuals or entire peoples — need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world”. Achieving this requires much more than the occasional feel good undertaking, it requires integrating social justice into everyday business practice- so that people rather than profits always come first, even outside of CSI.