No Yusuf Abramjee, Charity Inc. is still more of the same

This morning as I woke up from dreams about peach slices, jelly, custard and Choice Assorted biscuits, I came across a blog post that made me want to throw up food that I had not even eaten yet. In the post Goodwill Ambassador of the CEO SleepOut, Yusuf Abramjee, claims that the “CEO SleepOut is but one example of business going beyond the CSI tick box” an assertion that left me feeling nauseous for the better part of my morning.

In support of his argument, Abramjee gives examples of what he thinks are other projects where “leaders are using their profits and influence to find innovative ways to create a more equal society”, listing Microsoft matching employee nonprofit donations and Apple’s ‘Matching Gift Programme’ among them.

What he conveniently omits though, is long standing tax avoidance accusations amounting to billions in US dollars against both Apple and Microsoft, meaning what they ‘give back’ is only a small percentage of what they have actually taken from people. As Abramjee should know, taxes are funds that are used to provide much needed services to people, meaning any tax dodging is stealing from ordinary people and weakens the state’s ability to provide.

Another example Abramjee goes on to add is the CEO Initiative, which has CEOs and business leaders taking a pledge committing to “do[ing] the right thing; stand by what is right and reject[ing] what is wrong”. The pledge claims to stand for “social justice and transformation so that South Africa truly becomes a country that belongs to all who live in it“.

While some, like Abramjee, see the initiative as a welcome sign of business ‘finally getting involved in the country’; the pledge is absolute bullshit considering the difference in salaries between Black and white workers and the ever increasing gap between the highest and lowest paid workers, to name just a few of the transgressions committed by business. Just this year Bloomberg released a report showing that South African CEOs earn 500 times more than the average worker, which is the widest gap in the world.

A signatory of the pledge is the CEO of Exxaro, which is currently under-fire from NGOs for their projects in Thabametsi and Khanyisa which would pose “an immediate threat to people’s health and the local environment”. Then there’s also MTN, which has been accused of moving billions of rands made on the continent to offshore tax havens. Life Healthcare and Mediclinic International which are also signatories, came under fire during the Health Market Inquiry at which the latter conceded that it could potentially be “be held responsible for negatively infringing on the right to healthcare services”.

And then there’s Murray & Roberts Holdings Limited, which was implicated in the construction cartel, which cost each individual tax payer substantially far more than Nkandla. I could go on and on, naming the various ways in which the everyday practice of these very same businesses causes harm to people and the environment, but I think you get the point.

By using these examples, Yusuf Abramjee in fact proves critics of the CEO SleepOut to be right in our assessment of it as a performance of charity that fails to address structural inequality in any way. A means of looking like messiahs, when in fact they are a part of the reason the very same problems they claim to be tackling exist.

While Abramjee sees leaders contributing for philanthropic cause, what we actually have is a class of people whose ruthless profit maximising ways and excess come directly off the backs of those they claim to be assisting. So no, the CEO SleepOut like the rest of his examples are not going beyond a tick box exercise, they are merely a repackaged version of the same old occasional feel good undertakings, which are done despite daily harm caused by unethical, exploitative business practice.

We cannot afford to praise CEOs for doing the bare minimum, when many of them are in fact beneficiaries of the misery of others and actively work to keep it that way.


2 thoughts on “No Yusuf Abramjee, Charity Inc. is still more of the same

  1. Agree with your post – what the CEOs are doing seem similar to greenwashing.
    But on taxes – I don’t think it is always the citizen’s unconditional duty to pay them if the state does not spend them in the way you describe – providing services to people. For example an American could feel he should avoid paying tax as best he can because such a large part of his tax money is used to fund war.

    Therefore it does not bother me if Apple or Microsoft avoid taxes in the USA, but it does anger me that Google, Facebook and Amazon can rake in billions from other countries while paying almost no taxes there and employing almost no-one in those countries (SA included).
    These companies are also destroying local newspapers’ advertising income and book stores thereby harming our democracies.


  2. You on point and I long concluded that the CEO sleep out initiative is a misguided approach to resolving a real problem if indeed there is an intention to help. There is not even a need to go out of our borders to compare it as just locally there is just far too many alike frustrating any efforts on the development path in the name of CSI or helping the poor. The very same poverty and illiteracy are the main reasons why this silly misguided campaign never get exposed for what it is but end up celebrated with no outcomes beyond one night inconvinient solidarity with the poor.

    As for the taxes – we must all pay unconditionally and if anything you can only vote the government of your choice that you trust to do the best with the public purse. To this day the current government, and particularly local governments in the main are struggling with revenue collection in the townships which is largely due to people holding on to long outdated “ASIBADALI” OR ” WE DONT PAY FOR SERVICES” promoted by some of the current leaders whilst their were the government in waiting. Today its difficult to turn around and say we must pay and as a results we now have FREE BASIC everything for everyone including the new rich in the townships

    The struggle continues


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About Koketso Moeti

Mother. Campaigner. Political orphan. Blogger. Activator. Part time professional black. Liker of things. Lover of people. No sense of humour.