Posts Tagged with 'Corporate Social Responsibility'

Posted: August 6, 2013

Corporate Social Responsibility – Enlightened self-interest at work?

People who know me will tell you that I am a major advocate of socially-responsible business. Recently, I read a thought-provoking piece in The Economist, where Schumpeter [Sex, drugs and hope, April 13, 2013] describes how actions taken in the corporate world – in this case by a large mining company – addressed a desperate social problem that was decimating their work force.

In the early 2000’s, South Africa was facing what could only be described as an HIV/AIDS epidemic. From 1992 to 2002, the proportion of HIV-positive adults had increased exponentially from 1 percent to 17 percent. HIV testing was not routinely available, and drugs that were being used by HIV-positive people in the developed world were completely unaffordable for most South Africans. Confounding the situation even more was the inexplicable insistence of South Africa’s senior leaders, including then-President Thabo Mbeki, that HIV did not cause AIDS. The result was that people were becoming infected and dying in massive numbers.

As Schumpeter points out, “The story of how apocalypse was averted has many heroes, from health workers to AIDS activists. But big business also played its part.”

Some industries were far more vulnerable, and mining was one of them. Miners, many of whom were migrants, lived in hostels that were surrounded by prostitutes. HIV infection spread with alarming speed, and skilled workers were dying slowly from the ravages of AIDS. The situation became so dire that companies were training two people for each critical job in the mine – an insurance policy for the day when one became too ill to work. The loss of productivity threatened the very existence of the business.

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