Generosity, Once Profits Are Tallied

By Giridharadas, Anand | International New York Times, May 12, 2015 | Go to article overview

Generosity, Once Profits Are Tallied


Giridharadas, Anand, International New York Times


Should corporations forgo profits to help the world, or should they invest profits in doing good, diverting attention from what's behind their financial success?

Foundations are the new Birkin bags. Everyone who is anyone has one. Giving is now chic. Far from being in denial about it, many wealthy people fret over rising inequality these days, in public and in private.

When they do, giving invariably comes up -- whether traditional charity, multiple-bottom-line investing or corporate social responsibility.

What is less fashionable to talk about is the way that those with wealth take before they give. There is an unwritten social rule now that you can harangue the wealthy to give money away, but you mustn't ask how the money was made. There are no galas celebrating the money people knew better than to seek. Charity begins after profit.

So consider this utter faux pas of a thought experiment: Would a multinational corporation do more to advance its goal of corporate social responsibility by paying all of its workers at least $15 an hour or by doling out money from its foundation to, say, provide temporary housing to the families of hospitalized children or build playgrounds or promote physical activity?

In a sense, the debate comes down to this: Should corporations forgo some profit to help the world, or should they invest their profits in doing some good, in the process diverting attention from what's behind their financial success?

Take McDonald's. The fast-food chain proudly promotes its philanthropic endeavors: the $21.7 million the company and its subsidiaries gave away in 2013, which amounts to one dollar for every $1,300 of revenue; the 12 playgrounds it helped to build; the game it co-developed with Nintendo, to foster physical activity among youth; and the 15 new Ronald McDonald Houses for the families of sick children.

In McDonald's annual report on sustainability and philanthropy, J.C. Gonzalez-Mendez, who holds the title of senior vice president for global inclusion, community engagement and philanthropy, wrote that giving back was "integral" to the company, which seeks to have "a measurable impact on the well-being of children and their families. …

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