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Companies in South Africa providing treatment for HIV
November 15, 2002 9:43 AM   Subscribe

South African mining giant begins providing triple coctail for HIV treatment. Something optimistic for a Friday post: AngloGold along with DeBeers is offering its employees HIV Triple cocktail treatment for free. With almost 30% of some of these companies' workforce affected with the HIV virus, is this an example of merging corporate and social interests or is this a sign of honest corporate citizenship?
posted by phyrewerx (18 comments total)

 
Does it really matter what their motivation is? They're being good corporate citizens, and also self-serving. And it's going to help a lot.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:25 AM on November 15, 2002


Not that this isn't a good thing, but it doesn't solve the root problem of widespread AIDS infection. The cocktails help, but aren't a guarantee. If these companies really wanted to be good corporate citizens, they'd be teaching their employees to practice safe sex and not go around screwing the town whores.
posted by mkultra at 10:29 AM on November 15, 2002


The limiting "is this X or is this Y" formulation at the end of your post just confuses things, phyrewerx.
posted by mediareport at 10:30 AM on November 15, 2002


They're being good corporate citizens, and also self-serving.

Agreed. That's the magic of capitalism, really. In the long run, it benefits companies to be honest, socially active, and beneficial toward employees. It's survival of the fittest, and "unfit" corporations like Enron eventually die out.

It's not a perfect system, but it works pretty well, and this is a good example of the kind of things than many large corporations are doing all the time, though it doesn't make as fascinating of a news story as the occasional sweatshop, accounting scandal, or tale of corporate greed.
posted by oissubke at 10:31 AM on November 15, 2002


I suppose this harks back to the old philosophical question regarding whether anyone ever does anything selfless, but writ large at a corporate level. The overlap of economic and social benefits arising from the policy can easily be quantified up to a point, and it would be interesting to see whether the companies will actually display a profit on the back of this policy. However there are obviously other benefits which aren't easily quantified which would probably mean it might be more interesting if the companies aren't going to recoup their medical expenses simply from having healthier and more productive workers. It could be useful to assess what threshold there is between the resources the companies will put in and any less tangible results they might receive on one side, and the point when they decide that such a programme can't be justified. This seems more and more interesting the more I think about it. Good post.
posted by biffa at 10:46 AM on November 15, 2002


one of the problems in conversing with a member of the great mass of sheeplike media consumers is that they have bought into the irrational idea that every little event or action is an indicator of something. most times, a cigar is just a cigar.
posted by quonsar at 10:55 AM on November 15, 2002


It's survival of the fittest, and "unfit" corporations like Enron eventually die out.

Yeah I guess that's what happened to fly-by-night companies with bad corporate policies like Ford or US Steel?

I think the word "sign" in the post would be better written as "example" Is this an example of honest corporate citizenship. Sign makes it seem like a) No companies have EVER in the past done anything beneficial for workers; or b) now that they suddenly have an shining beacon all will change and companies will all be great for the workers. I think the reality is somewhere between the two.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:06 AM on November 15, 2002


In the long run, it benefits companies to be honest, socially active, and beneficial toward employees.

The trouble with this perspective is that while good corporate citizenship benefits companies in the long run, public corporations are bound to a stock market that rewards behavior that is profitable only in the short run. DeBeers is privately held, and has the freedom to make long-term investments without facing up to the demands of meeting quarterly earnings projections. AngloGold is a public company, but it has made the decision that the benefits of this policy outweigh the costs in a market-compatible time frame.

Problems arise, however, when public companies are forced to choose between long-term investments and short-term profits. All too often, equity markets and responsibilities to shareholders force these companies into short-term positions--if they were to choose the long-term position, they'd lose stock value and the ability to generate capital that a competitor choosing the short-term position would retain. This is not so much a problem with capitalism itself; it's a problem with the model of corporate financing via equity markets. Whatcha gonna do, though?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:25 AM on November 15, 2002


So I'm assuming quonsar that you made your computer by hand using stone tools and bits of wood in your lean-to? If not and you are here you ARE a consumer, baa.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:28 AM on November 15, 2002


Let's put this in another light...

The company I work for is offering its employees yearly flu and pnemonia shots for free. With almost ?% of the company's workforce affected with the flu virus every year, is this an example of merging corporate and social interests or is this a sign of honest corporate citizenship?

What is wrong with a company wanting to keep its' employees as healthy as possible? Is what they are doing questionable because they are generally not looked upon as highly moral companies in the first place? Or because it's AIDS? What's the difference between them providing flu shots or free AIDS Cocktails?
posted by aacheson at 12:02 PM on November 15, 2002


Agreed. That's the magic of capitalism, really.

It's not a perfect system, but it works pretty well, and this is a good example of the kind of things than many large corporations are doing all the time, though it doesn't make as fascinating of a news story as the occasional sweatshop, accounting scandal, or tale of corporate greed.

Oh, Christ....absolutely unbelievable.

No, this isn't a tale of "magic" and "working pretty well". But it for damned sure IS an example of what "many large corporations are doing all the time."

These benevolent and charitable corporations exacerbated the AIDS epidemic in Africa (as well as other human rights tragedies there and elsewhere). And now you want us to stand up and cheer and chant "greed is good" because they're finally, finally dragged kicking and screaming into doing something about it?

One really can't wait for Dow/Union Carbide to similarly claim the moral high ground by giving free oxygen therapy to the living, lung-diseased populace (along with fresh flowers on the graves) in Bhopal....evoking tears of awe at such charity in the halls of the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, along with fresh orgasms for our local corporate apologists, faithfully on their knees for greed.

Without going too much into the horror of the gold industry in general, and the absolutely hideous history of human rights abuses by "the extractive [mining] industries" in South Africa in particular, none of this supposedly enlightened and compassionate action by these mining concerns would have happened if they hadn't been pressured relentlessy by union activity, AIDS treatment activists, and the greedheads' cynical look at their own profitability.

And what of Anglo American itself, this supposed paragon of corporate virtue?

As one U.S. magazine noted, Anglo's "entire structure rests on cheap labor and apartheid's migrant labor system. Like the other South African mining concerns, it pays wages that are among the world's lowest and its black employees earn a quarter of what whites are paid. And while white miners are given heavily subsidized modern homes, utilities and schools, blacks are crowded into stark compounds that resemble prison camps." About 78 percent of Anglo's profits are made inside South Africa.

Source: ANGLO-AMERICAN CORPORATION: A PILLAR OF APARTHEID

The extractive industry, led by Anglo American, has played a notorious role in the colonial exploitation of Africa and more recently in exacerbating the AIDS crisis through its reliance on migratory labor and its insistence on single-sex housing. As a result, young men, hundred of miles from home and away from their families for months at a time, are drawn to sex with desperately poor commercial sex workers resulting in ideal breeding grounds for the AIDS pandemic. Researchers estimate that these migrant workers are almost two-and-a-half times more likely to be HIV-positive than non-migrant workers, a fact disputed by mining companies because of liability concerns.A key part of any multinational corporate complicity campaign is to characterize comprehensive prevention and treatment programs as a form of restitution/reparations for past histories of colonial and neo-colonial wealth extraction, as a fundamental human right, and as a necessary and appropriate employee health benefit.

Over a year ago Anglo American made a great splash by announcing that it was going to initiate a company-wide ARV [antiretroviral] treatment program for its workforce...In a stunning reversal, on October 8, 2001, Anglo American announced that it was going to provide ARV therapy to its central administrative employees (mostly white) but not to its front line mine workers (mostly black). After having previously touted the cost effectiveness of treatment, Brian Brink, Anglo's senior vice president for Medical Operations, said that it was going to provide approximately 14,000 office staff members with drugs as part of their medical insurance packages, but that expanding treatment to all of its 160,000-plus miners would be too expensive - " the cost will be greater than the saving." Brink added that the price of medicines was too high, workers' adherence to drug regimens too uncertain, and the extent of Anglo's eventual obligations to employees and their dependent to daunting....Anglo American was widely condemned by COSATU and treatment activists for its racist treatment decision. The National Union of Mineworkers and COSATU put out a joint statement calling the policy "inherently racist and discriminatory, with beneficiaries of the scheme being, in the main, white workers and the black elite. The foot soldiers who generate wealth in the bowels of the earth are excluded."


Source: Anglo American and AngloGold: Targets for the Campaign for Access to AIDS treatment for workers living with HIV/AIDS

Business as usual. A perfect history and really stunning example of the virtues of greed.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 12:47 PM on November 15, 2002


Its all nice to say that we are above this but the fact is we are all consumers. If you are writing a post on this site you are obviously using a computer, where do you think the materials come from? Oh I'm sure they all come from some magical fairy factory at the north pole where all the elven workers are treated with dignity and paid a equitable living wage. Unless you are some naked stoic sitting in an oven yelling your prophecy at passers by, you are contributing to the consumption of these materials and the exploitation of workers on a global scale! What about your coffee, your cigarettes, your pot, your clothes, your food? No matter how "conscious" of this you are, somebody's getting shafted to bring you that stuff, so let's please do away with the smug tone here.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:43 PM on November 15, 2002


Unless you are some naked stoic sitting in an oven yelling your prophecy at passers by

Hey, quit peeking in my windows!
posted by five fresh fish at 3:29 PM on November 15, 2002


I'm not sure how this is any different than sweatshop managers injecting their workers with amphetamines to keep them working through those 18 hour shifts. It's great that the injections will benefit rather than harm the workers in this case, but the difference is only circumstantial.

Does it really matter what their motivation is? They're being good corporate citizens, and also self-serving. And it's going to help a lot.

It does matter in light of the way some would interpret this news:

Agreed. That's the magic of capitalism, really. In the long run, it benefits companies to be honest, socially active, and beneficial toward employees. It's survival of the fittest, and "unfit" corporations like Enron eventually die out.

If a venture stands to profit from your well-being, it'll do its best to keep you well. If a venture stands to profit from your misery, it'll do its best to make you miserable. To the degree that a venture fails to follow this rule, they risk being buried by competing ventures that follow it more closely.

The key, I would argue, is to win regulatory limits on what companies are allowed to do to people while pursuing profit.
posted by boredomjockey at 3:34 PM on November 15, 2002


What's yours is mined.

But exploitation of human rights is not acceptable in any case. (See fold_and_mutilate's comment and links above).

NPR ran a discussion back in the summer on the public perception that diamonds are rare. They're not. They were calling the De Beers marketing campaign one the most successful for carving that mindset. An advert is forever? (sorry for the lack of linkage - I'm too cheap to cough it up for the transcript.)
posted by yoga at 3:36 PM on November 15, 2002


Okay, so would you rather they DO NOTHING and let all their employees die without medicine? It's difficult, if not impossible, for average Africans to AFFORD the AIDS drugs, not to mention get them. What is wrong with them doing this? I still don't understand.

Just because they're a shitty company other ways doesn't mean they can't get a little credit for doing something like this. And even if it's for capitalistic motives (keep our workers healthy so we don't have to hire and train replacements) the workers win out in the end with gaining access to drugs they couldn't get that will save their lives. What, exactly, is so awful about that?
posted by aacheson at 4:21 PM on November 15, 2002


Okay, so would you rather they DO NOTHING and let all their employees die without medicine? It's difficult, if not impossible, for average Africans to AFFORD the AIDS drugs, not to mention get them. What is wrong with them doing this? I still don't understand.

Did anyone here say there was anything wrong with it? All I see here is a discussion about what the motivation is. And whether they deserve "credit" seems to depend upon that motivation.

If someone knew for months that her neighbor was holding an abducted child hostage but never told anyone until she learned there was a cash reward, would you argue that she deserves some "credit" for her actions as well? One need not argue that the action has no benefit to argue against reading that action as an expression of good will.
posted by boredomjockey at 4:41 PM on November 15, 2002


boredom...I would put money that the profits DeBeers recieves in "consumer goodwill" and healthier workers doesn't even touch the cost of the drugs. They're doing this simply because they have a lot of workers in Africa and are a company with some decent people making decisions at the top.

But hey, as far as the fringe MeFites are concerned, all "big" corporations are run by moustache-twirling shadowy figures plotting misery in their wake in the name of ever increasing greed, whereas "small" companies (not corporations - that's a dirty word) are working toward saving toucans, tutoring blind kids and making the world a depression-free utopia. In that view, the point is really inarguable, no matter the facts.
posted by Kevs at 5:10 PM on November 15, 2002


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