I`m attending a Health and Safety Conference in Toronto and I hear that the keynote speaker is going to be Stephen Lewis, a Canadian karmadawg of the highest order. His resume as Canada`s Gandhi-like International diplomat is karma bound and I take advantage of the moment. I need to hear the man and know for myself. And he doesn`t disappoint!
Mr. Lewis`s theme is Global Corporate Social Responsibility? This must be a mistake or a book of dreams that Lewis is trying to sell in the fiction category. But this guy doesn't`t do fiction. He does pain and suffering and the real life horrors of dying in modern Africa. Definitely no laughs, but maybe there`s a new serial killer story on sale? There`s got to be something unexpected in all this. Corporations don`t do "Social Responsibility". They do greed!
Lewis articulates HIV/AIDS and it`s part as a health crisis in the workplaces of Lesotho, Africa. We`re not talking about Kansas, Dorothy, this is a vision of hell on earth for most of us. There are 2.2 million people in Lesotho with a 45% unemployment rate. And the life expectancy is 34.4 years. That`s not a typo. 34.4 years! Shite!
There are 45,000 people working in Africa`s largest garment industry in Lesotho and 15,000 of them have HIV/AIDS. Lewis speaks of his many visits to Lesotho and how these garment industries were true sweat shops in the early visits. But now he sees improvements in Social Responsibility shown by companies like the Gap. Here`s where we leave Lewis who led us to the water and we drink the notion of the Gap (and other notorious corporations) doing public good. How debatable can that be? Bill Gates, Apple, Steven Speilberg and others are singing the praise of red products that share profits with an effort to finance the alleviation of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Red products like the Gap red shirts are made in Lesotho and employ African workers as part of the campaign. And Africans need employment.
Bono does Amex red card adds where the campaign gets 1% of every Amex purchase. Is this the last straw? Is Bono a sell out or a pioneer. Does the Gap or any of the others really give enough of their profit to the cause or is it a "royal scam"? I don`t think so. And this I think I know (here we go again).
People in the rich corners of planet capitalism won`t stop consuming in our near future. Bet ya! And if Corporations like the Gap are willing to give 50% of the profit on red shirts to AIDS research and the distribution of anti viral drugs, then I`m with Oprah and I`m supporting getting these evil Corporations to join arms with consumers to build a Global Fund to alleviate a veracious scourge on our crazy little world. And now even Stephen Lewis can find a kind word to say about the Gap and progress in 'social responsibility". This is too hopeful and I can`t deny it`s potential.
Denial of globalization and consumerism is futile in the near term and refusal of "red product concepts" could delay progress in fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa. We need to get our minds around using Corporations and consumption for a better good. There may be some devil in the details but the payoff is hope for a fair shot at a real future for someone in Lesotho, Africa. We should keep every CEO`s conscience to the fire, demand a larger share of profit and better working conditions for Africans, but this pact with the devil could save lives! And don`t forget, Oprah likes this and ya gotta like Oprah!