All in the same boat

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One of the first things President Junior should have done when he took office was to call the greatest taipans to the palace for a meeting. There aren’t more than a hundred of them that really matter.

Junior should explain to the Taipans what he meant when he chose unity as his campaign theme: He needs everyone to help tackle the country’s problems.

A Forbes report said the 50 wealthiest families and individuals in the Philippines enjoyed a “robust recovery” as their collective wealth surged 30 percent to $79 billion (3.94 trillion pesos), even as the pandemic continued.

That’s because the economy was doing pretty well and, as usual, there was no slowdown. For this reason, reporting GDP growth rates is a misleading measure of a person’s quality of life.

President Junior should remind top families that the biggest conglomerates they own have to do more or we will all perish together. Rich and poor, we’re all in the same boat.

The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR as we know it is not enough, never was. Conglomerates need to integrate their social responsibility activities into their company’s business model. Otherwise it is tokenism and useless.

There are those who will say that they are accountable to their shareholders and should make as much money as possible. Then they will say that their only responsibility is to pay taxes and the government must be responsible for everything else.

Possibly true. But if we all wait for the government to do even some of the most pressing work, we will end up losing even more. And it will be displayed on the bottom line.

Consider the case of the Tullahan River, which flows through the northern borders of Metro Manila. It is very polluted and causes the destructive floods that affect businesses in Malabon, Valenzuela and the surrounding area.

The flooding has disrupted operations at the Polo Brewery in San Miguel, causing shutdowns even during the worst of the flooding. The solution is obvious and cannot wait.

For example, San Miguel provided one billion pesos annually to clean up the 17-mile (27-kilometer) Tullahan river system. SMC even purchased additional new equipment to double its solid waste extraction capacity to 5,000 tons per day.

The Tullahan River System is ranked #4 in the list of the 10 most plastic emitting rivers in the world responsible for global ocean plastic pollution. San Miguel’s remediation has reached an important milestone: 414,000 tons of solid waste have been removed.

“As well as removing silt and solid waste that has accumulated at the bottom of the river for years, we also need to increase the depth to a maximum of five metres, particularly in areas that still experience severe flooding. There are still many areas that have become too shallow due to waste being dumped into the river, with only a meter or two of depth remaining,” said SMC’s Ramon S. Ang.

The government could not have cleaned up the river as efficiently and quickly as San Miguel. Most likely, someone in collusion with officials would have made money by pretending to clean it up…like all those DPWH flood control projects that never controlled the floods. In any case, the authority responsible for cleaning the river DENR was busy creating a dolomite beach.

What’s in it for San Miguel? They no longer have to shut down their brewery and have gained goodwill in their community, which also no longer suffers from the usual flooding.

That’s a billion pesos a year well spent…although the promise of continued brewery operations probably earned them more than that.

There are other things the taipans can do to directly help people improve their quality of life. In business schools, they have a name for it: Inclusive Business.

Romy Neri, a former AIM professor and NEDA secretary, listed what could be done: one is to reach out to the poor by providing affordable goods and services; providing decent income and work opportunities; Involving the poor in the corporate value chain as producers, contractors, distributors, retailers or franchisees.

I had written about Jollibee’s commitment to farmers growing potatoes, helping with the technical side of growing potatoes of the right quality, and then guaranteeing the market and price.

Nestle has this longstanding program to help coffee and cocoa farmers improve the quality of their products. Nestle also guarantees that they will buy anything that meets the standards. Given its international reach, Nestle should expand beyond the needs of our domestic market.

Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises account for 99.5 percent of Philippine business. In 2018, MSMEs contributed 35.7 percent to the total value added or to the gross domestic product. In 2018, MSMEs generated 5.7 million jobs, or 63.2 percent of total employment.

Most MSMEs struggle with mom and pop operations. They need help to scale: to design products, source raw materials, achieve high-quality production and distribution.

All major retailers have resources that can help. They can also help small producers by not tying up their meager capital in month-long “consignment” agreements.

Microfinance is a great need not only in agricultural enterprises but also in cottage industry. Through the use of technology, the big banks can set up subsidiaries focused on microfinance. BPI’s BangKo seems to be on the right track.

Then there is living space. NHA has long been useless. There has to be a way the big real estate companies can help. People have to live close to where there is work and they don’t have to own the house. Affordable rents should be fine.

Construction and manufacturing companies should have intensive training programs in coordination with the higher schools. Labor laws may need to be adjusted to allow for this.

There are so many other things the taipans can do to make things better. The super-rich here have tied up most of their wealth in deals that can be lost in the blink of an eye if people’s patience is exhausted.

We need unity. The rich need to realize that we are all in the same boat. We sink together when it doesn’t work.

Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow me on Twitter @boochanco.

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