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SF voters’ CSR issue: Tax companies to help the homeless? What does a company “owe” its hometown(s)?

 When, on November 6th San Francisco voters decide whether to tax local companies to help the city’s homeless, cities and companies across the country will be paying close attention.

The issue: how far to stretch “corporate social responsibility”. What responsibilities tech companies — and other companies in other locations — have for addressing social problems in their backyards.

On this, San Francisco/Silicon Valley leaders disagree – vigorously , according to The New York Times In Liberal San Francisco, Tech Leaders Brawl Over Tax Proposal to Aid Homeless :

Proponent of the tax Marc Benoitt, CEO of SalesForce, the online software company, San Francisco’s largest private employer: “Homelessness is all our responsibility… The SF homelessness crisis has never been worse! Our city has amazing plans but we need funding NOW to help our homeless people & families.”

Tax opponent: Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square: “We need to have long term solutions in place, not quick acts to make us feel good for one moment at a time.”

Of course, there are corporate alternatives to help solve homelessness via various forms of corporate philanthropy. In one approach, Stripe, a San Francisco start-up, says it  might make sizable charitable donations to homelessness causes instead – with dual purposes, “in hopes that this will be enough to sway the Mayor to publicly oppose this.”

Voluntary philanthropy, valuable as it may be, is not as reliable as a steady steam of revenue generated by a corporate tax.

This issue is not limited to the Bay Area. Nor is there consensus among CEOs elsewhere.

In Seattle, The Times reports, “Amazon objected in May to a city tax that would have funded services for the homeless. After intense opposition, Seattle officials scuttled it.” [However]

“In San Jose, Calif. where Cisco has its headquarters, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, spoke in support of Mr. Benioff in a statement this week, saying, ‘We must end the homelessness and housing crises our communities are facing.’ He said he was supporting a proposition to fund affordable housing [there].

As with many CSR and sustainability social issues — “brands taking stands”, socially responsible investing, immigration, etc. — CEO decisions, mainly with good reasons, will vary.

Still, if even as an outlier, this poignant assessment from a concerned tech company employee may be worth pondering:

“I suspect almost all my tech friends agree with me on this, but: Look. We’re rich. Right on the same streets we work and live on, people are dying of exposure and hungry and sick.

They need a place to stay and get care… I promise we will all still have enough left over… A night-and-day moral issue.” – Chris Palmer, software security engineer.


He posted it on Twitter.