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.