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Where to give? Depending on how much you normally donate to charity, this might be a question you find yourself grappling with. But this question applies outside the scope of the individual. How do those with millions to billions of dollars in their pockets, ranging from the richest executives to corporate giants, decide where to donate their money?
The destructive Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas on Sept. 1 of this year. With the official death toll at 51 but hundreds more still missing, it is safe to say the Bahamas are facing a crisis. “Pray for the Bahamas” hashtags on Twitter and posts on Instagram stories began circulating heavily, with people seemingly agreeing that the Bahamas desperately need help. Where was this aid going to come from, I wondered? I scrolled by post after post on social media about which charities to give to, which GoFundMe fundraisers to support, and what people can do on an individual level to help. But surprisingly, I saw almost nothing about corporations or the uppermost class donating anything at all.
Since the infrastructure has been greatly wiped out by the hurricane, the deputy prime minister of the Bahamas has said they could possibly need even billions of dollars to repair the damage. With large corporations like Apple making revenues of $45.7 billion a year in 2016 and L’Oréal making $23.89 billion in 2017, I would dare to conclude that these companies are more equipped to offer aid than the average person on Twitter. Yet, most large corporations and their incredibly rich executives have been silent on the topic.
However, when a fire broke out in the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Apr. 15, they rushed into action. Over $1 billion was pledged in just two days. L’Oréal and the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, along with their founders the Bettencourt Meyers family, pledged $226 million for repairs. Billionaire François-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering, a group that owns brands such as Yves St. Laurent and Gucci, said his family would give $113 million. The richest man in Europe, Bernard Arnault, owner of conglomerate LVMH that owns brands like Louis Vuitton, pledged double that amount. Apple had also pledged to donate.
When it comes to the Bahamas, the support shown by corporations has been slim. Coca-Cola donated $400,000, Disney Cruise Line gave $1 million, and Royal Caribbean pledged $1 million. While this money is certainly needed, it is not much compared to what corporations gave to Notre Dame. Many who pledged to the cathedral have not said anything about the Bahamas, including Apple and L’Oréal.
While Notre Dame is an important cultural and historical landmark, the damage it faces is very different in nature from the damage faced by the Bahamas, which affects the lives of its people directly and drastically. So why were corporations and their billionaire executives so ready to declare support for Notre Dame but have, except for a few cruise lines and celebrities, been so quiet on the Bahamas?
I have a theory. We as a people, as individuals, donate to what we care about, and I am not speaking on that. However, when you examine this on a larger scale, disparities emerge. The fact of the matter is we do not live in an equal world, and it is one that cares more about white people than it does black and brown people. It is no shock then that the priorities of corporations and those who run them reflect this, because their philosophy at its core is to give the market what it wants. And the market has wanted and does want white supremacy.
From the water crises in Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey to Hurricane Maria that devastated the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and other places in the Caribbean to the Syrian refugee crisis, time and time again people put black and brown people last in favor of the white and Euro-centric. So, is it really that surprising that corporations do too?
In my opinion, few corporations and their heads donate for morality’s sake. Instead, they base their decisions on when, how, and what to donate because of public reception, optics, and the values of the often white, upper-class people who run the corporations. But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, they rely on the average individual to shoulder the brunt of it.I have hope for change, as when doing research for this piece I did see a few articles detailing the debate, if somewhat small, surrounding the question “Was Notre Dame was given too much?” I will try and believe that one day, however far away that day may be, when disaster hits those who need aid will immediately have access to it, regardless of their cultural origins or skin color.
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Cover photograph by Maxwell Cox ’23.