Tuesday 18 September 2018 8:54 am

DEBATE: Is it fair to judge entrepreneurs like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for their philanthropic efforts?

Follow Sarah Turner


Is it fair to judge entrepreneurs like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for their philanthropic efforts?

Sarah Turner, managing director of Carter Wong, says YES.

We live in a world where the “haves” and “have nots” grow ever further apart. It’s also a world where big brands are waking up to the power of investing in social good – not only for the impact this has on the receiver of these philanthropic funds, but also on consumer perception of their companies.

I think it’s great that entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos are starting to champion causes like homelessness.

However, when a brand of Amazon’s magnitude continues to make headlines for questionable business practices (namely allegedly exploitative worker conditions in its warehouses and aggressive policies to reduce tax), these gestures can be seen to fall short of true philanthropy and have a more cynical undertone.

Particularly in the tech sector, entrepreneurs are the face of their brand. Consumers therefore buy into that person – their passion, vision, and mission – as much as the product or service.

These leaders have a responsibility to live the brand’s social values, not just use them for marketing copy.

Read more: Editor’s notes: Amazon boss should look closer to home to spend his fortune

Alex Deane, a Conservative commentator, says NO.

The twin tasks for business leaders are wealth creation and job creation.

These factors drive productivity and are the bedrock of modern society. This is where our tax comes from, paying for society’s various functions, and how these tasks are delivered is the criterion by which we should judge such people, rather than applying an additional philanthropic acid test.

As it happens, I understand that Jeff Bezos also chooses to donate a huge amount to charity (though not as much as his judgemental critics seem to think he ought). This is obviously to his credit, but should not distract from the fact that doing his job well in and of itself is an enormous social good.

Leading businesspeople may choose to take up philanthropic pursuits; they may not. That’s their business. It is ridiculous that once someone succeeds in growing and running a company, rather than judging them on that basis, some self-appointed piety merchants also expect them to save the world.

Read more: Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos among backers of £4.5m Wagestream start-up fund