South Africa is known as one of the world’s most unequal countries. Despite efforts from the government and implementations such as B-BBEE or affirmative action, limited progress has been made to heal South Africa from its legacy of apartheid. Furthermore, our socio-economic status continues to suffer.
To provide some perspective, the richest 10% of South Africa’s population owns more than 85% of household wealth, while over half of the population has more liabilities than assets. This gap is higher than any other country for which sufficient data is available. Furthermore, the South African labour market is heavily racialised, and gender biased. In addition to having the worst employee outcomes, black Africans earn the lowest wages, in contrast to white individuals, whose mean real earnings were more than three times as high in 2011−2015.
From a global standpoint, studies suggest that nationality and economic class can predict about 80% of an individual’s likely income throughout their lifetime. Discrimination based on age, gender, ethnic or racial group, age, disability category, sexual orientation or other factors serve to disadvantage some individuals. COVID-19 has further deepened these existing inequalities by hitting the most vulnerable communities the hardest. As the UN put it: ‘Our society will not achieve sustainable development for all if those who are under-privileged are robbed of the chance for better living standards, therefore this reinforces the urgency to accomplish our Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs).’
SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) calls for reducing inequalities in income as well as those based on age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status within a country. Goal 10 also addresses inequalities among countries, including those related to representation, migration and development assistance. (The infographic depicting the status of SDG 10 published by the United Nations in its Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021 provides further insight on the matter.)
According to Martin Kirk, director of strategy at The Rules (a global collective of writers, thinkers and activists dedicated to challenging the root causes of global poverty and inequality), equality is not something that will be resolved without a change to the system and the connotations of ‘charity’ how people think about it. ‘If the private sector is not involved in redesigning that system we might as well all pack up and go home.’
In other words, it is for us as individuals and companies to recognise the visibly entrenched inequality will persist if action is not taken now.
CSR IS NOT A HANDOUT
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is much more than charitable giving. It requires a company to analyse its impact on the world throughout its supply chain, and, in turn, take responsibility for its global footprint. Companies and organisations have a great deal of power and political voice. ‘Creating a strong business and building a better world are not conflicting goals – they are both essential ingredients for long-term success’ (Bill Ford, chairman of Ford Motor Company). This idea of long-term success is imperative, as changing this recurring narrative is a progressive journey, not a ‘quick fix’.
This urgency for change provides one with a number of business opportunities that allow for practical and innovative solutions, therefore the private sector can help reduce global inequality by:
- Investing − This pattern of inequality has been passed on to generation after generation. Therefore, early interventions and investing in children’s education or well-being is critical to breaking this systemic inequality. Investing in children yields positive benefits to economies and societies. Since the foundation of an individual’s health and well-being is laid in early childhood, it is the most opportune time to break the cycle of poverty. Organisations can involve their Social Responsibility department in making these types of investments a priority for a business.
- Paying workers a living wage, providing employees with paid family leave and sick leave, ending the gender pay gap.
- Actively advocating − Using different campaigns or initiatives to make children, adolescents and youth aware of these issues, inspire their positive action and expand the space for their participation in accountability mechanisms and activities. This message can be spread in a variety of ways across media and communications channels, including digital platforms, community dialogues, community and children’s radio, participatory video, school clubs, etc.
- Zwakala is an example of SDG 10 in action. This youth movement is helping to contain the spread of COVID-19, particularly in rural communities who are at greater risk due to their levels on education, by advocating the importance of wearing masks, social distancing and getting vaccinated. Businesses can collaborate with movements such as Zwakala in order to broaden their horizons by addressing more overt inequality issues.
- Promoting government spending programmes that will increase the well-being and productivity of its workers.
As American historian, columnist, novelist, poet, artist and editor Aberjhani put it: ‘The more we ignore its potential to bring greater balance and deeper meaning to human existence, the more likely we are to continue to define history as one long inglorious record of man’s inhumanity to man.’
Belinda Carreira CA(SA), CFO and Head of Sustainability at Emergent Africa and CEO at Well Advisers, and Grace Kathan, a law student who has been completing vacation work at Emergent under the mentorship of Belinda