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Editorial: Extortion of a different kind?

Published:Sunday | September 6, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Gloria Henry, the president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MBCCI), would no doubt have shocked a lot of people with her threat of a boycott of Chinese businesses for supposedly not "giving back" to the community. But what is even more surprising, frightening even, is that she appears to have the support of her predecessor, Davon Crump, who this newspaper had looked upon as a sensible fellow.

But what, perhaps, this affair highlights is the absence of awareness of organisations like the MBCCI of what ought to be priorities and, therefore, the ignorance with which they too often approach issues.

Ms Henry's complaint is that Chinese-owned businesses benefited from Montego Bay, without, she seems to think, sufficiently throwing open their cash registers to the city. Her focus, apparently, is mostly on the new arrivals, not on those who have been around for a long time.

We are, however, not clear about where she draws the line - after how many years or at what generation, or whether this presumed irresponsibility is in the DNA of Chinese business people.

But whatever the basis for the calculation of their intransigence, Ms Henry and her executive plan to call Montego Bay's Chinese business owners for a reading of the riot act, after which "we will encourage our community members not to do business with them if they are not willing to be part of the development of the community".

Added Mr Crump: "We have to take a stand and boycott these players if they don't conform to the things that are necessary to give back to the community that supports development."

Is this a proposed group boycott, or one of individual business? What of other ethnicities whose firms, individually or collectively, "do not conform" to what Ms Henry, Mr Crump and their fellow commissars determine to be the appropriate modes of corporate social responsibility.




The first responsibility of firms is to operate in accordance with the law, including adhering to prescribed regulations and paying their taxes. Their next priority is to ensure a reasonable return on their investment, that is, to make a profit. When firms fail to meet their legal obligations, they should be prosecuted and bear the penalties of the law.

It is the responsibility to Government, having collected all the taxes that firms and individuals are obligated to pay, to efficiently employ these in the delivery of social goods and in creating an environment that facilitates economic expansion and job creation. When, and if, governments operate efficiently, they lessen the need for private social welfare.

Further, private welfare outreach by firms and/or their owners ought to be entirely discretionary and should not be conflated with the deeper concept of corporate social responsibility, including the ethical values people exhibit in running their businesses.

Indeed, Ms Henry and Mr Crump run the risk of having their comments misinterpreted as anti-Chinese rhetoric, or for the cynics to declare it something that has some of the characteristics, though of a more subtle and of a higher order - of extortion.

In the normal course of things, the 'muscle' demands payment for protection. But in this case, Chinese businesses will be urged to give to the community to avoid boycotts, orchestrated not by the community, but by a business group.