Earlier this year, Microsoft pledged $500 million dollars towards housing in Seattle. The primary focus of this is to provide middle and low income housing for workers in the area because, as we know, where tech companies congregate, housing becomes less accessible. Our prime example is San Francisco, where, according to an Uber driver I had while I was in the city last year, someone searched months for a place to live, only to end up renting a tent in someone’s backyard for $900 a month.
What Microsoft is doing here is Corporate Social Responsibility. The concept is relatively new and not thoroughly defined but we can say that at its bare minimum, it’s the actions a corporation takes to improve the surrounding areas of the space it occupies. It is in the best interest for a corporation to step in and provide funding for causes when a city or the state may not be able to, especially since they’re not being taxed in a way that would help offset the effect of their presence.
That statement is a double edged sword. In, ‘Microsoft Cannot Fix Seattle’s Housing Crisis,’ Tammy Kim explains how the city of Seattle tried to propose a head tax for corporations above a certain threshold operating in the city, but when one of the biggest tech companies, Amazon, threatened to leave, city council pulled the mandate. We heard about this in lecture, who the very nature of an MNC is that it can leave whenever it likes, even though it would prefer not to, but we see in the Amazon-Seattle situation, that the MNC had the upper hand.
Even if a state instated mandatory CSR, like India, the corporations contributions would have to be voluntary and self-reported, so a corporation can very well get away with doing nothing if they so choose, but as mentioned, it’s in their best interest to help where they can. This pledge of $500 million dollars is a good start, but unless it’s put in the right direction, who’s to say it won’t be wasted. Kim states that the money that Microsoft is pledging will end up in the hands of developers that will cater to richer renters or buyers, worsening the problem. She also brings up the concern that $500 million might not even get you as much as one would think it does.
Kim, E. Tammy. “Microsoft Cannot Fix Seattle’s Housing Crisis.” The New York Times. January 19, 2019. Accessed April 01, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/18/opinion/microsoft-seattle-housing.html.
It is interesting that you touch upon the topic that MNCs have the power to potentially threaten the wellbeing and political economy of a country. Amazon’s decision to pull out from a planned new headquarters in New York City had caused major commotion in the community; one camp of politicians and the people are happy about protecting public subsidies and costs of living in the city, however, the other camp of politicians and the technology field are demoralized by the failure on efforts to diversify the city’s economy and attract more investment to the city. It is clear that MNCs have a more and more significant role in the operations and potential of an economy, however, the potential growth for the economy severely threaten the socio-economic status of the communities in such regions. Regardless of MNCs operating in developing or developed countries, the sheer potential for economic growth and exploitation threatens the status quo and the effect is heavily steered by the role of the government.
Tying this back to your article above, the pledge of $500m dollars to better the housing issue in Seattle will not only depend on Microsoft’s incentives to maintain its promises but also the positive or negative involvements from the Seattle government.