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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751


VERHOEF, Grietjie. The enterprise in the society: Corporate social engagement by Sanlam, 1918-1980. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.4, pp.731-751. ISSN 2224-7912.

Corporate social responsibility, broadly understood to be the conduct of enterprises to contribute to sustainable economic development in conjunction with employees, families, the community as well as the broader society to improve the quality of life of all, has become statutory responsibility manipulated by various stakeholders to serve different purposes in the social and business contexts. The concept of corporate social responsibility CSR acquired prominence and value for enterprises, especially big business and transnational conglomerates that needed to address legitimacy concerns in the markets in which they operated. Animosity between business and society developed as a result of business conduct exploiting resources in the host markets, exploitation of human resources as well as attempts to manipulate governments to gain preferential treatment. The drive to sustain the value extraction within tight time schedules in order to deliver commodities as contracted, from markets in the southern hemisphere to northern hemisphere business, led to labour practices and business conduct which aroused protest and opposition in the exploited markets. International human rights organisations gradually responded by labelling business contravening best practice publically as exploitative and not doing business in good faith. Global activism against business exploitation led to the formulation of principles of good conduct, which fed into more formal programmes of responsible business conduct. The early post-industrialisation history in Britain has witnessed benevolent actions by well-intended businessmen to alleviate the plight of poor labour, or the poor in the industrialised urban society. These actions were primarily philanthropic, but were later supplemented by entrepreneurial activity to conduct "better business".This paper recognises the long history of responsible conduct by business with respect to the needs of the broader society, but it presents a case study of a life assurer in South Africa, Sanlam. Sanlam was not forced by any statute to engage constructively with the broader society, but implemented a policy of corporate social engagement since its formation. Sanlam 's vision and commitment to policyholders 'best interests, to the education of people whereby they would be empowered to take responsibility for their own lives, was the overarching purpose of the company. It was argued that empowerment of the people is the only method of creating real benefits to the entire South African society (which meant everybody living in South Africa), which was the ultimate goal of the life assurer. Sanlam implemented corporate social engagement to empower its policyholders, to enable them to make a substantial contribution to the South African economy and thereby to the benefit of all South Africans. This paper explores the Sanlam corporate social engagement programmes from 1918 to 1980 to illustrate the successful implementation of CSR long before CSR became a political tool. It is argued that when CSR is voluntary and linked directly to stakeholders, such programmes serve to build successful CSR and create real benefit to the recipients as well as the broader society. A historical analysis is made of the rationale of Sanlam management in implementing programmes to facilitate empowerment of policyholders, the education of needy children as well as bursary schemes for university study. These actions were supplemented by programmes to enable schools to build hostels for school children. Sanlam provided credit to people in need of credit, but who would not qualify for credit at ordinary bank institutions, as well as mortgages on agricultural land as a means of empowering its policyholders. Sanlam advocated its role as mutual assurer to provide security to its policyholders. Therefore Sanlam offered access to credit, or a postponement of the payment ofpolicy premiums in case of temporary inability to pay, since thereby the company was seen to practise what it preached: security through life assurance to the people and then through them being secure, greater stability to the South African society and economic progress for everybody living in the country in the long run. Sanlam set out to build local ownership of the economy. Life assurance thus provided a savings mechanism and simultaneously an ability to grow financial independence, thereby beating white poverty which had taken on crisis proportions during the late 1920s and 1930s. Real economic empowerment lay in self-empowerment, facilitated by responsible corporate social engagement by the Sanlam Management. The corporate social engagement programmes of Sanlam before 1980 was directed at its own policyholders, but the profile of that constituency always included non-Afrikaners as well. This paper explores the non-statutory real social engagement programmes of Sanlam aimed at real empowerment and not politically sanctioned action to serve biased political interests.

Palabras clave : society; policyholders; social responsibility; growth; insurance company.

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