Corporations, capitalism and their occupation of social responsibility

Blog Politics

I recall the time when I went to Petronas with my former colleague to explore a partnership, a hopeful project for most-at-risk young people in several states. We needed funds and resources to move the project, yet the culture of technical support in Malaysia consist of incredible, boring meetings where social workers are required to kiss ass and suck toe. I had just returned from the slum, barely had time to dress decently for the discussion in the Twin Tower. Protocol was somewhat a bizarre process, something that makes me uncomfortable even after all these years of consorting with funding agencies and donors.

The discussion lasted two hours, my colleague was impatient and anxious, her proficiency was in the “corporate talk” amidst the silly jokes she made to break the ice. She’s an unsuccessful public relation dabbler though she writes pretty well. Nevertheless the Petronas meeting ended on a positive vibe, which is usually the case in Malaysia. All talk, painful to the ears, yet the corporate world was never interested in projects for the marginalised community. They were only keen on their version of “corporate social investment” « yes a mouthful to the uninitiated, but a load of bullshit.

Philanthropy in Malaysia is merely a public relations exercise. Ideas shared, are robbed, modified and rebranded to suit corporate interests, never for marginalised people. Businesses have grown bloated with arrogance, mistreatment of NGOs is a laughable bullying tactics. After all, corporate captains don’t view Malaysian NGOs as a serious, effective entity, which even I would agree. Nevertheless it still doesn’t solve the basic issues; funders have grown arrogant, enjoying their bureaucracy and power in the name of accountability. But such accountability is pretentious, mind you. There has never been sincerity, much less accessibility to donors. Funding agencies and corporations now and then do act to control the culture of community work by imposing their brand of social entrepreneurship. Don’t comply with their rules, one can be fucked with a casual gesture to leave their premises; oh yes, do forget about the funding.

I honestly believe more companies are seeing their success in their bottom line, which consist of their paying customers. They don’t believe contribution to marginalised groups help their business interest. Despite their boasts in their annual reports, they are clueless about what true grassroot work in improving the quality of life for those who are living in the gutters. Poverty is not the speciality of the corporate sector, yet they do believe in their own delusions.

Malaysian corporations have successfully disguised their ignorance and their capitalist greed by covering themselves with that much-abused word, called PHILANTHROPY.


An avid blogger, twitterer and photojournalist, Zashnain Zainal suffers from an incurable addiction to social work, helping marginalised communities since 1989. Nowadays he travels from the plantations of Malaysia to the slums of Thailand. He can be found at and @bedlamfury

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