How Elon Musk Missed The Ball On ESG - Part 2

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by Eric Burdon
KnowESG- Elon Musk missed on ESG
Elon Musk missed ball on ESG

It’s reasonable to say that with how Twitter is now being managed, Elon Musk is an unusual man. However, his overall work ethic, personality, and values make it clear that any company that he gets involved in is bound to go against ESG values. He’s said before that ESG is a scam, but perhaps it’s more of a scam for him based on the fact that he’s missed the ball so many times.

In a world where ESG values are, in a way, a blueprint for basic decency, Musk is anything but a decent human being. 

His Crusade Against Unions

That he isn’t supportive of workers can be best exemplified by his disdain for unions. Once encouraging a union to come in, he argues his workers don’t need unions since they’re already being paid fairly and getting stock options.

This is interesting because, by extension, he is saying the individuals working at his Fremont facility are getting paid well, being treated fairly, and are all having a blast coming to work. And yet, since 2017, there have been unfair labour practice charges filed against Tesla

And keep in mind the Fremont facility was pointed at as the reason the S&P 500 removed Tesla from its ESG Index. After all, multiple reports of racism and poor working conditions don’t sound like the company promotes ESG values.

Combined with Musk’s iron grip and ‘always hustling’ attitude, it becomes clear that he does most of his damage control over his companies and hides a lot of details. This behaviour is akin to an abuser who acts like everything is normal but is a danger behind closed doors.

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His Purchase Of Twitter

One of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to have peace, justice and strong institutions. The move that Musk made with his purchase of Twitter muddies up this goal significantly. Even though social media platforms are problematic for multiple reasons, we still rely on social media as a cornerstone of our everyday lives. This is, effectively, how our society communicates with itself.

Twitter is an opportunity to be exposed to different opinions and voices, get news, and, ideally,  accurate information about global events. Journalists use the platform to spread accurate, real-time observations and good journalism, backed up by real-time video or images. Activists use it to rally people for social causes.

However, Twitter was also the centre of the political divisiveness we have experienced in recent years, but organisers could still use the platform knowing Twitter staff will at least work to stop the worst of it. However, with Musk’s purchase, we’re seeing exactly what “free speech” really means in the eyes of Elon Musk.

And apparently, that means justice against any progressive intentions and human decency.

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His Fight For Hunger & Poverty

As one of the richest men on the planet, questions surround his wealth. Specifically, how a man could make this much money and yet hasn’t overtly, in a philanthropic sense, put any effort into solving larger world issues.

Indeed, world issues like poverty and hunger have a lot of nuances to them. However, one can argue that a lot of possible solutions, innovations, and positive change can stem from a direct result of receiving overwhelming funding.

Perhaps billions of dollars in funding.

And yet when it comes to billionaires, they haven’t done much of anything. In the case of Elon Musk, he’s now spent billions on a social media platform that he is driving into the ground and says is facing imminent bankruptcy.

When one has incredible wealth and resources at their disposal, you’d think that he would’ve put that money towards helping out food problems or poverty. In the case of world hunger, that is still up in the air. But when it comes to poverty it’s a whole other issue.

Recently Anand Giridharadas argued that billionaires should be abolished as they represent systemic flaws in our policies. And he is right about that as we’ve seen the wealthy only get wealthier and the poorer get poorer. Today, most of the wealth of the world is held by a small group of individuals who have paid their way out of almost every problem they faced.

Musk has received billions in government funding for his companies and has amassed his wealth by undercutting and exploiting staff and avoiding taxes. If he was to pay his fair share, his employees wouldn’t be complaining about poor working conditions. Furthermore, with all of that money, he could’ve injected a lot of that money back into the economy.

And yet he seems almost reluctant to indulge in these issues. 

The List Goes On

There are several examples of Elon Musk missing the ball on ESG beyond these. A lot of his pragmatic business air is really just a front for what the man truly is behind all of it. That image is melting apart in his actions and decisions with Twitter, but the thing is, Elon Musk has always been like this.

Perhaps the more realistic question is whether we must expect a traditional form of philanthropy in those who attain the ranks of the wealthiest in society, or, as in Musk’s case, if we look at the cumulative effects of their endeavours and assess whether they have created meaningful change. The simple argument here is that, despite the government assistance, Tesla paved the way for the global auto industry to switch to electric. SpaceX, with others, has obviated NASA’s dependence on Russia to ferry astronauts to the ISS. 

So, where do we draw the line in our ESG expectations? Should such industrial, commercial, and political power come with a mandate to drive the transition to sustainability? COP27 underlined the fact that we are rapidly losing time to react, so must those with influence be persuaded to use that power for the planet?

Read Part 1 here.

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