A couple of days ago I was aghast by what Putra Sampoerna said in an interview in theJakarta Post about “his social opus, the Putra Sampoerna Foundation.”
First a bit of background. According to the interview, he is the “heir to PT HM Sampoerna“. I don’t think so as it not his anymore: the Sampoerna family is incredibly wealthy having sold their 40% share in the cigarette company to Philip Morris for $5.2 billion in 2005.
However, he is the founder of Sampoerna Strategic, which has a number of ‘strategic’ businesses. These include telecommunications, agriculture – a diversified plantation company currently engaged in the production of Germinated Oil Palm Seed, Crude Palm Oil and Palm Kernel, Slab Rubber and Sago, and forestry – among the top five tropical hardwood plywood producers globally.
There is also a property division.
Standing gracefully with two magnificent towers, Sampoerna Strategic Square proudly distinguishes itself as a signature building in the heart of Jakarta with its unique glass dome and beautiful garden. While its exterior view entices, its interior embraces you with a warm welcome as you step into this luxurious iconic building.
Sampoerna converted this building, formerly known as Sudirman Square and the headquarters of Danamon Bank, in 2007. It is the coldest building I’ve ever been in, with the centralised air conditioning set at freezing throughout.
Apart from these company divisions, Sampoerna is a major partner in Mansion (Gibraltar) Limited, an online gambling company that operates casino and poker websites. Online gambling is banned in the USA. However, the small state of Gibralter is much more easy going: it is a tax haven and accounts of large companies “are not available to the public“.
Manchester City Football Club fans may be interested to know that “the global online gambling and entertainment business, Mansion Group, [is the] new International Betting Partner“, having previously had their logo on the front of the Tottenham Hotspur shirts.
(Local football fans may well wonder why they couldn’t be more involved in the Indonesian football leagues.)
Of course, you can’t really be a large Indonesian company without playing the Corporate Social Responsibility scam. For a start, there is this page of gobbledegook about Sampoerna Strategy’s Sahabat microfinance programme.
Even with the power of 1205 reliable Human Resources we continue to innovate to develop products that suit the needs of the society, we continue to reach out and without stopping we take steps together to give you the best. Together with Sahabat, not just to give and serve, but to reach the current evidence in order to achieve in the future.
In support of the Ministry of National Education’s initiative “Sekolah Bertaraf Internasional”, Putera Sampoerna Foundation embarked on a complementary effort to provide deserving teens, students with excellent academic achievements and leadership character who come from the lowest economic quintile*, with access to an international standard high school education through Sampoerna Academy. Sampoerna Academy is a partnership program between Putera Sampoerna Foundation and some provincial governments with a comprehensive boarding system to instill the values of leadership skills, morality, empathy, tolerance and social skills needed to facilitate the development of Indonesia’s future leaders.
(*fr. Websters: quintile: the aspect of two celestial bodies 72º, or one fifth of a circle apart. Eh? )
On the face of it, it seems to be a noble endeavour, not that I believe private businesses should be involved in the provision of schooling unless it’s a vocational school providing skills training in, say, car mechanics. Check out the Solo Techno Park for a fine example of synergy between government, businesses and academia.
But it is what Putera Sampoerna says, somewhat gloatingly, in the interview that reveals his true motivation.
“For the Sampoerna Academy, we take the top five percent of academic achievers from junior high school and then select those that we believe have leadership potential.
‘These students are the smartest, the hungriest and come from the poorest families. We have them in our boarding school for three years so we can instill our value system into their DNA. The values are leadership, entrepreneurship, and giving back to society.
“I do not give scholarships for my students. They have to pay me back a total of US$15,000 spent for the three years in the academy.
“This is because I have invested in, let’s say, you, a student from a poor village. I call it an equity investment. I will support you through school and find other people to support you through school. As soon as you get a job, I’m entitled to 20 percent of your income throughout your life.”
So, these places aren’t awarded for purely altruistic reasons but because they will offer him a financial return, and if it’s 20% of future earnings “for life“, then potentially great profits. The expression “instill [his] value system into their DNA” has a sinister connotation: brainwashing? The society they will give back to is his, not mine or yours. That’s even more sinister in my book as it smacks of a dictatorial fascism.
Given that he has brought a number of “sponsors” into the programme who can be expected to employ the graduates from his ‘Academy’, he is in a position to render them unemployable within his network if they do not pay him his tithe.
Unfortunately, the research project “Contemporary Forms of Bonded Labour in Southeast Asia” was completed in 2009. Otherwise this particular instance of capitalism in its most inhuman form would have made a suitable case study.
Taking impressionable junior high school students, and tying them to an agreement for life, is surely a form of indentured labour, or debt bondage, as it is mediated through patronage relations which reduces the worker’s personal autonomy to the degree that s/he is prevented from protecting her/his legitimate personal interests.
I would also argue that it contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly Article 4 which states: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
I recognise that it is possible that there has been a mistranslation of Putera Sampoena’s actual words, or perhaps they have been edited out of context. However, considering that the bulk of hiis wealth has come from the evil weed and gambling, he’s not a man I would entrust my son to.