On Jemena and the myth of corporate social responsibility

It’s around 8am on February 18. An overcast day in Melbourne that hints at autumn rather than late summer. The otherwise quiet morning is punctuated by the sounds of machinery. The really loud sounds of machinery. REALLY. LOUD. 

Turns out I’ve woken to discover the fine folk at Jemena Ltd have performed an assessment of infrastructure in the suburb and taken it upon themselves to replace a couple of power poles in the street. Jemena is the assets business of private entity SGSP (Australia) Assets Pty Ltd – a 60/40 split between Chinese and Singaporean companies, which is contracted to provide electrical infrastructure services to many parts of Australia.

According to one of the staff members on site there’s more work planned for the suburb so this represents an ideal time to give Jemena a heads up on their communications – or lack thereof – which is a vital foundation of any business’ social responsibility.

Interestingly, when I tweeted about events of the day Jemena, in a reply tweet, asked me to contact them, however I tweeted back that I’d be writing this story and low and behold the next morning Josh from Jemena customer service called me instead, having obviously tracked down my business phone number on-line as it’s not mentioned on my Twitter account. This points to one of two things. 1). Jemena wants to provide excellent customer service, or, 2). They want to censor criticism of their activities. We’ll see, won’t we?

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Anyway, back to the 18th. Jemena trucks, those from XPower, who were providing water boring services for the installation, and those of Construct Traffic, a traffic management firm, were all assembled on site. All of the vehicles and proposed work have meant that a road and footpath closure is in place. Given the pole installation is right beside my driveway that’s been blocked I’m also house-bound for a certain length of time. The phone and internet connection has been cut, but thankfully the power’s still on. For how long I know not.

Why not? You’d think that an operation which involves shutting the street, road and footpath closures, at least eight vehicles of all shapes and sizes and a dozen workers from three different companies engaged in hole boring, electrical safety operations, pole installation and traffic management would have necessitated some sort of notice to affected residences and/or businesses. Well, according to a customer service staff member that’s simply not the case. Sharon from Jemena advised that because there was no interruption to power planned for the day that Jemena didn’t need to inform anyone of its actions.

Hmm… Have a read of that paragraph above and see if it passes the ‘pub test’, which is all the rage in political circles these days. The ‘pub test’ in case you haven’t heard the term is in fact a euphemism for the age-old query: “Does this sound like bullshit to you?” Otherwise known as “Yeah right, pull the other one…”

So let’s look at the events of the 18th. No notice means someone could have parked their car right beside the pole and left it for the day, perhaps going off to work by public transport instead. This would have meant all assembled sitting around scratching their collective or individual behinds unable to complete the planned works. Does that sound like a way to undertake such an expensive operation? I’m far from expert in the planning and roll-out of infrastructure projects, but I’d have thought that ensuring unencumbered access to a worksite rather than relying on luck would be kind of a priority. Mind you, if access to the work site was blocked for some reason I’m sure the cost for these things are borne by the end user anyway.

So, no notice means that – according to Sharon – I have to call the telephone company (Optus in my case) to ascertain when services will resume. And I have to do this at my cost in both time and money with Sharon insisting that telecommunications was absolutely no concern of Jemena’s, despite the fact that they were clearly the lead agency engaged in the works.

So, no notice means unscheduled disruption to businesses such as mine – with the cost burden of missed meetings and deadlines due to being able to transmit data was borne by… me. Yes, you’re getting the hang of where this is going aren’t you.

So, no notice means there is no corporate responsibility. There’s no care for the end user. No engagement with the community in terms of planning and notifications. No understanding how a simple card in the mail or even a knock on the door would have absolutely remedied all of this. But that would mean corporations see end users as something more than cash cows or an inconvenience. And that’s simply something the modern corporation is incapable of doing given their number one and only priority is the generation of profit above all else.

And while we’re on the issue of corporate responsibility, I cannot, in all seriousness, believe that staff from all three companies on site were not using visible hearing protection when the hole boring part of the operation was underway. The entire house shook with the thumping sound of the pump and I was indoors and 15m away at the time. Still, I guess Jemena will have to wear the costs of at least that for their staff. Perhaps.

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And the best bit, because the job is only half done (the old pole is still there and the lower powerlines are still connected to it) I get to lose power while the lines are moved to the new pole. We’ll probably also lose phone and internet again so the old pole can be removed. The road and driveway will be blocked again too. But, with any luck we’ll at least get notice of the power outage given that that apparently falls within Jemena’s customer charter, so I’ll have notification of the rest of the associated works as a result. It’s just a shame that Jemena can’t see the big picture – focused as they are on doing the bare minimum for the end user to maximize profits; that end user being the electricity distributor rather than the people affected by their actions.

The sad part of all of this is that you can swap the Jemena name with the name of any number of other multi-nationals and the story would read the same. In this day and age there’s no lateral thinking, no care and consideration for the impact corporations have on people, and absolutely zero liability taken for a failure to fulfill even the basics of social responsibility.

Jemena - half done

Jemena – a job half done