Sunday, February 7, 2021
Sunday, January 31, 2021
Yesterday was Bell Let’s Talk day here in Canada, so let’s talk, seriously, about Bell.
The campaign began 10 years ago as a way to spread awareness about mental health, and while I have my criticisms, I will admit it has had a positive impact. A major corporation opening up a conversation about mental health was very helpful in breaking down some of the stigma and making it less taboo to talk about.
Bell has made it pretty clear over the last 10 years of this campaign that their allyship is strictly performative. Performative allyship is behaviour that pretends to support those in need, but never actually follows through on concrete actions that would actually, y’know, support people. They preform allyship only in the way that benefits them: more social status, being able to pat themselves on the back, and in the case of corporations, profit and advertising. Bell has proven they only care about performative support by putting out ad campaigns that are no more than feel-good advertisements, which come across as hypocritical to employees and tone-deaf to people struggling with mental illness.
You only need look at their list of hypocrisies to see they’re not committed to their cause.
While they boast about their campaigns for mental health, in recent years, employees have been fired for requesting mental health days, and the mental health struggles of employees are largely ignored or punished.
Bell acknowledges in their Let’s Talk campaign that a lot of mental health stress is workplace related, but apparently that doesn’t apply to their own employees. Despite some programs put in place at Bell, the pressure to produce has employees taking stress leaves.
And then there’s the… *checks notes* profiting off of vulnerable prison populations by making it more difficult and expensive to call friends and family while incarcerated, worsening their mental health. Very cool, Bell.
So, yeah. It’s not hard to see that the company doesn’t really care, but I don’t feel like this paints the whole picture of what’s wrong with Bell Let’s Talk, so… let’s dive into their financials.
While they like to tout about how much money is donated through their campaign each year, the real winner is always Bell, whose profits have tripled since beginning the campaign in 2011. And let’s be frank, the amount that Bell donates each year is rather minimal. To put it into context, Bell averages about 7 million in donations each year for the campaign (which the company writes off in taxes), but their CEO, George Cope, who stepped down in 2020, was receiving a 10 million dollar annual salary. (The Current CEO, Mirko Bibic is only taking home a little over 4 million a year. Talk about a deal!!)
Bell is not even one of the biggest donators to mental health in the country, and yet they reap the most social reward. Oil companies knock Bell out of the park when it comes to donations. Cenovus just put up 50 million for housing for Indigenous communities, with a promise to double it in 5 years if it’s successful, which will go a lot farther to improving mental health than awareness campaigns. And that’s only one of many donations Cenovus has made. You may think it’s unfair to compare Bell to an oil company, but Cenovus only reported a net income of 2.2 billion in 2019, while in the same year Bell reported a net income of 3.25 billion. And you may be thinking, “Well that’s just the profit, not how much they sold.” And yet, in that same year, Cenovus reported a revenue of $21.35 billion while Bell scored an easy $23.96 billion. I may be brainwashed from growing up in oil town, but I’m staring at the numbers and I STILL CAN’T BELIVE IT. For a “leader” in campaigning for mental health, that 7 mil is starting to look pretty pathetic, especially since they only donate after consumers work as their advertisers.
So, wow. Wow. WOW. (I still can’t get over those numbers). So we’ve got, company that doesn’t care? Check. Pennies for the poor? Check. But what about the campaign itself?
Bell Let’s Talk has a wide reach with their campaign, but what is it exactly they’re saying? Join the conversation? That’s a great theme to start with, but ten years down the line, what exactly are we supposed to be talking about? Bell makes no attempt to actually initiate conversation about mental health or spread any actual awareness anymore, they simply expect consumers to do the work while they reap the advertising benefits for free. While I respect the people around the country having intelligent discussions about mental health because of this campaign, I can’t support Bell preforming allyship without actually doing the work to improve people’s lives.
This YouTube video from an anonymous Bell employee illustrates, what I believe, is probably an average case of a worker struggling with mental health.
As the employee outlines, it’s the conditions of having to work ridiculous hours and still not being able to cover expenses that causes the most stress, which is not a problem only at Bell. Most employers in Canada do the things complained about in the video: abusing the PT/Freelance/Contractor laws that allow employers to hire people for FT hours but not give them any benefits, no raises, the lack of in-house resources, etc. etc.
To be fair to Bell, they’re not a mental health agency and I don’t think they should try to be. An employer can’t be expected to fix all the problems of its employees. However, by opening up the conversation on mental health and committing to helping the cause, Bell needs to be prepared to hear what people have to say. When people point to the system keeping them in pain, and point out that Bell continues to perpetuate that system when they have the power to set an industry standard, that is a problem. They have the resources to solve some of the issues, such as providing benefits to all employees so they’re able to access mental health support, relaxing their sales tactics, and using this campaign to say something meaningful, and yet. And yet.
Imagine if Bell’s “workplace initiative” involved training other organizations how to enhance employee mental health, if they built information packages and seminars, if they held conferences for other major corporations to learn how to maximize employee mental health. Imagine if they worked in tandem with the mental health agencies to build a comprehensive guide to workplace well-being. Imagine if Bell took steps to really change things.
Do I really think Bell will become a leader in mental health advocacy, quit their hypocrisy and make definitive changes? No. But I still think that criticism is important. If not for Bell, then for everyone out there exposed to this campaign and wondering what sort of effect it’s having. I hope that whenever you see the Bell Let’s Talk hashtag, remember that they are not the leader in donations to mental health, employees report feeling unsupported with their mental health, they exploit prisoners, and ultimately, Bell Let’s Talk is a large scale ad-campaign where the consumer advertises for the company, and pennies go to charities while the corporation rakes in billions. Next time you see one of these campaigns, next time you hear about a company taking steps to “help the community,” next time you hear about millions going to charity, ask yourself some serious questions.
Who really benefits from this?
What change does this bring?
Is this really helping?
If this allyship authentic or performative?
Saturday, January 16, 2021
Friday, January 8, 2021
Monday, January 4, 2021
Saturday, August 8, 2020