Bell, #LetsTalk About Profits

Jan 31, 2018

Bell, #LetsTalk About Profits

Mental health campaigns are worthwhile, but Bell is only giving out crumbs to the cause -- approximately 0.2% of profits
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Mental health is rightly getting the attention it deserves, and Bell's "Let's Talk" campaign about mental health has been front and centre in recent years, taking over ad space and social media across Canada in late January each year.

But how much support is Bell really giving?

In 2016, the most recent year with a complete annual report, Bell's annual profits were a bit over $3 billion. That's not general revenue, which was $21.7 billion, no: the $3 billion is just pure profit, the icing on the cake. That year, Bell boasted having donated $6.3 million to mental health programs as a result of "Let's Talk".

That's 0.2% of profits. One five-hundreth.

If Bell was a person saving and putting aside $3,000 a year, it would be like they gave $6 to mental health programs. It's hardly heroic.

But could it be different? Can we expect more? Expect better?

Take SaskTel, Saskatchewan's telecom crown corporation, 100% owned by the province. With around 0.6 million wireless customers (compared to Bell's 8.5 million), SaskTel had 2016-17 profits of $135 million. All of that money is available to be used for public programs like healthcare, mental health, schools, etc. None of it goes to private investors. In terms of putting profits to public services, SaskTel beats Bell by a landslide.*

Of Bell's after-tax profits, close to 100% goes to investors, and yet, because the expectations of corporate philanthropy that have become normalized in our capitlaist society are so low, praise is heaped on them for the crumbs they give out to important programs. The dust of crumbs, really, and, of course, mostly tax-deductible.

This is not to say #Let'sTalk is a bad campaign per se, though there are many of valid critiques of it, including how Bell has not been a supportive workspace for people struggling with mental health issues, how Bell's shaping of what mental health is prioritizes some disorders over others, and how it prioritizes white middle- and upper-class experiences and stories in favour of an intersectional analysis. The people doing the actual work on the campaign have, to their credit and despite the campaign's shortcomings, successfully opened some conversations, broken stigma, and brought attention to available supports.

But just imagine what $3 billion annually could do.


*Author's note, added February 1, 2018: It has been rightly pointed out that to fully illustrate the comparison of SaskTell and Bell's financing of public services, Bell's contribution in the form of income taxes should be included. SaskTel, as a fully-owned crown corporation, is effectively taxed at 100% of profits. Calculating Bell's tax rate is messier, as there are multiple methods available. The truest to the book, if a bit generous to Bell, is to compare how much in pure after-tax profits Bell had compared to how much it paid in income taxes. The $3 billion for 2016 referenced in the article is after tax, and the tax that Bell paid was around $1 billion. Bell had net income of around $4 billion before tax, then $1 billion was paid in taxes, and $3 billion remained in profit. Using the exact numbers, Bell's tax rate on it's income (profits) came out to 26.5%. Compare that again to SaskTel's 100%.

The fact remains that while posting after-tax profit of $3 billion, Bell's flagship charitable project, #LetsTalk, gives around $6 or $7 million to mental health programs, which is 0.2% of the company's profits. The $3 billion is available, but it goes to investors.


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