Royal Caribbean: $6,800,000,000 in Tax-Free Income, But No Lunch Money for the Kindergarten Students in Haiti?
The New York times published an excellent article about a small school which Royal Caribbean built in Haiti. Entitled "In Haiti, Class Comes With a Peek at Lush Life," the article was written by Sarah Maslin Nir and contains some interesting photographs by Piotr Redlinski.
The little school is called "École Nouvelle Royal Caribbean," which translated literally is the "New Royal Caribbean School." Naming a school for disadvanged kindergarten and grade school Haitian students after a Fortune 200 corporation seems to be somewhere between arrogant and clueless, but this is a cruise line struggling for self-promotion.
The cruise line built the school last year, following the public ridicule and loathing it received after it continued to sail to Haiti after the earthquake in January of 2010 which killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians and left millions more homeless and in a state of shock. The breadth and depth of the Haitian suffering appeared lost on the cruise line executives as Royal Caribbean cruise ship after cruise ship unloaded thousands of passengers in Labadee to graze at the oversized buffets and sip margaritas in lounge chairs on the cruise line's private beach while hungry Haitians on the other size of a ten foot barb wire fence begged for food.
I commented on this gross spectacle in an article Royal Caribbean Sails to its Trademarked, Private Fantasy Island of Labadee® - While Haiti Suffers.
When the school opened last October, I asked the rhetorical question whether it was a genuine commitment or a publicity stunt? Royal Caribbean said it spent some $425,000 to build the school. Not much, particularly considering that Royal Caribbean collected around $6,800,000,000 (billion) last year and pays no U.S. Federal income tax because it incorporated itself in Liberia and registered its cruise ships in places like Liberia and the Bahamas.
The NY Times article takes a critical look at school today, some six months after the school opened to great fanfare and cruise line CEO Richard Fain then flew back to his mansion in Miami. Although the residents seemed to appreciate the school, many of those interviewed by Ms. Nir asked why hasn't the cruise line done more?
The article points out that the cruise line fails to provide any meals to the children, "leaving many children hungry . . . the vast majority of the 200 or so students do not eat anything from early morning until they get home after school, teachers said. Some students fall asleep at their desks from fatigue."
The Times also explains that many students commute for an hour and are often piled dangerously in the back of pickup trucks.
Cruise CEO Fain defended the cruise line's modest project, telling the Times "we are a business. We're not a charitable organization."
There can be no debate about that, considering last year CEO Fain and cruise president Adam Goldstein (photo right) together pocketed over $12,500,000 in income.
How can any executive justify not feeding kids lunch, particularly in a school which bears the corporation's own name, not to mention the destitute circumstances surrounding the cruise line's private beach? The cruise line didn't even bother to install a stove, cook top or refrigerator for juice for the children. Inexcusable, considering the orgy of food at the buffets on the mega-ships which sail from Miami into Labadee. And consider this cruise review a couple of years ago about Labadee:
One of the best Private Island experiences you could ever wish for! Labadee has four beaches and facilities for lots of people! Labadee is owned and operated by Royal Caribbean for the exclusive use of it's own passengers only . . . Royal Caribbean maintains a nice lunch area on the island. Here you can graze at your heart's content, The cuisine was hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, ribs, various salads, and deserts. No charge. It's all included in the cost of your cruise!
If Royal Caribbean can charge passengers thousands of dollars to cruise on its ships like the Oasis of the Seas and around $100 to ride jet skis for just an hour, certainly it can figure out how to buy a few buses to safely transport the children to school and install a few grills to feed the kids some left over hotdogs from the other side of the barb wire fence?
To learn about a responsible corporation's approach to education and improving communities, consider reading: What the Cruise Industry Has to Learn From My Cousins Back in Arkansas - my cousins' company pledged to pay $50,000,000 over the next 20 years in tuition to students graduating from high school in our home town in South Arkansas.
May 10th Update:
Middle: Royal Caribbean International Flickr photostream
Bottom: Luke Reamer