On the 15th of April the world stood still in disbelief as flames engulfed the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, France. The cathedral took two hundred years to build between 1163 and 1345 and understandably viewers across the globe were shocked and devastated as they witnessed the destruction of this historical landmark. This distress was evident through the almost instantaneous billions of dollars that were raised through donations from big business in order to rebuild the national treasure. However, while this is certainly positive for those who love the landmark, many are pointing out how this shows the financial power that billionaires and corporations have to solve other world problems.
The majority of the money raised has been donated by three of France’s wealthiest families; those who are behind luxury giants LVMH Group, Kering and L’Oreal who have altogether pledged over $500 million. LVMH, a multinational conglomerate with subsidiaries including Louis Vuitton, Sephora and Givenchy has promised €200 million ($226 million) towards the restoration project. The Bettencourt Meyers family, which controls L’Oreal, the holding company of numerous brands including Lancôme and Urban Decay, has also pledged €200 million to the fund. Lastly, the Pinault family, which operates luxury conglomerate Kering, has guaranteed €100 million ($113 million). Numerous other French companies have also written big cheques, including the oil and gas company Total and the technology and consulting firm Capgemini.
Despite many seeing this fundraising as a positive initiative, others see it in a more negative light. In light of worldwide crises such as plastic pollution, homelessness and starvation that have not received the same kind of financial backing, it is clear that the world’s wealthiest business owners have the financial power to solve these problems. Members of the public have voiced concerns that these issues should take precedence over restoring an old building, regardless of its historical significance. It is this view that many are sharing on social media. Twitter user @sophcat1997 garnered media attention in response to the news of the Notre-Dame repair fund hitting a billion euros two days after the fire with the following tweet:
“The victims of Grenfell still haven’t been rehoused, and there are 128,000 homeless children in just the UK, Flint still doesn’t have clean water, and France owes Haiti 21 billion euros, and the Catholic Church could of easily afforded the repair. But go off”.
This criticism is not just reserved for social media, as Philippe Martinez, leader of the General Confederation of Labor trade union stated, “if they can give tens of millions to rebuild Notre-Dame, then they should stop telling us there is no money to help with the social emergency”.
Furthermore, according to the national union representing construction economists in France, the estimated repair and restoration for damage caused by the fire would cost a maximum of €600 million, excluding VAT. This has raised concerns regarding where the remainder of money raised should go. Many believe it should go to France’s homeless, a critical issue in Paris particularly where homelessness rose by 21 percent last year.
Despite this controversy, there is still a positive outcome from all of this. The whole world has come together to raise a substantial amount of money for a charitable cause, but aren’t there more worthwhile philanthropic causes that big business should donate to?