Tuesday 25 June 2019

John Mulligan: 'Diageo keeps up its tradition of offering families a helping hand'


The Guinness Brewery at St James’s Gate in Dublin
The Guinness Brewery at St James’s Gate in Dublin
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

The black stuff made the Guinness family filthy rich, but it was always willing to share its wealth with its workers.

And while Guinness is now part of multinational Diageo, the decision by the group to grant 26 weeks of parental leave to mothers and fathers is firmly in keeping with the altruistic roots of the founding family of one of the world's best known drinks.

Workers for the brewing family were well looked after in an era where workers' rights were non-existent or so fragile they could be easily trampled. Guinness typically paid its workers between 10pc and 20pc more than the Dublin average, while they and their families could also rest easy in the knowledge that they'd have a meaningful pension when they retired.

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The company even provided burial allowances, free dinners to sons of widows and pensioners to encourage them to attend school, and healthcare for all its workers and their families. Guinness was practising corporate social responsibility more than 150 years before the buzz-phrase was even invented.

The Guinness family owned prize estates and properties in Dublin, including the Iveagh Gardens, and St Anne's Park to the north of the city. Iveagh Gardens was gifted to the nation by Rupert Edward Guinness in 1939. St Anne's Park, elaborately landscaped with follies, was sold by a nephew of Arthur Edward Guinness to the State, also in 1939.

But it was the Guinness family's impact on the poorest of Dubliners that arguably resonated most and had a legacy that was generational.

In 1890, Edward Cecil Guinness founded the Iveagh Trust, granting it a huge endowment that used to build houses and other facilities in a city that was rife with disease-ridden tenements. One charity could not solve all the city's problems, but for thousands of people the benevolence was life-changing and life-saving. There would be children decades later who might never have been born had their ancestors not been lifted out of extreme poverty.

The challenges facing society today in so many ways is different, but in so many ways unchanged. People all over Ireland, men, women and children, don't know where they'll sleep tonight. It could be a hostel, it could be a hotel, or it could be the street.

The 26 weeks of paid parental leave being granted by Diageo might not have the visual impact that houses for the poor did a century ago, but it's still the continuation of a legacy of social responsibility that is synonymous with Guinness.

It could have a significant impact on parents - especially new ones - often struggling with the wonder and angst, exhaustion and uncertainty that can also come with a new arrival.

It's also a signal that we are all equal, no matter what, and that raising a new generation is a gift and responsibility that employers can be part of.

Irish Independent

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