US companies join forces to promote black progress in S. African subsidiaries

Mounting pressure in the United States against investing in South Africa is not going unnoticed here. As more US states and cities move to restrict such investment, there is a new push on in South Africa to make the so-called Sullivan principles code of employment more effective.

The Sullivan principles aim at improving work and living conditions of black employees of American firms in South Africa. US firms that are signatories to the principles agree, voluntarily, to strive toward those goals.

The first full-time national coordinator for the Sullivan principles in South Africa was appointed recently.

The new coordinator, Roger Crawford, says the new position ''is a sign by the South African (subsidiary) companies here that they want to see this (program) done better.'' He sees as one of his main tasks pushing local firms into more joint projects that might have more impact on the black community.

The Sullivan principles call for nonsegregation in the workplace, equal pay and employment practices, training and advancement of nonwhite employees, and efforts to improve employees' living conditions outside the work environment.

Mr. Crawford, personnel manager of Ethnor Pty, Ltd., an affiliate of Johnson & Johnson, says the main achievement of the subscribers to the Sullivan principles has been ''total'' integration in the workplace.

The weakest progress has been in the area of black advancement. Indeed, the sixth progress report on the Sullivan program, published late last year, shows a decline in the proportion of supervisory positions occupied by nonwhites.

Why? ''It's not from reluctance but because of a dearth of (black) talent,'' Mr. Crawford says. ''And that is because of the low standard of black education.''

Crawford believes a major weakness in black education in South Africa, which is strictly segregated and of a lower standard than that enjoyed by whites, is the poor quality of black teachers. It is not unusual in South Africa for black teachers to be only marginally better educated than their pupils. He says the signatories to the Sullivan principles should focus their attention on black schooling and programs to upgrade the quality of nonwhite teachers.

As national coordinator, he hopes to encourage the signatory firms to join forces and initiate programs in areas such as teacher training that would have more impact than each company going its separate way and scattering its resources on small, individual efforts. He also hopes to see the Sullivan firms working with South African institutions with similar goals.

''We should have fewer projects, but bigger projects. There has been too much of a shotgun approach in the past, partly so the companies could get brownie points (for having numerous programs),'' Crawford says.

Some 146 companies here are signatories to the Sullivan principles; another 142 US firms doing business here are not.

In its latest annual report on the Sullivan signatories, the Arthur D. Little consulting firm said that despite economic conditions that were ''less favorable than those of recent years,'' the companies ''made progress'' in the 1981-82 year.

There has been criticism of the Sullivan principles ever since they were drawn up by the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan in 1977. Many blacks in South Africa say they can have no fundamental effect on apartheid and only give US firms a justification for their presence in this country. There is periodic pressure in the United States to give the program more teeth by making it mandatory for American firms in South Africa.

Crawford agrees that 146 companies by themselves cannot have much impact on the South African social structure. ''Maybe the best we can do is provide a leadership role,'' he says.

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