Imperial chief executive Mark Lamberti may have resigned as an Eskom board member, and is expected to quit as a director of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), but he is under fire for holding on to the top job at Imperial, the distributors of one of the country’s best-known brands, Toyota.
The Black Business Council (BBC) and the Black Management Forum (BMF) are considering a boycott of companies dealing with Imperial. These follow a call last week by trade union federation Cosatu for Lamberti to step down.
Last week, the high court in Johannesburg found that Lamberti had impaired the dignity of Adila Chowan, a former employee at Associated Motor Holdings (AMH), an Imperial Holdings subsidiary, by referring to her as a “female employment equity candidate”.
The court also heard that, during Chowan’s term at Imperial, the last 11 senior appointments at the logistics company were all white.
“Do you want to have someone who holds such views about black female professionals running your organisation?” asked Thabile Wonci, managing director of the BMF.
Kganki Matabane, chief executive of the BBC, said in a press statement: “[We] will be seeking to engage with key organisations to determine the possibility of triggering the consumer boycotts targeted at these companies and/or other companies that are doing business with Mark Lamberti.”
Wonci slammed the quiet diplomacy being used by the BLSA.
“We were very surprised why BLSA has not said anything on Lamberti,” said Wonci, who noted that the Imperial board remains overwhelmingly male and white.
Business Day reported on Monday that Lamberti would resign as a board member of the BLSA. It said Lamberti had requested time to draft a letter of resignation. The BLSA has not issued a statement on the matter.
The BMF is calling for a review of section 69 of the Companies Act 71 of 2008, which deals with the “disqualification to be a director of a company”, to include all offences under the Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998, the Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment Act 53 of 2003 and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000.
Wonci said this offers an opportunity to ensure that, if someone is found guilty of an offence similar to Lamberti’s, they can be classified as delinquent.
“If this is left unattended, we could pay dearly because, as a nation, we could be seen as not taking transformation seriously,” he warned.
Asked whether the BMF would put pressure on government not to do business with the Lamberti-headed company, he said: “Let’s not limit this to government as there are many companies which deal with Imperial, but the BMF would explore the idea. If a company has not taken any action against its chief executive on the back of a negative ruling, it misses the opportunity to display that it stands for good corporate governance and that it promotes diversity.”
Imperial told the Mail & Guardian that there were no findings of discrimination in the judgment against AMH, Imperial and Lamberti.
“Contrary to the nature and tone of the current reporting, the high court judgment found no findings of race or gender discrimination against AMH, Imperial and myself,” said Lamberti in a statement he released to his staff last week.
But Pierre de Vos, of the University of Cape Town’s legal faculty, argues that this was not the case.
“It did not have to find him guilty of racism and sexism … the court had found that a reasonable person would believe that there is sexism and racism in the company based on his comments,” said De Vos.
Thulebona Mhlanga is an Adamela Trust trainee financial reporter at the Mail & Guardian