HP shrugs off pandemic and embraces human rights

HP has released its first quarter 2021 figures, which show net revenue of $15.6 billion, according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. This is 7 percent higher than the equivalent period in 2020 at $14.6 billion, which is quite an achievement given that the 2020 first quarter preceded the pandemic, and this year’s results follow a year of upheaval. 

This has translated into net earnings of £1068 million and net earnings of $0.83 earnings per share with cash dividens of $0.39 per share. This is an improvement on the final quarter of 2020, which saw revenues of $15,258 billions and net earnings of $668 millions. These figures suggest that HP has barely felt the impact of the pandemic, in stark contrast to most of the other vendors. It has allowed the company to spend $1.6 billion in dividends and repurchasing shares. 

Revenues from printing also rose, from $4724 million in Q1 2020 to $5044 million for the quarter ended 31 January 2021. However, while the consumer hardware was up 18 percent, and consumer net revenue rose 55 percent to $941 million, the commercial hardware sales remained flat and commercial net revenue fell by 11 percent to $957 million. 

It appears that HP has mainly benefited from its personal computing and home printing, as people have bought new equipment to adapt from working from home during the pandemic. 

Nonetheless, what strikes me as most interesting is not so much the figures themselves as the response from HP. Most of the financial reports from other vendors have come with plans for restructuring to cut costs. But HP, which has already put a significant restructuring program in place in a bid to see off Xerox’s unwanted intentions, last month announced a sustainable impact program, grandly titled HP Amplify Impact. The idea is that HP will ask its partners to sign up to a set of aspirations designed to make the planet a better place to live, and by implication, HP a better-loved company.

This includes all the usual stuff about using more sustainable materials, taking more notice of the natural world and addressing the issue of climate change – just about every corporate report from the last decade includes similar commitments, along with pictures of polar bears, which are mainly designed to make shareholders feel better. None of these address the fundamental problem, that the only way to help our planet’s environment is to make better use of the resources that we have and stop constantly replacing everything that we use, from mobile phones and cars to printing presses, every year or two. But that idea is directly at odds with the way that most corporations function, namely producing more products to drive up their share price. 

Still, it will be interesting to see if HP can really follow through on this. Christoph Schell, HP’s chief commercial officer, stated: “Our goal is to work with our partners to help drive a more circular and low-carbon economy, cultivate a more diverse, inclusive and equitable supply chain and improve the vitality and resilience of local communities.” He added: “The strength and reach of our ecosystem are substantial and by bringing our partners with us on this journey, we can work together to create a more sustainable and just world.”

This last bit is the most interesting because not only is HP looking at the environment but also human rights and social justice. A brief glance across the headlines in today’s national newspapers suggest that the company will have its work cut out. Where to start? Israel, where HP has substantial manufacturing interests, has not exactly covered itself in glory in its very limited vaccination of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. China, which offers cheap manufacturing to a great many western companies, has committed genocide against the Uighur population, not to mention riding roughshod over human rights in Hong Kong and Tibet – just writing that sentence means that I will probably never be able to visit China.

Then there is the military coup in Myanmar, accompanied by the shooting of protestors and torture and imprisonment of journalists. And let’s not forget that the former civilian government oversaw its own genocide against the Rohingya minority. In the US, where HP is headquartered, the former administration is responsible for numerous human rights violations against migrants and refugees. More worryingly a significant number of Americans no longer believe in democracy.

The list of corrupt and dodgy governments perpetrating human rights abuses is endless. Sadly, the list of large corporations willing to do anything about it is much shorter. Nor is the picture any better beyond governments, with everyone from the British Royal family to Google left with awkward questions to answer over their response to abuse claims from employees. 

Now, it is true that HP’s press release mentions human rights but then goes on to talk about “enabling people across the value chain” which suggests that the company’s ambitions might not extend all the way to tackling state-sponsored abuse though we can but hope. And maybe Schell is right, that HP really is big enough to make a difference. Hopefully other businesses will follow this lead with similar policies of their own. And HP is certainly right about one thing – that sustainable environmental policies can only work if they are matched by human rights and social justice – an awareness that is sadly missing from most business reports. In the meantime, you can find more information at hp.com.


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