On its surface, it had all the makings of a run-of-the-mill publicity event. A successful, major-league hockey team invited local, chronically ill children to a game, and then to a meet-and-greet with the players. All the kids’ favorites were present. The players brought the children and their parents into the locker room for photos and autographs. Then team management gave a speech for the cameras and announced that all proceeds of a friendly match between the team and a nearby rival would go toward a charity benefiting the children’s medical treatment.
On Wednesday, Metallurg Magnitogorsk hosted a contingent of local children suffering from major medical conditions like cancer and cerebral palsy. The children, whose parents work at the factories run by Metallurg’s parent company, MMK, were met by the team’s stars, including Caps draft pick Ilya Samsonov and head-coach Viktor Kozlov.
But this event was not an everyday act of charity. Rather, it was the height of cynicism.
The Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine, known by the Russian acronym MMK, owns the KHL franchise and is far and away the main employer in the city of Magnitogorsk. Indeed, the city was built in the 1930s around the plant, which, according to MMK’s 2016 annual report, is currently Russia’s largest iron and steel producer, making over $1 billion USD in profit that year.
All that industrial production comes, however, at a massive environmental cost. According to Anna Rozhkova, a lecturer at Magnitogorsk State University and head of the environmental group EkoMagnitka, only one in 20 of the city’s children is considered healthy. Rozhkova laid the blame for the poor health of the city’s children on the environmental conditions in and around Magnitogorsk, which she attributed specifically to MMK’s sprawling factories.
Even reports by Russia’s state statistical service placed Magnitogorsk in Russia’s top-three most polluted cities in 2015, with levels of benzopyrene 23 times in excess of acceptable levels. That chemical, in addition to being a known carcinogen, has significant effects on the nervous and immune systems.
For a company to use the medical conditions of its own employees’ children as the basis for a PR stunt would be questionable enough on its own. That those conditions are likely caused by MMK itself made this display of false charity deeply disturbing.
Photo credit: Metallurg.ru
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