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Seattle entrepreneur, investor, and activist Nick Hanauer. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Just before Amazon announced it will raise employees’ minimum wage to $15 an hour, one of the company’s first investors made some prescient remarks about corporate social responsibility.

Nick Hanauer, a Seattle venture capitalist famous for calling BS on neoliberalism, said it is not enough for corporations to fund philanthropic initiatives.

“CEOs of lots of big companies feel the pressure to be good corporate citizens and to not be openly rapacious and exploitative,” he said in an interview with Democracy Journal. “How that is being translated into a change in behavior is harder to see. PR stunts are easy and cheap. Significantly raising wages for workers is not. So you have more of the former than the latter.”

Hanauer spoke with Democracy about winning the 2018 Harvard and MIT Humanist of the Year award. The universities awarded Hanauer with the accolade on Sunday.

On Tuesday, Amazon announced plans to raise the minimum wage its employees receive to $15 per hour. That includes Whole Foods employees and warehouse workers.

“Jeff Bezos did an incredibly fine and important thing today,” Hanauer told GeekWire via email. “Obviously, it is great news for Amazon workers. But even more significantly, his pledge to engage in advocating for higher wage standards shows remarkable and rare leadership. I’m super proud of him.”

Hanauer was a key player in the effort to raise Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 an hour three years ago. He frequently speaks and writes about economic justice and corporate greed, pulling no punches when talking about his fellow millionaires.

In his interview with Democracy, Hanauer lambasted the claim “that raising wages kills jobs.”

“The reason that that claim is made so relentlessly, in the absence of any empirical evidence to support it, is that it’s the only moral argument available to keep wages low and profits high,” he said. “They can’t just say, ‘we’re rich, you’re poor, and we want to keep it that way.’ You have to clothe your naked self-interest in some sort of moral claim, and what rich people have been saying to poor people for thousands of years is some form of, ‘it will harm the very people it’s intended to help.'”

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