MTN vs Turkcell: a case of South African corporations struggling with ethical business?


The scandal over MTN’s Iranian business has dominated the airways of late. Claims have been leveled in regard to bribery, attempts to obtain defence equipment that is subject to American sanctions, vote-peddling at the United Nations, to grab Turkcell’s  stake in Irancell and providing access to subscriber  information to the Iranian military intelligence- who have used this access to spy on subscribers, staff of Irancell and activists.

While this is denied by MTN, whose counter attack was to allege an extortion attempt on the part of Turkcell (the company who lost the bid to MTN).  Turkcell has lodged court papers in the United States.

A couple of thoughts.

  • The structuring of Irancell provides an indication of the way the company was set up and whose interests it is meant to support.
    • MTN is a 49% shareholder in Iran cell.
    • Fifty-one percent is held by an Iranian state-linked consortium, which is dominated by a subsidiary owned by the defence ministry known as Sairan, or Iran Electronics Industries. Sairan is subject to US and European Union sanctions that target proliferators of “weapons of mass destruction”.
    • It also holds a share in consortium Arya Hamrah, which owns and runs MTN Irancell’s data centre that houses the company’s servers and hardware.
  • What does our society require from large corporations and how do we hold them accountable? Can we ensure that corporations reflect the value and ethics of societies, like ours in their practices both locally and in other countries
  • How do we sanction companies for supporting/ facilitating human rights abuses and acts of criminality, (at home and in other countries,) for profit? Including companies who endorse human rights at home and undermine these same rights abroad?
  • There is definitely a need for an agreed international standard that controls ethical business practice globally. The absence of this allows the space for opportunistic business practices which impact on human rights to continue and for sanctions to occur only when the abuses are of strategic value to powerful nations.
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