Or should we move beyond it?
Let’s begin with what Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is all about
For those that may not be familiar with this term, put simply CSR is about companies mostly big corporations like Coca Cola, Cadbury, or Vodaphone doing their bit for society or rather giving back some of their profits to society.
This does not necessarily have to be in the developing world, it might be staff in these corporations spending time in Inner City Schools or they can pay someone else to do it and tick a box that they have done it. But as this blog is about the developing world I will address this notion of CSR from that point of view.
Companies working in the developing world are increasingly being called upon to move beyond CSR because
1. it makes good business sense to do so
2. breeds good relationships with the communities in which they work
This type of CSR involves more than visiting schools and in fact it may mean that the company has to build a school or a hospital for the community. Let’s say it is not cheap! Some companies have whole departments dedicated to their CSR programmes whilst others contract it out.
If you have got this far you are probably thinking well those giant corporations are taking out of those communities so it is only fair that they give back. I would agree with you and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that line of argument and at the risk of contradicting myself this is the only way a local community can benefit directly from the presence of these giant corporation in their neighbourhood.
The flip side of this type of CSR is that
1. it creates dependence because
2. it is a form of Aid- that is one school or hospital that the government doesn’t have to build- never mind maintain
3. it lets that government off the hook in terms of social services provision
4. Who determines on what gets on the agenda?
5. what happens when these companies pack and leave
Surely these are not strong enough reasons to scrap CSR? Perhaps not, Should we therefore move beyond CSR?
This is something that has left me a little confused and I am hoping that I have not confused you too. If companies are doing more than simply fetching raw materials from the developing world and are building schools and hospitals, one would argue that they have moved beyond the box ticking CSR as we know it. And that being the case what more can they do?
Depending on the nature of their business, they could look into other opportunities within the community that could lead to win win win situations e.g creating whole new product lines based on what is available in the community. SABMiller and Coca Cola have done just that in Uganda
But does any of this really help folk in Africa in real terms? After all those companies are not owned by the indigenous population and this means that company profits leave these communities and are enjoyed elsewhere.
In my opinion a good mix would be encouraging local enterprises that can create employment and perhaps a local brand of Corporate Social Responsibility.
What do you think?