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Real CSR or hoodwinking? The role of communication in enhancing CSR in sub-Saharan Africa

Boekbijdrage - Boekhoofdstuk Conferentiebijdrage

In theory, corporate social responsibility(CSR)assumes that private companies can become vital development agents provided that they work as joint stakeholders and in partnership with governments and communities. In recent years published evidence r suggests that the business community's pursuit for effective social impact has been advancing towards the tipping point described by Malcolm Gladwell (2000). Subsequently, we find that even within sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) an increasing number of firms and foundations have realized and accepted that they can derive some concrete value addition and competitive advantages by engaging in developmental initiatives across a wide spectrum of societal issues. CSR is therefore practiced in areas spanning the field of ethics, health,social responsibility, sustainable development and environmental protection, as well as diversity management.

In the area of sustainable development for example, we find that since the World Commission on Environment and Development Report(Brundtland Report)was published in 1997, corporate managers have spent considerable resources to elaborate how environmental concerns have been incorporated into their own strategic decision making. As a result, manufacturing firms have in particular assumed a positive role in furthering the cause of environmental protection in order to project an environmental friendly image(Hart 2000). The World Bank as well has also put forth an Environment Strategy to influence environmental performance and long-term environmental sustainability for the private sector(WB 2002).

The European Union also recognizes the importance of CSR through the Lisbon Summit treaty(EU 2000)and subsequent commitments contained in the 'Green bible', and further elaborated through a series of CSR-related actions. In various parts of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), some major companies and foundations have widely publicized their activities particularly in attempts to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS and in initiatives to eradicate tropical diseases However most of the CSR claims are difficult to verify mainly because there has been limited communication about the social impact management (SIM) and analyses on the intersection between business practices and wider societal concerns. Such information could help relevant stakeholders to ascertain the complex interdependency between the two realities.

In this paper, we shall discuss the CSR concept that has been developing since the early 1970s with an African lens. To do so, we shall give an example of the HIV/AIDS case in Uganda. We shall also discuss the underlying motivations for businesses to embrace and perpetuate the CSR concept in developing countries in terms of the implementation of cosmetic changes to business practice , legitimacy , and influence over popular and policy-related discourses. We shall also attempt to describe the pros and cons of the CSR concept and elaborate on how the communication process can enhance the ability of poor people to negotiate their rights. The assumption here is that those who are proactively engaged in shaping CSR debates will inter alia, insist that CSR be underpinned by corporate accountability.

In conclusion, the paper argues that for CSR to be beneficial to pro-poor efforts, the government must play a key role as facilitator, power broker and ombudsman in negotiations.
Boek: Unknown
Jaar van publicatie:2011
Trefwoorden:Corporate Social Responsibility, Communication, sub-Saharan Africa, Development problems