Corporate social responsibility

Corporate social responsibility

ZAMBIA'S economy has been predominantly driven by the mining industry for many years. The contribution of the industry to the economy is undoubted. What is worrying is the negative impact of the operations in the communities and the lack of commitment to address the social challenges that come with mining. 

The operations of the mining companies have had negative impacts whose cost would probably eclipse the economic returns to the country. Among them, local people have been deprived of their traditional livelihoods through pollution of the rivers and the environment. The practice has also caused erosion of culture, break down of cultural values and loss of farmland as a result of the displacements. The cost of all this cannot be quantified but it is a huge cost which eventually is transferred to the society, to tax payers in short. 

The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility has become more pronounced because of its ability to address social and environmental problems associated with the mining industry. According to the World Bank (2003), corporate social responsibility is the commitment of business to contribute to sustainable economic development - working with employees, their families, the local community and society at large to improve the quality of life, in ways that are both good for business and good for development. 
United Nations' studies and many others have underlined the fact that humankind is using natural resources at a faster rate than they are being replaced. If this continues, future generations will not have the resources they need for their development. 

In this sense, much of the current development is unsustainable. It can't be continued for both practical and moral reasons. Related issues include the need for greater attention to poverty alleviation and respect for human rights. 

Corporate social responsibility is an entry point for understanding sustainable development issues and responding to them in a firm's business strategy. Unfortunately, in Zambia, the post-privatisation companies have ignored this important aspect and the profit motive continues to overshadow their judgement. While other corporations seem to be adapting to this change, others have remained adamant. There is need for corporations to understand that corporate social responsibility has moved from the peripherals to the mainstream, from the arena of charity stunts to the arena of corporate strategy. 

It is no longer about giving out gifts on Christmas Day or sponsoring a football team in the community but it is about the organisation responding to a whole lot of multidimensional social issues which come with the business. Corporations need to know that this is about being a responsible corporate citizen than anything else. Corporate social responsibility is underpinned by four elements; responsibility, accountability, fairness and transparency. Corporations have been imposing costs on society through their production activities. Pollution does impose high costs on the health of individuals because of lung ailments, cancers and it also damages the environment and affecting the livelihoods of people depending on land for survival. In view of the aforementioned, it is just fair that corporations show responsibility. Irregular and one-off cosmetic approaches to corporate social responsibility should no longer be tolerated. What is more appalling is that some companies do not promote CSR at all. A 2012 report by the Southern African Resource Watch (SARW) revealed that Chinese companies generally do not promote corporate social responsibility programmes. The companies insist that they are contributing to society; their critics respond that they are not putting back anything like that which they take out. Interestingly, the report further revealed that this was hardly unique to Chinese companies. 

The Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) operated what has come to be known as the "cradle to the grave" welfare policy. It provided medical care services, schools and other social amenities, much wider in scope than those offered by the post-privitisation companies and the colonial mining companies put together. By the time of privatisation, the copper mining industry had at least one hospital or two at each operating division on the Copperbelt. Some of the mining towns like Nchanga and Konkola did not even have government hospitals. There were two hospitals each at Nkana, Nchanga, Mufulira and Roan and one at Konkola, Chibuluma and Kabwe. All this was achieved under Dr Kenneth Kaunda. On the other hand, in over two decades of Capitalism; the results of corporate social responsibility have been far from impressive. From an interrogation of these two development trajectories, it is very clear that as a country, we will need to use more of corporate social responsibility as a basis for addressing the social and environmental problems associated with extractive industries. 

However, there is need for commitment that is not only written but also expressed in deeds on the part of the mining companies. The mining companies have to be compelled to abide by a certain code or standard with regards to the application of corporate social responsibility. Probably the Zambia Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (ZEITI) will need to broaden its scope to include reporting on sustainability issues. For example, in Ghana, in 2006, the Ghana Business Code was launched to introduce and deepen the practice of corporate social responsibility in business operations. The GHBC was modeled along the lines of the UN Global Compact which focuses on the triple bottom line (profit, planet and people) as a performance measure. 
A Zambian parliamentary report of 2008 also revealed that there was little appreciation of corporate social responsibility in the country. I presume the situation remains the same even today.