CSR as a New Form of Colonialism? China General Nuclear in Namibia

For my final blog post I take a look at China General Nuclear (CGN) and its CSR efforts in a country that we examined this week in our readings on CSR in different cultural contexts — Namibia. CGN was featured in a New York Times Magazine article this week about the Chinese corporate presence in Africa. That article raised similar questions to the Littlewood (2015) article that we read for class, namely whether or not the corporation’s CSR programs are sustainable and actually benefit the Namibian people and the government.

Littlewood does not mention China or Chinese companies specifically in his article about mining and CSR in Namibia, however, according to the Times, China’s relationship with Africa goes back to the 1960s when it was one of the few countries to invest in CSR programs in the continent such as building a railroad from Tanzania to Zambia. Beijing also backed the black national movement and its struggle against apartheid and South Africa. In the Littlewood article the author does make several references to the legacy and negative impact of apartheid and the relationship with South Africa on modern day mining in Namibia.

Today, companies like CGN pursue CSR development projects that Namibia could not implement on its own. The Times article points out that Chinese companies offer aid without any strings attached, unlike aid coming from most Western countries which require Namibian agreements involving human rights, political ethics, and fiscal restraint. However, some of the Chinese projects are financed via loans that the Namibian people and their government cannot afford pay back, and the projects themselves require that a Chinese company must take the lead, “ensuring that the work, skills and profits are largely kept in the Chinese family” (Larmer, 2017). Plus, recently a number of Chinese nationals have been implicated in a series of scandals within Namibia including tax evasion, bribery, and wildlife poaching.

According to its website, CGN has brought thousands of jobs to Namibia, established foundations to carry out charitable projects supporting Namibian children and women, provided job skills training for local employees, offered scholarships, and supported education initiatives and sports. CGN was the first Chinese company in Namibia to allow a labor union to set up shop at a mine. Independent unions are essentially illegal in China. In this case, a local union, the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union, waged a campaign against Chinese companies in Namibia, accusing them of paying Namibians less than Chinese workers and other abuses. CGN met with the union leader and agreed to bring the union into their company.

Of course, Chinese companies operating in Namibia, like CGN, do not like the criticism leveled at them about their business practices in China. Their spokespeople are quick to point out the many positive CSR projects they have implemented and the number of jobs they brought to Namibia. However, the Namibian government is starting to push back against some of the practices that it feels take advantage of Namibia and its people like the foreign loans that have pushed up the level of Namibia’s debt, and pubic anger is growing over some of the business proposals that would have a negative environmental impact.

This article is a nice follow-up to the Littlewood article. At the start of the article the author talks about a definition of sustainable development that is human-centric and pro-poor rather than focused on the instrumental needs of the corporation. In his conclusion, Littlewood makes some recommendations for how the parties involved in mining in Namibia should manage their relationships going forward in order to address some of the power imbalances and the issues with CSR and mining in Namibia. The author specifically recommends more open relationships built on dialog, transparency and trust. Based on what I read in the Times article it appears that at least some of the parties involved are speaking up and trying to re-negotiate their relationships with each other. The Namibian government, in concert with local activists, is trying to enact stronger environmental legislation and increase its ability to ensure that mining companies comply with laws. Other civil social organizations are focused on improving working conditions for local employees. What I gleaned from the Littlewood article is that that also needs to be more joint planning on sustainable development goals and objectives between the all parties involved, and more collaboration between the mining companies. Hopefully, the mining companies, the government, the activists and the community members will work together to find a way to support each other in a sustainable way that is human-centric and pro-poor.

References

Littlewood, D. (2015). Corporate social responsibility, mining and sustainable development in Namibia: Critical reflections through a relational lens. Development Southern Africa, 32(2), 240-257. doi:10.1080/0376835X.2014.984833

Larmer, B. (2017). Is China the world’s new colonial power? New York Times Magazine Retrieved from https://nyti.ms/2pr6ZWJ

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