May 23, 2022

For a broader vision of CSR in emerging countries

In the pandemic context, more than before, a renewed conception of CSR in emerging countries may lead to going beyond the simple logic of “repairing” the damage caused by the activity of companies and extending the reflection towards other types of ‘companies for a more careful vision of the social or environmental benefit.

The company is by nature the place of production of wealth in society through investment (national or international FDI capital) for the creation of employment and stable income for employees.

However, the company operates in a legislative, regulatory and institutional environment capable of granting all types of rights and advantages to operating companies. The institutions can, on the other hand, not considerate with regard to the interests of the local populations.

Leonine mining contracts in southern countries are an illustration of this, because they generate little or no benefit for citizens and often lead to overexploitation of resources and environmental degradation.

Another no less worrying example is that of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). These increasing volumes of waste, the toxicity of which is no longer to be demonstrated, testify to the consumption and production patterns of technology in the North mainly, and are found dumped in Africa for example, where some recycling is done especially in the ‘informal. In this regard, we also note a slowness in adopting and implementing regulations relating to the management of this waste: only 13 African countries out of the 43 analyzed by the Global E-waste Monitor 2020 study have a national policy for the regulation and management of waste. WEEE waste.

In short, the impact of these unbalanced and unbalancing situations can be destructive for the territories and populations concerned.

CSR approaches and concern for development

The consequences and negative impact of the activities of national and international firms in all sectors, on the environment and the health of local residents, have led to recommendations from various international institutions and complaints from civil societies, giving rise to the concept of CSR since. the 1990s to recall a certain societal duty of the company and to call for remedying these dysfunctions.

Observation of the implementation of these recommendations shows a diversity in the approach of firms with regard to said CSR. Indeed, some companies develop respectful concern for their ecosystem. They primarily employ the local workforce in relatively decent conditions, can at the same time create social projects likely to contribute to a valid way of life (training, functional and digital literacy, hospitals, development of model villages, sports and cultural promotion, etc. and artistic, etc.) and induce a positive environmental impact (eg reforestation, promotion of sustainable agriculture, wastewater treatment). But more often than not, companies operate with more or less total recklessness as to respect for nature and the interests of citizens.

Accept the principle of correcting the damage caused by their activities, straighten their brand image, comply with regulatory texts, respond to criticism from civil society and the demands of trade unions, these are, in reality, the reasons and foundations of the approaches CSR of firms for the most part.

Of course, these CSR attitudes are directly correlated with the balance of power that prevails in the countries in question: the positioning of the State, parliament and legislators, unions, local and international NGOs, social networks and debates in the country on the rights of territories, especially rural populations, employees, workers, etc.

Towards a broader vision of the responsible company

Today, more than before, the crisis we are going through has shown the urgency of a transition to fairer development consolidating social stability through solidarity and inclusive policies. This stability remains, moreover, a fundamental factor for the very fruiting of investment in developing countries.

The crisis, which is also fundamentally an ecological crisis, has allowed the question of the climate debt to the countries of the South to be raised again: the drying up of lakes and wadis in North Africa, torrential rains in the Central African Republic, massive deforestation, water pollution. , air and loss of biodiversity in South-East Asia … The catastrophic results confirm the extreme vulnerability of these regions to climate change. Recall in this sense that this ecological crisis is worsening, as evidenced by the day of the Earth’s overtaking which dates back this year to July 29, the day from which, for the rest of the year, humanity lives “On credit” on the planet’s resources.

In this context, CSR in emerging countries should be rethought well beyond its “restorative” function of the evils and excesses caused by the deployment of companies and their activities. It is about promoting a new conception of CSR, even a new type of company which will be set up as a motor of resilient, sustainable and less unequal models of society and development in these countries.

It will no longer be just a question of making a “social repair”, but of contributing to a certain “social construction” which integrates the principles of sustainable and inclusive development into the development (industrial, agricultural, technological, digital, etc.) of emerging countries.

In the countries of the North, we are seeing the emergence of a dynamic around the concept of civic or committed companies that take into account their societal impact, or even place it at the very heart of their vocation and business model.

In France, for example, the introduction of the quality of company with mission by the Pacte law in 2019 allows a company to “declare its raison d’être through several social and environmental objectives”.

Whether social enterprises in France, Community Interest Companies (CIC) in the United Kingdom (numbering 15,700 across all sectors according to the Regulator of CICs 2018-19 annual report) or even Benefit Corporations in the United States, definitions and legal frameworks vary depending on the context, but the common denominator is the reconciliation between profit “doing well” and positive social and environmental impact “doing good”.

In other words, it is a question of making reasoned and even regenerative uses of the resources of nature and not of confronting the latter’s tendencies, but also of moving towards a less unequal distribution of the fruits of productivity.

We therefore believe that these social business models, which are starting to attract different profiles of public and private investors, and which put local businesses and entrepreneurship at the service of major societal issues, should also be multiplied in emerging countries. . The ground is fertile for this: in Africa for example, young people under 25 constitute 70% of the population, this potential of young people being eminently sensitive to these problems.

The company, national and even international, could then contribute, depending on the context and in coordination with institutions, to the response to the challenges facing these countries (massive rural exodus, excessive urbanization, glaring lack of infrastructure, informality , climatic hazards, endemic social precariousness, etc.), while respecting the challenges of economic sovereignty.

Institutions, pandemic context and CSR

The State in these emerging countries establishes policies to encourage national investment and FDI for the creation of wealth and the promotion of employment. It grants aid and often brings together the optimal conditions for the productive activities of companies (land facilities, development of industrial zones, equipment and infrastructure, various services necessary for production, security, etc.).

But the State, in its social functions, even more in a pandemic context, theoretically protects populations whose purchasing power and living conditions become more precarious. It should provide the various social coverages and safeguard the conditions necessary so that its populations are not harmed by the impact of the activities of any companies, and against any abuse or possible social or environmental damage. Through these same social functions, the State would ensure the balance between investment, economic performance and the natural and social environment.

Thus, public institutions must ensure compliance with labor laws, regulations in favor of the environment (pollution, waste management, etc.) and the preservation of resources (water, minerals, quarries …), Compliance with specifications relating to productive activities, as well as all projects or contracts allocated to companies.

And beyond the support of these fundamentally “CSR” measures, the need arises to establish legal and institutional frameworks to promote the emergence of these types of responsible companies, in particular the legal framework as well for the ESS than for social enterprise.

To cite the example of Senegal, according to the economic and legal study Social enterprises in Senegal carried out by LEGS-Africa, these companies constitute an important part of the fabric of SMEs (on average 12%), and of the GDP (nearly 5%). However, the absence of a legal framework hinders their development, which leads to difficulties in terms of taxation, financing and formalization.

Thus, in a social climate where the State maintains the right balance between society and the company, the latter would be required to operate in accordance with social and environmental ethics.

And beyond the traditional CSR approaches, it would be a question of going beyond the simple logic of social compensation, and extending the reflection and the practice towards models of social enterprise. The latter, in particular through multi-stakeholder partnerships (institutional, civil society, unions, municipalities, universities, traditional companies, etc.) would induce a development dynamic with regard to the social and environmental problems of emerging countries.

Soha Benchekroun – Engineer consultant in strategy, actor of sustainable development – CSR

Abdelaâli Benchekroun – Economist and co-author of Renewal for Morocco