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Corporate social responsibility promotes sustainability and good governance
Chinga Govhati
March 05, 2013

Just a few kilometers before one enters the provincial centre of Mashonaland Central, one a sees a very conspicuous sign in broad letters showing that a certain primary school is being supported by a big mining concern in the area. This same sign can be seen near one other school in the area. What both these schools have in common is that they are known to cater for very poor children whose parents/caregivers work or worked in the mining and farming sectors. The schools have changed dramatically as a result of this support, albeit this intervention being a year or so old. That is corporate social responsibility, which one prominent South African company defines as “an important element of good corporate citizenship, alongside sustainability and good governance.” (South African Pulp and Paper Industries)

Businesses have an obligation in the community they ‘serve’. This responsibility goes beyond just realising profit from their various business concerns. It can loosely be defined as ‘giving back.’ Corporate social responsibility is more than mere philanthropic gestures concerned with corporate image; it has much to do with social investment for the benefit of both the recipient and the giver.

What can be discerned from the definition is that business ethics demands that a company should not only be concerned about ‘milking’ a community for profit, but that this milking should be done accountably and in a responsible manner. It means that a company should be able to give in relative proportion to its returns. The rationale behind this call is very simple; the same company needs to invest in its future operations. As in the case of the mining company alluded to above, it could be that the company suddenly became aware that the same generation of children it is now supporting will become its workforce at some future stage. This kind of community involvement is key to the promotion of human development. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), people are the real wealth of nations and development has moved from being measured by just economic indicators but by human development indexes; the achievement of which needs concerted efforts of all players.

Leaving the government alone to provide for the needs of every citizen is like piling all the housework, in a family situation, on one individual. Cracks are bound to show as the burden becomes too much. This overburdening may even result in lethargy, lack of prioritisation and oversight of important issues. Whilst the argument that some, if not most, businesses would proffer is that they pay taxes, they cannot overlook the need for showing responsibility to a particular community that is helping them amass wealth. One can call that oversight downright immorality. Most companies have been accused of committing the same offences that they accuse the government of. How many are or have been accused of unfair labour practices; underpaying, discrimination, not being concerned with workers’ welfare, etc?

Companies and business concerns definitely need to redefine their obligations towards the communities they carry out their businesses in. Some have been doing this and they need to be commended. Companies such as Econet and Spar easily come to mind in looking to the plight of the underprivileged child. These are mentioned because they have been seen to be involved in community upliftment even before the talk of indigenisation and empowerment by the government. How many companies have been involved in social welfare initiatives in the communities that they operate in? Most are now being forced to play their part because of the talk of indigenisation, yet this is an obligation that they should have taken up on their own without having their arm twisted out of joint first.

There are direct and indirect as well as short-term and long-term interests and benefits for companies to be involved in uplifting the standards of life of communities they operate in. Corporates in Zimbabwe may equally benefit this way as much as they will be benefiting society. For child protection, this is shared responsibility in action and such kind of investment will definitely help create productive and responsible future citizens.

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