Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes are initiated by companies to give back to society what they have taken from them. It is a tool meant to gain ''informal license to operate'' in a particular community. As David Henderson puts it, CSR is meant to give capitalism a ''human face''. Simply put, CSR is when a company lives a good neighbourly life with the community in which it operates.
Blowfield and Frynasdescribed CSR as an ''alternative to government'' and this is ''frequently advocated as a means of filling the gaps in governance that arisen with the acceleration of liberal economic globalization''. Should companies do the work of governments particularly in the developing world where basic amenities are lacking? Are governments not shirking off their responsibilities simply because multinational companies have been providing schools, hospitals, roads in the name of CSR?
In an article, titled, ''CSR as Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR as Colonial Structures Return, the case of Nigeria'', Professor Stephen Vertigans enumerated how people in the Delta State of Nigeria often complain about lacking basic human needs such as shelter, toilet facilities, portable drinking water among others. However, anytime they lay their concerns before the government, they are told to contact the oil companies operating in their community. The oil resource has become a curse to them rather than a blessing and that explains why many in Ghana think that if the country's oil wealth would not bring the desired benefits to the populace, it should be allowed to stay where it is.
Many multinational companies operating in the developing world especially Africa are richer than the countries in which they operate. As a result, they capitalize on that and sign contracts with government officials in secrecy and with confidentiality clauses. They dictate to our governments and virtually run our economies. Kwame Nkrumah was right when he said, ''the resources are there. It is for us to marshal them in the active service of our people. Unless we do this by our concerted efforts, within the framework of our combined planning, we shall not progress at the tempo demanded by today's events and the mood of our people. The symptoms of our troubles will grow, and the troubles themselves become chronic. It will then be too late even for Pan-African Unity to secure for us stability and tranquility in our labours for a continent of social justice and material well-being''.
While it is unacceptable for multinational companies to dictate to governments in countries where they operate, it is unpardonable for governments to shirk off their responsibilities to their citizens. The right thing is for governments to partner with non-governmental organizations and the private sector to serve as drivers of CSR in order to have a win-win situation between business and society.
It is the duty of every government to draw public policies and programmes to ensure that environmental and social problems caused by multinational companies are reduced if not completely eliminated. The dependence of the state on multinational companies may hinder such noble initiatives but governments have no choice than to promote the greater good of their citizens.
Civil society organizations, businesses and the government all have roles to play in ensuring that there is accountability and transparency in the system. Also, multinational companies by virtue of their financial muscle should not dictate to our governments. Responsible business is a driver to sustainable and inclusive development. Therefore, it is important for both governments and businesses to identify their roles and responsibilities and play them accordingly and not lord it over the other in the name of CSR.
In conclusion, businesses can only gain the trust of the people in communities in which they operate by incorporating the 'triple bottom line' which are; environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and social sustainability and not by dictating to the government of the day. Stakeholders are as important as the shareholders and every business decision must consider the concerns of both.
Francis Xavier Tuokuu is a Freelance Writer and a CSR Professional. He holds a Masters Degree in Corporate Social Responsibility and Energy (MSc) from the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK. You can reach him via [email protected]/0506425707