Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has gained great traction as a movement encouraging companies and corporations to take responsibility for the impacts the organization has on the greater society, beyond their pursuit of profit. Organisations can choose to focus on the social, economic, and environmental aspects in their own community and the communities they operate with.
Though CSR has taken off in many areas, including the developing world, the story is very different in Zambia. Although Zambia is a middle income country, the impressive GDP growth has been fueled by a small workforce living on marginal incomes, and growth has concentrated around the copper belt, where mining copper has brought prosperity to mine owners. Beyond the copper belt there has been very little rural development and the macro-level prosperity has benefitted only those on top, leading to gross inequality between rural farmers and the owners of businesses operating in Zambia.
Mkushi is outside the copper belt, which has a reputation for exploiting local labor and resources. However, in the green belt area where Mkushi is located, CSR is basically nonexistent. Rural labor and resources in Mkushi are being exploited by large, powerful companies from outside of the country, particularly by East and South Asian companies, many of which have a large presence in Zambia and other African countries and have become prosperous following economic interventions in natural resources and infrastructural development. .
In spite of some of these companies being responsible for allocating 2% of their resources on CSR, only a small percentage of companies actually meet this mark. Disappointingly the concept of CSR in developing communities that are affected is lost at times – an example that is obvious in Mkushi – which is inundated with commercial farmers from various parts of the globe. Many of these companies have directed their CSR activities in other parts of the world defeating the purpose of implementing CSR.
Chinese companies are similarly involved in Zambia. The Yani Mining Development Limited announced plans last year to revamp operations on a mine in Mkushi. It is a bit unexpected that a foreign mining company would have a presence in an agricultural district, but this shows the extent of the involvement of Chinese and foreign companies in Zambia. More than 30 Chinese companies announced towards the end of 2015 that they would be building an industrial park outside Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, pouring US$300 million into the project. However, compared to the huge amount of investment going into resource-extraction and the mass profits coming out of Zambia, these companies seem to show no initiative towards CSR in Zambia. In Mkushi alone, there is almost no presence of CSR with local communities reporting the absence of basic necessities such as healthcare and education provisions. Although huge, companies could easily play a crucial role to plugging this massive gap.
CSR activities in Mkushi claimed by corporates are shady and show no formal reporting structures that are available for scrutiny. Additionally there seems to be very little reporting on the impact of these CSR activities increasing the likelihood of eyewashing.
CSR needs to become the niche and cornerstone of commercial enterprises that benefit from huge profit margins that are reaped from communities. Although marginal, it can have extremely large impact on communities that see basic necessities such as healthcare and education as luxuries. By working with committed and impactful organisations in Mkushi and other parts of Zambia corporates can easily contribute to developing community trust and respect as means of extending the commercial and personal relationship with the country and its people.