Double standards in CSR may impede Africa’s development, confab warns

Nigerian Stock Exchange

Rising from a two-day Africa Conference on Business and Human Rights, the third in the series, stakeholders and experts on corporate social responsibility (CSR) warned that Nigeria and Africa’s drive to achieve sustainable development may remain elusive, if foreign investors and corporate organisations continue to apply double standards in implementing CSR on the continent.

They also decried the non-conformity of corporate organisations with regulations and policies, saying this had undermined the progress of CSR in Africa.

At the event themed, “Exploring the Relationship Between CSR and Sustainable Development in Africa,” organised by the International Network for Corporate Social Responsibility (INCSR), in conjunction with Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) Canada, Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority, and Zenith Bank Limited, stakeholders agreed that companies would continue to take advantage of the citizenry unless there is a working CSR policy and plan in the country and Africa at large.

Experts at the event held at the Nicon Luxury Hotel, Garki, Abuja, observed that many African countries were struggling to locate the right balance between the different approaches to CSR regulation, which is a major task for the states and their regulatory agencies.

For instance, participants at the conference observed that Nigeria in particular is lagging behind as the largest African economy considering the fact that South Africa, through the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) introduced the voluntary reporting for all listed companies in 2002, and the integrated reporting in 2010.

They agreed that South Africa remains a leading example of a sustainable exchange market globally as this has reflected in investor’s confidence and market capitalisation.

President of INCSR, Eustace Onuegbu, in his welcome address said the conference is aimed at redefining CSR, in line with global best practices, and move away from Corporate Philanthropy (CP) perception on the continent.

Noting that CSR is key to sustainable development as it compels organisations to contribute to community development, he hoped that a proper definition of it would help all key stakeholders to understand how important it is to work together, in order to achieve the current United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiative in Africa.

He said: “The continuing achievement of good quality of life requires concerted and sustainable efforts, not only through government initiatives, but through effective CSR as well.

Government can gain valuable inputs from business and society in ensuring that future regulations and regulatory policies (for instance for listed companies and the financial sector on CSR) should facilitate and empower businesses and the society in making a better world for the future generations and to provide the much needed and awaited public policy tools to make life easier for everyone, as well as to reward transparency and integrity.”

According to him, with effective regulatory policies on commercial lending, non-financial reporting, investments, and so on, organisations would be more aware of any salient risks to their stakeholders and act proactively to address them thereby sustaining their businesses in the long term, while confidently attracting investments, both locally and internationally.

He, however, argued that CSR as practiced in the country right now is just corporate philanthropy (CP), which is all about giving back part of an organisation’s profit to the society.

Onuegbu said rather, true CSR involves impact on the environment, social and the economy.

He urged regulatory bodies such as Nigerian Stock Exchange, and the Central Bank to act with regards to policies of their institutions, in order to ensure compliance, transparency and accountability to the people and the environment.

Accusing multinationals of applying double standards in CSR practice in the country, Onuegbu noted that the way they apply policies in Africa, is not the same way they do in their countries of origin.

“If we have the right policies and implement them properly, they would comply with the rules and regulations.”
If we are able to get it right and comply with the principles of CSR in line with global best practices, then we would have a sustainable business environment,” he opined.

Speaking on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the Swiss National Action Plan, the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Eric Mayoraz, said the new reality created by the adoption of the plan in 2011 has continued to win support from labour rights in the global supply chain.

He stated that smart companies work to respect human rights not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it helps them manage risk, create markets and meet the expectation of consumers, investors and employees.

He said this is why Switzerland expects Swiss companies to comply with national regulations and internationally agreed standards regarding CSR.

Also at the event, the Managing Director, and Chief Executive Officer, Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority, Chief Umana Okon Umana, said the position of the private sector is crucial because of the critical role private companies play in the overall development of societies.

He said apart from generating growth and creating jobs, they also have tremendous influence on people’s wellbeing and impact on the environment.

Umana said it was incumbent on every responsible company or organisation to deliberately take into consideration, the economic, environmental and social implications of their activities in the society.

At the end of the conference, it was the consensus that given CSR’s obvious relationship to law, business, ethics and sustainable development, there is need to explore enforceable options rather than promoting its soft law, voluntary core.

The conference also called for an urgent review of the CSR Bill in Nigeria, with the view of redefining CSR in line with global best practices.

Participants equally recommended a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights to be launched as a matter of urgency, in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

They noted that regulatory agencies, in particular, the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), and Central Bank of Nigeria should introduce sustainability policies, including annual audits and voluntary reporting for listed companies and the financial sector in line with global best practices within one year.

They further urged the Federal Government to provide enabling environment for environmentally friendly businesses, such as enabling legislations, green energy, sustainable water, among other before going further with issuing the proposed Green Bill in the country.

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