A contribution by Naomie Nyame Kangue,
3rd-year student in ESSCA’s Grande Ecole Programme.

The world is “trying to go green”, sustainability is becoming a fashion, and all multinational companies are integrating Corporate Social Responsibility in their strategies. The CSR movement is a reality in the world, even in Africa. Big companies operating in Africa such as Areva, Total, and Nestle, etc., whose activities are generally polluting the environment, also include CSR in their strategy. The question we can ask ourselves is whether the objective of this CSR commitment is to develop the territory where they operate or mainly to have a “sustainable image”. This question will be at the heart of this post.

CSR has many definitions, but I prefer to define Corporate Social Responsibility as the way in which a company is making profits taking into consideration its legal, social, and environmental responsibilities. For me that is all the interest of a coherent CSR policy. For Archie B. Carroll, an acceptable CSR strategy needs to integrate all the responsibilities of the firm in a hierarchical way. From the economic and legal to the ethical and philanthropical responsibilities. In other words, before doing voluntary actions, the company must realise profits, respect the laws which govern business, and finally respect the society and the environment.

In AFRICA, multinational CSR is understood as making profits and funding local development projects such as education, health, access to drinkable water, human rights… It is true that those projects reduce poverty and some social problems, but is that all the aim of CSR? Multinational companies operating in AFRICA mostly focus on the economic and philanthropic perspective of CSR, but being philanthropic is not being sustainable.

AFRICA can be qualified as a hen with golden eggs because of its natural resources. Gas, oil and uranium in the sector of energy, metals in the sector of construction, and the rare earths in that of new technologies make the continent very attractive. With all these natural resources we could assume that AFRICA is one of the richest continents in terms of money, but unfortunately is not the reality at all.

Cartoon by Carlos Latuff (https://latuffcartoons.wordpress.com)

Let’s take the case of Areva in Niger. The country supplies about 30% of the Uranium produced by Areva (now called Orano) who is exploiting the two mines in service in Niger (Somair and Cominak). But unfortunately, Niger is not one of the powerful countries in Africa, its Index of Human Development is 0.354, which ranks the country fifty-third in AFRICA. That is a paradox. How can a country supplying a third of the uranium of Areva be so poor? The big French multinational company claims that it operates CSR in Niger by promoting social development (development of infrastructures, access to drinkable water, and improvement of local living conditions…) but the Index of Human Development which takes into account health, level of education and standard of living of the country is one of the worst in the world. Another paradox.

In the view of the above, the CSR policy of Areva is a commitment of participating in the social development of the territories. Is that a sincere awareness or just the way to give a sustainable image to the company? “It is true that our business pollutes, but we help society.” It sounds as if CSR was a way for Areva to hide its real environmental and societal impact in Niger.

A sincere CSR policy takes into account the impact of business on society and the environment. However, environmental actions carried out by Areva do not solve the real problem of the mining activity: the pollution of water, health problems of the local community, and the decimation of livestock due to radioactive effects. This negative impact of its mining activities brings the company to use voluntary actions to compensate and mask its harmful impact.

This is not fair. They are trying to give a sustainable image to mining but we know that mining has negative impacts, people just want a real awareness. Also, as we saw previously, Niger supplies 30% of Areva’s uranium production but Niger perceives only 7% of the payments of Areva. Where is the money going? Oxfam, an association in campaign for more transparency, accuses Areva to benefit from fiscal privileges. Sustainability is not a synonym of paying less fiscal charges because those tax revenues could enhance the development of the country.

As this case illustrates, multinational CSR in AFRICA can be a hypocrisy. Stakeholders, especially civil society or NGOs accuse those big companies to mask the environmental and social impact with superficial, philanthropic actions. Is the profit-seeking more important than the local population affected by air and water pollution?

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