I had the pleasure of hosting our departmental seminar last week where we had Dr. Dinah Rajak from the University of Sussex speaking. Dinah has written a very interesting book, In good company, which gives an ethnographic account of CSR in Anglo American from their London HQ to their platinum operations in Rustenberg.
To cherry pick from a rich and stimulating book, one of the most interesting parts of this is her argument about how the global expansion of CSR reconfigures the power and politics of business’ activities in the developing world. CSR increases the power of companies by expanding their influence to new spheres and allowing them to access new resources such as expertise and relationships with political groups while simultaneously deflecting criticism of their operations.
At Manchester, Dinah was speaking to some of her more recent work which looks at scholarship programmes promoting entrepreneurship implemented by Anglo. Here, Dinah argued that these competitive training schemes helped diffuse the potential political tension and challenges of operating a high tech mine with a small labour force surrounded by a large population of unemployed. A political move that was highly problematic in the ways it shifts responsibility for poverty and unemployment on to the individual away from, say, the state, or the mining company for that matter.
All food for thought about the political role of CSR in mining. This is, of course, central for many criticisms of CSR which argue it should be seen as ‘greenwash’ or a ‘smokescreen’ deflecting criticism of the disruptive effects of mining and little more. Of course, despite industry protests to the contrary, CSR is frequently a political intervention (otherwise it couldn’t be sold as ‘risk management’ as it so often is). Companies operate in a (often, highly) political context and CSR is one tool they use to manage this. But can we say a CSR programme is a ‘good thing’ if it has potentially regressive political effects? We clearly have to be careful of this but I think balance that needs to be struck is between critiquing these possibilities (while not assuming that they are so – surely CSR can stimulate criticism as much as it can placate it?) and supporting companies to find potentials for progressive politics in their CSR initiatives. Helpfully, Dinah offers an approach and language for engaging with the political dimension of CSR critically without defaulting to total rejection of mining company efforts. A welcome intervention indeed.