On my current trip to Canada I’ll be giving a talk at Ryerson University’s Institute for the Study of Corporate Social Responsibility on ‘What’s the political impact of CSR? Evidence from the mining sector in Zambia, Ghana and Peru’ 12–2pm Tuesday May 22nd. More details and a link to the livestream for those interested but unable to attend can be found here. I’m pretty sure they archive the screencasts too so you can watch them later if you wish. I’ll be mainly presenting this paper, but also some of my more recent thinking on the topic of CSR and politics.
The Effective States and Inclusive Development Research Centre have just published a working paper by yours truly on ‘Corporate social responsibility and political settlements in the mining sector in Ghana, Zambia and Peru’. It’s really a first cut at some of the findings from my work in 2014 which I’m currently writing up into some papers and a book. The abstract reads thusly:
This paper explores and compares the political effects of corporate social responsibility in the mining sector in Zambia, Ghana and Peru. The paper adopts a political settlements approach to answer the question: How do the CSR practices of mining companies affect local and national political settlements? After setting out the main tenets of the political settlements approach, this is articulated with literature on the politics of natural resource extraction and CSR. The paper then sets the wider context of the international drivers of increased attention to CSR in the extractive sector and before exploring the impact of the CSR practices of mining companies on the political settlement in Ghana, Peru and Zambia at the national and local levels. The final sections offer a comparative discussion of what the findings mean for understanding CSR’s role in inclusive development and natural resource governance. The paper argues that recent increased CSR expenditure does not necessarily translate into development for those living near mining companies, particularly in contexts of exclusionary political settlements, of which all case studies exhibited characteristics. There are a great many institutional and contextual limitations placed on the ability of CSR to deliver development for affected communities. Across the case studies, the opportunities CSR programmes afford tended to aimed at those with the greatest capacity to disrupt operations rather than those with the greatest need. In concluding, I argue that, despite some obvious limitations, the political settlements approach can generate new insights through its focus on the politics of development, and, in particular, the politics of stability.
Available here – Go check it out! All feedback welcome.
I recorded the talk I gave to the Centre of African Studies at the University of Edinburgh this week and you can listen to it here:
I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to such an interesting crowd and got some great questions (which aren’t included). I have high hopes we can get some future research collaborations with folks up there.
I will be in Zambia in a couple of weeks for about 4 weeks doing research in Lusaka and on the Copperbelt. My aim is to blog and tweet more regularly whilst I’m there. And it look’s like an interesting time to be looking at CSR issues with the Vedanta CEO putting his foot in it recently. Though, to be fair, mining issues – particularly the persistent sense of being duped by international mining companies – are rarely off the agenda for long in Zambia. If you are around and want to talk, do get in touch.
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.