Friday, March 5, 2010

Africans, Chinese and Americans meet in Liberia on corporate social responsibility

I was a member of the American delegation that participated in the Africa-China-United States Trilateral Dialogue on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Monrovia, Liberia, on Feb. 24-25, 2010. The Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, Brenthurst Foundation of South Africa, U.S. Council on Foreign Relations and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences sponsored the conference. This was the fourth in a series of trilateral dialogue meetings that focus on issues of interest to Africa, China and the United States. For a summary report of the third Trilateral Dialogue, see this PDF report. Greg Mills of the Brenthurst Foundation led the African delegation, which included Luisa Dias Diogo, prime minister of Mozambique from 2004 until 2009. Yang Guang, director-general of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, led the Chinese delegation. Princeton Lyman, Council on Foreign Relations, and Witney Schneidman, Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, co-led the U.S. delegation. Former president of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor, attended as a member of the board of the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation. Although each delegation brought a different CSR perspective to the table, there was far more agreement than disagreement, especially on issues surrounding workers’ rights, hiring of African workers, following local laws and regulations, investing in local development, technology transfer to Africa and implementing sound environmental practices. There was almost no discussion of human rights practices, encouraging democratic government and dealing with the problems of harmful imported products. President Kufuor made the point that CSR is something that should become part of corporate policy, not a practice that is voluntary. All the delegations agreed that CSR should be sustainable. The Chinese delegation noted that the best CSR practices come from those Chinese business persons who follow the Confucius principle that if you develop yourself, you must develop others. It was apparent from the discussion that the size and resources available to a company have a dramatic impact on its CSR practices. The African delegation acknowledged that it needs to do a better job of establishing CSR guidelines for foreign companies. The Chinese delegation offered to host the next Trilateral Dialogue in Beijing early in 2011.

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