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Africa in the Chinese Media: Chinese CSR; Why China has “misunderstandings” in Africa

This series highlights interesting reporting in China on a range of African topics, countries and regions. This post briefly reviews coverage of Africa in Chinese newspapers during last week, June 27 to July 3, including an extensive investigation by Oriental Morning Post in Shanghai into how Chinese firms conduct CSR in Africa; an explanation by Global Times in Beijing on why Chinese firms often experience “misunderstandings” in Africa; and the happy days of a smart Burkina Faso student in Wuhan who built his own car to drive to his graduation ceremony.  

 

Investigation into how Chinese firms in Africa conduct Corporate Social Responsibility
Oriental Morning Post, 东方早报, June 28

There are around 3,000 Chinese companies currently operating in 52 African countries, according to this article, yet how proficient are these companies at Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Africa? The Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post last week published a lengthy report after the newspaper conducted an investigation over three years (2012-2015) that included surveys and interviews with 11 Chinese state-owned companies and 22 private Chinese companies operating in Senegal, Nigeria and Zambia, among other African countries.

Some of the findings of the investigation are summarized briefly below:

Current situation and characteristics of CSR by Chinese firms in Africa, Oriental Morning Post (28 June 2016)

Current situation and characteristics of CSR by Chinese firms in Africa, Oriental Morning Post (28 June 2016)

  • Most state-owned Chinese companies in Africa already have a clear concept of CSR, more so than private Chinese companies in Africa
  • In terms of what they consider to be CSR in Africa, the state-owned companies provided a variety of answers, e.g. providing employment for local communities and improving living conditions, and providing Africa with advanced environmental protection technology and services. Most private companies surveyed provided irrelevant answers to this question
  • Chinese CSR in Africa has a distinct Chinese character. For example while many companies consider it their duty to interact with and support local communities, they do not engage in CSR that might interfere with the internal affairs of African countries, and hence they do not consider corruption and human rights as key aspects of CSR
  • Only three state-owned companies in the survey and two private companies have established a dedicated CSR office, but 73% of state-owned companies have established a CSR code of conduct and regulations
  • The localisation rate, i.e. the proportion of African workers employed, was 55% for the state-owned companies and 85% for the private companies
  • Chinese companies generally paid salaries higher than the local minimum wage, and in some cases much higher
  • Chinese employees on average worked much longer overtime than African employees; but Chinese employees were paid on time (85%) less than African employees (95%)      

 

“America destroys, China builds”; But why do Chinese enterprises often encounter misunderstandings in Africa?
Global Times, 全球时报, June 27

The Chinese language edition of nationalist newspaper Global Times published an editorial beginning with an answer given to one of the authors of the article by a taxi driver in Ethiopia when the journalist asked about China’s role in Africa: “America destroys, China builds”. The editorial states that China’s role in Africa is often perceived as controversial, but China’s role on the continent is based on two self-evident truths: 1, In terms of infrastructure Africa still lags far behind more developed nations; and 2, More than any other country China is fulfilling Africa’s need for new infrastructure.

But is China using its role in providing infrastructure as a bargaining chip in Africa? Many Chinese companies in Africa, the article states, are not always fully cognizant of the Chinese government’s political objectives in Africa, and some of these companies operate within the understanding of seeking to maximise profits. This has at times given rise to misunderstandings in Africa. For their part Chinese contractors are engaged in innumerable infrastructure projects in Africa, and these contractors often complain of not only having to control high manufacturing costs in difficult and far-flung markets, but also to deal with social and political conflicts.

 

Africans seeking wealth in Guangzhou leaving city in droves
Global Times, 全球时报, June 27

Citing a news report from a US television channel, this Global Times article notes that although around 100,000 sub-Saharan Africans have flocked to Guangzhou since 2012 to seek their fortunes, in the last 18 months thousands of Africans have left the city. The reason for this is that the African traders in Guangzhou are finding it increasingly difficult to make money, which in turn is due to several factors, like increasing prices in China, more stringent policing of fake products, and the “maturing” Chinese economy. The article also notes, however, that many Africans are leaving China because they have struggled to adapt to Chinese culture, lifestyle and “hygiene habits”.

 

Witness to Saartjie Baartman’s return to South Africa in 2002
Wuhan Evening News, 武汉晚报, July 1

In early 2016 Bí Shūmǐn (毕淑敏) published her African travel book Africa Thirty Thousand Miles (非洲三万里), and Wuhan Evening News (among other papers) have been publishing excerpts of the book. Last week the newspaper published the seventeenth such installment in which Bí discusses her experience in 2002 when the remains of Saartjie Baartman, a Khoisan woman exhibited as a live attraction in 19th century Europe, were returned to South Africa and buried in the Eastern Cape.

Bi relates her discussion with an unnamed “expert” on the shape and form of Baartman’s body, noting for example that for an African woman as Baartman – whom Bi describes as a beautiful African venus – sturdy buttocks and lower limbs had particular functions for travelling long distances over dry African landscapes.

 

Burkina Faso student builds his own car to drive to graduation ceremony in Wuhan
Wuhan Evening News, 武汉晚报, July 3

Wuhan Wanbao SenniLast week, Sēn’ní (森尼) from Burkina Faso graduated from Wuhan University’s School of Power and Mechanical Engineering, but arrived at his graduation ceremony driving a small car he built himself. Sēn’ní’s time in Wuhan was clearly well-spent, as he founded an engineering club at the university and was nominated for a special prize. He has already started an internship at a foreign company in Shenzhen.  

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