Chindia Rules!

Chindia Rules! is the title of a series of debates on how the rise of China and India is influencing the world, of which i attended the first evening last night.

The theme of this first debate was CSR & the new world order. A very broad topic to discuss on just one of those countries, let alone connecting these two countries in the discussion.

The panel was a varied group of China and India experts, though I felt that the group was a little unbalanced. On the Chinese side, Dutch men were speaking from a business and law perspective. And on the Indian side the panel included an Indian businessman and an NGO. This also meant that it really was difficult to get a good grasp on developments because no one could properly juxtapose these two countries (by themselves, or in response to the other). The moderator was clearly struggling.

This doesn’t mean that there were no interesting points raised. Stephen Frost, as one of the opening speakers, gave some interesting insights on the credibility of Chinese CSR reporting. This is mostly non-existent for two main reasons: 1) no assurance is provided on the reporting (eg, through auditing as is customary for CSR reporting); and 2) Chinese companies are resistant to transparancy.

This last point was confirmed by one fo the panel members, Henk Schulte Nordholt, when he said that sharing information is seen as losing power, as losing competitiveness.

Another point that has stuck with me is the difference between CSR and philanthropy in the Chinese context. The latter is something you are expected to do as a successful profit-making company, and also helps your relationship with the local community and local government. However, this train of thought doesn’t extend to CSR. Yet?

The final part of the evening brought some interesting questions from the audience. The one that probably shows best that there is still a long way to go was a question from a Dutch investor: she wanted to know how to approach Chinese companies as a potential investor. After some non-committal responses the clearest answer came from a Chinese man in the audience: “Don’t talk about human rights and such issues. Talk about business first. And then talk about something else.”

* A discussion paper was published to accompany this series of debates, which can be found here