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Chinese cities in Africa

If it would be a contest, China is in pole position.

Last week I attended an evening at Pakhuis de Zwijger about Chinese cities in Africa, and the above is what has stuck with me. The evening was centred around the research of Michiel Hulshof and Daan Roggeveen within their Go West Project, where they are travelling to African cities to research how Chinese activity in Africa is influencing these cities.

China and Africa are becoming more and more connected: some examples of this are through Chinese investment and through Africans setting up in China. There has also been increasing attention on this activity, as China’s engagement with Africa is happening on very different terms than European engagement with the African continent.

The evening highlighted specific activities of China in some of the places that the duo has travelled to so far (including Nairobi, Lagos, Luanda, Addis Abbeba – to name a few African cities): development of mass housing and establishment of Special Economic Zones.

Some of the points that struck me during the evening:

  • throughout the evening, the language used was very much in terms of a contest: who can build the most and the biggest (buildings, infrastructure, etc) and who can tie African governments to their own country the strongest? China isn’t the only country that is actively seeking opportunities in Africa – others include of course European countries, but also for example Turkey and Brazil. But is it really a contest? Is it really about being the most important non-African governmental actor (in whichever form) on the African continent? I don’t know – in traditional geopolitical terms, possibly it is. But in terms related to how to progress on sustainable development in Africa I don’t think it should be.
  • the evening shared different examples of Chinese firms building mass housing complexes in African cities, or of establishing joint economic development zones with a local government authority. Yet, what didn’t come through much in these stories was what the impact is on the development of society in these African cities: how does living in a gated compound (copied from the Chinese model of housing) change the social structure in any given African city where the way communities were living will have been very different.
  • what is the contribution of Chinese investment to economic and sustainable development of African cities and communities? What comes across in the contributions of experts during this evening is that the Chinese firms come in with their own workers (though this is slowly changing), underbid local African firms and are only recently becoming more interested in contributing to local capacity building. Some Chinese firms are starting to engage in a more active CSR-policy (and in fact, the Chinese government is requiring companies active in the extractive industry to implement CSR in their operations) and during the evening Huawei was mentioned as an example of a company which is developing a local CSR programme that focuses on local capacity building.  Yet, building the skills and capacity locally across Africa will be important to contribute to future-proof development.

Finally, the conclusion of the evening was also that it isn’t possible to ‘just’ copy the Chinese model to gain similar results in development and economic growth. Parts of it may work, but Africa is – of course – a different place. Africa is not one place, and it is likely that the Chinese model can be more successfully implemented in countries with a more authoritative government (examples are Ethiopia or Angola).

In any case, yet again an interesting Go West Project to keep track of while the research into the influence of Chinese urbanism in Africa continues.

CSR in Japan: an interview with Yusuke Yamashita (part 2)

This post continues from part 1: an interview with Yusuke Yamashita, lecturer and researcher on CSR and business ethics in Japan. In this second part he shares his views on the development of CSR in Japan up to now and gives recommendations on what can be done to improve this development.

What role does Corporate Social Responsibility have for the Japanese business community?

At first, most Japanese companies were indifferent to CSR. However, when pollution and environmental problems became big social issues in the 1970s, companies were forced to do something. Originating from this background, until about the 1990s Japanese companies mostly saw CSR as a way to respond to environmental topics.

Nevertheless, Japanese companies were also confronted with other problems than just environmental.As globalization expanded, from the year 2000 onward the need for a more proactive way of CSR and business ethics became clear in Japan as well.

These days, I think that most Japanese businesses think of CSR as part of a strategy to improve a company’s image and of risk management. I don’t think that Japanese people really understand clearly the difference between CSR, business ethics and compliance.

At the same time, the number of Japanese companies that are cooperating with their stakeholders and striving to solve social problems is increasing.

Most companies in Japan are tackling the following three points when they talk about CSR:

1)      Risk management (as a way of company protection)
2)      Positively influencing the financial performance through improving corporate reputation
3)      Philanthropy as a way of resolving social issues

These points are very important for companies now. Yet, this doesn’t constitute an integrated approach of CSR. I think the concept of business ethics in these three points is very weak.

Contemporary CSR in Japan is mostly about dealing with solutions to social problems in Japanese society. However, it is not sufficiently concerned about the social issues in management of Japanese businesses.

Business ethics is about a business becoming a thoroughly ethical being as it is the only way to prevent fraud or scandals occurring in a company. Risk management in itself doesn’t require this type of fully integrated ethical awareness. But business ethics does require of companies to fully integrate this in realizing a better way of doing business. This is the difference with risk management.

I think that a deeper understanding of the concept of CSR will also lead to an increase of efforts in business ethics in the Japanese business world. Despite CSR becoming more included in the Japanese corporate world, there are still many occurrences of fraud and scandals. But I think that more and more Japanese people will want companies to make integrating business ethics a priority over their philanthropic activities.

 

In your view, what is the main CSR-issue that needs more attention in Japan (either from government, business or consumers)?

I think that there are very little government policies on CSR in place in Japan right now. On my own website, I have published a proposal for 17 policy issues on CSR.

To summarize, these points include a proposal to establish a “CSR Minister” to the government, to establish a CSR Agency, to establish an independent CSR consulting and whistle-blowing contact point and various additional points on stakeholders, tax incentives and transparency.

I will elaborate on a few points of these below.

In Japan there is a “Consumer Agency” (消費者庁) with a responsible minister but I believe we need a CSR Agency and a CSR minister.

Stakeholders are not only consumers and therefore it is necessary that the government has policy in place to also respond to other stakeholders in a suitable manner.

The government should also proactively present all relevant guidelines so that each company can make their individual practice of CSR and business ethics policy into the most appropriate to their business.

The government should support CSR initiatives of companies for example by reducing the tax burden.

However, the government shouldn’t only think about the corporate benefits, but has to be a neutral intermediary between business and stakeholders.

Finally, there is the issue of the National Contact Point of the OECD Guidelines. In Japan there are several ministries that are in charge of the NCP, but this makes it very difficult to understand which section has responsibility for the NCP. This responsibility should be centralized at one section.

 

Many thanks to Yamashita-san for participating in this blog interview and by sharing his ideas with me in so much detail. どうもありがとうございました!

This series was started by participation in Blog Away NL Maand #2, initiated by Karin Ramaker

CSR in Japan: an interview with Yusuke Yamashita (part 1)

Sustainability, responsible business practices and entrepreneurship: big issues in Asia.

On this blog I share what I know about these topics. But I also want to start sharing views from others: experts on sustainable urban development, academics on corporate social responsibility (CSR), Asia-entrepreneurs etc. This is why I’m starting with a series of short interviews with a wide variety of people about their work and personal ideas about the above question.

YusukeYamashita

Kicking off the series – I’m starting with a Japan-theme – is Yusuke Yamashita. He is a university lecturer and researcher on CSR and business ethics in Japan. We met last year when I was in Tokyo.

I was impressed at that time by his views on corporate social responsibility in Japan including his ideas on the influence of the development of civil society in Japan on CSR and business ethics.

So I am very happy to be able to share some of that with you here.

To try to do justice to the detailed and thoughtful response I received, this interview will be published in two parts. Here, he shares his personal motivation to work in this field. Part 2 will follow with a short history of CSR in Japan and what should be improved.

 

Why did you choose to work in the field of CSR and business ethics?

To make society a better place, what would be the most effective way? I believe that the way for that is to “transform” as many businesses as possible.

The single organization which is the most powerful in a country is the government. But, if you accumulate the power of all the companies in that country, the power of the companies will become more than that of the government. In other words, it will make much more difference to society to transform all businesses than what any governmental policy can do. Theoretically speaking.

This means that when more companies become more ethical in their activities, the better they can integrate CSR – and in turn society will become a little better. In order to achieve this, I would like to collaborate as an academic researcher.

Historically speaking, in Europe and North-America the people gained democracy through their own power. But this is not true for Japan. Democracy in modern Japan was bestowed on Japan by other countries after the defeat in the Second World War.

Accordingly, you might say that awareness of “citizenship” is low among many Japanese people. For most of us Japanese, the use of “public” often has the meaning of “government”. But, I think that originally “public” is “the space of citizens”: civil society is made up of individual citizens.

That there is a weak awareness of “citizenship” in turn means that there is a weak awareness of being a “stakeholder”. When the influence and presence of stakeholders is low, it is not possible to realize CSR and business ethics.

So for CSR and business ethics in Japan I believe it is not just the business world that has to change but it is also necessary for Japanese stakeholders to mature as citizens.

 

Part 2 will go more into the development of CSR and business ethics in Japan and what can be done to improve this.

This series was started by participation in Blog Away NL Maand #2, initiated by Karin Ramaker

cotton shanghai

WereldZaken: MVO over de grens

Vandaag is WereldZaken gepubliceerd, een e-magazine met nieuws, verhalen en ervaringen over internationaal ondernemen. En deze editie staat geheel in het teken over maatschappelijk verantwoord ondernemen in het buitenland! Goed leesvoer dus.

Voor WereldZaken mocht ik een blog bijhouden van mijn verblijf in Shanghai in januari: ik schrijf o.a. over duurzaam voedsel, dilemma’s rond MVO in de productieketen en sociaal ondernemerschap.

Meer leesmateriaal

Wil je meer weten over waar ik in Shanghai mee bezig ben geweest? Op dit blog kun je daarover vanalles vinden. Lees bijvoorbeeld deze stukjes:

> over ondernemerschap: China & Nederland vergeleken

> over stedelijke ontwikkeling: Shanghai’s streetscapes

> over duurzaam voedsel: ethical food in China

> over de relatie Japan & China

In de categorie China zijn ook meer dagelijkse stukjes te vinden, en impressies van eerdere bezoeken en China-gerelateerde thema’s. Of, neem contact op als je specifieke vragen hebt, of een keer met een kop koffie verder wil praten.

Weekend reading: on WeChat, ‘sea turtles’ and more

While I’m on a long flight back to Europe, here are some interesting reads from the past week(s) on – mostly – China.

‘Are you on Wechat?’

This is probably one of the questions I’ve heard most while here. So, clearly, this is a major communications channel for people living here. And WeChat is much more than just a Chinese version on Whatsapp, as is explained in this extensive and interesting article on TheNextWeb.

Journey of the ‘Sea Turtles’

Another article on contemporary society in China, posted on TeaLeafNation this week, goes into the background of Chinese who’ve studied abroad and decide to come back to China, or don’t come back, or come back and leave again. It’s a complicated discussion, and the article shares some examples of why this is also a very personal discussion for many Chinese people in this situation. There’s a lot to gain in China in an economic sense: job opportunities and the fact that you are not a migrant in an unknown country, but at the same time this isn’t always as easy as it seems with having to build a new network and being confronted by a lot of social issues (high cost for housing, schools, etc).

Shenzhen Architecture Biënnale

At the moment, the Shenzhen Architecture Biënnale is taking place, which is curated by Dutchman Ole Bouman. As you can tell from this blog I’m interested in (sustainable) urban development, especially as it is such a huge issue in the Chinese context. This article (in Dutch) offers a critical perspective at this year’s biennale, and asks why none of the questions relevant to the ever-continuing Chinese urbanisation are asked at this important event.

Still to see:

And on my list to watch back in the Netherlands is this episode of Rambam on supply chain transparency in the textile industry, specifically focusing on two Dutch companies (Wibra & CoolCat) which have been very negatively featured in the Dutch media the last months (especially CoolCat). From a Dutch perspective, when talking about CSR in international business it almost firstly arrives at supply chains and then it immediately links to the textile industry. I am currently doing some work on this with a group of Dutch companies in Shanghai and am very curious what this programme will present in this case (as especially in the CoolCat case, I think there is a lot of misrepresentation going on).

Weekend reading: on plastic bags, CR reporting in Asia & carbon emissions

It’s been a while since I took some time to collect a few interesting online articles for the weekend. So, for your reading pleasure this December weekend, here are a few pieces I think are worth your time.

‘Every little bit helps’?

The Guardian published a piece on the question whether it is really true that, when it comes to adapting to climate change and creating a more sustainable society, every little bit helps: does it matter if you re-use plastic shopping bags? I agree with the conclusion of the author, that small actions such as re-using shopping bags only matter when it is a catalyst for other, more impactful, activities – instead of it remaining a ‘token’ activity.

For me, personally (and I’ve said this before), participating in the No Impact Project has been very important in being that catalyst to make changes in my life (though I’ll be the first to admit that I still have a long way to go).

On reporting about corporate responsibility (CR)

This month saw the publication of KPMG’s survey on CR reporting in 2013. And, one of the main conclusions in the report is that the Asia-Pacific region sees the strongest growth worldwide in CR reporting. This growth – from 49% in 2011 to 71% in 2013 – is attributed in part to new countries being included in the survey (such as Indonesia and Malaysia) but also to, for instance, the introduction of new regulations on voluntary and compulsory CR reporting in India and Singapore.

However, does an increase in reporting about environmental and social issues also mean that these companies are acting more responsibly as well? BusinessWeek looks at CR reporting in China, another Asian country where the number of companies reporting on environmental and social issues has increased strongly. Yet, this doesn’t necessarily correspond to ‘better’ behaviour.

A more in-depth article on CR reporting in China by China Dialogue expands on this point, with examples of companies which have been awarded for their reporting achievements while simultaneously being involved in serious environmental problems caused by their activities. This leads China Dialogue to conclude that CR reporting in China is still mainly greenwashing. It also recommends for more Chinese companies to adhere to international reporting standards (such as GRI) so that the reports will become easier to understand – and become more transparent. Another point in this article is the need for more monitoring of corporate behaviour – and CR reports – so that changes actually happen.

Both of these articles are based on a recent analysis of Syntao on CSR reporting in China.

Reducing carbon emissions

The consultancy firm BSR shares some insights this week on how to improve corporate behaviour, focusing on how companies operating in China can reduce carbon emissions through their supply chain.

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Do you want a more regular dose of reading suggestions? I keep track of news on sustainability and CSR also on Twitter, via @MVOinAzie (which translates to ‘CSR in Asia’ but covers many more topics than just CSR). You can find (re)tweets on topics as diverse as sustainable palmoil and labour issues and from South-Korea to India.

The makings of a business event: what next

Yesterday I listened to a speech on failure, and how failing is necessary to progress and make successful.

Today I feel I’m right in the middle of the message in that speech: we are postponing the event on CSR in China that I have been working on for the last few months. Failure?

I’m disappointed that we didn’t succeed in realizing this event in the way that we hoped. I can already identify several reasons for this, and it will mean that the next attempt to organize an event on CSR in Asia will have some different components, different communication, different partners possibly.

And yet, I guess this is all part of it. ‘It’ being the work that I need to do right now to gain success in this venture that is establishing my own business presence. Occasionally that will come quite easily, but often it takes a few times to get something right.

The main message in yesterday’s speech was to always do the things you want to do – even if they are hard, are scary, go way beyond your comfort zone: yes, of course you might fail. But if you don’t, you will have no opportunity to succeed either. This event is a case in point. Even if I’ve had an idea of what I wanted to achieve from the start, I didn’t know in what way this is best achieved. Clearly, the ideas we’ve put together this time didn’t work out well enough.

So, onwards and upwards. We’re looking at possibly changing the scope of next week’s afternoon to tailor it more to the group of people who have registered. And next year should see another event on the theme of Asia & CSR. Because I still believe this is a topic worth working on and talking about.

 

cotton shanghai

The makings of a business event: CSR in China

Yesterday I wrote about the Crossing Continents event that I attended earlier this week. Not only was this interesting to attend because of the topics discussed – but also because it served as inspiration: next week will see the start of promoting an event on CSR in China – to be held on December 11th – so getting a look at how others format these types of events is very useful (even if I’ve seen many throughout my career so far).

The first ideas and talks about this event probably started in July, so if I’ve learnt anything from pulling this event together: you need a lot of time!

Much of that time since then has been spent talking to different people and organisations to find partners for this event. Because of course different elements are needed to make this afternoon successful such as location, access to speakers and – importantly – a network amongst the target group of this event.

I’ve taken the initiative to organize this afternoon on CSR in China as I think that this is a topic that is not that much on the agenda of Dutch businesses (especially, SME’s) active in China. Of course, plenty of companies do think about the themes connected with responsible business in China which can be as various as factory safety, overtime issues, environmental waste or corruption. Yet, whenever I talk to companies about doing business in China – dilemma’s around responsible business practices don’t really seem to be part of this.

With increasing attention on CSR (the textile industry is a good example) I thought it was time to pull together the issues that are part of CSR in China. And importantly: what this means in practice for Dutch SME’s who do want to start thinking about – and acting on this.

So I’m happy that now we are nearly there: I’m waiting for confirmation from the last speakers and we’re planning to start promoting this event after the weekend. Which is when it will finally become real which I’m very excited about. With ‘we’ I of course include the partner organisations that have now committed to this event and I’m looking forward to sharing the details of who is involved and what the afternoon will be like.

If you want to be kept informed of the programme and other details, send me a message so that an invite will be on your way when it becomes available!

Weekend reading: urban farming & CSR in Japan, China’s middle class and more

This weekend, I will mostly be outside enjoying the summer and reading Just Enough: lessons in living green from traditional japan. But if you are looking for some additional reading, here are some suggestions from this week.

Urban farming in Tokyo
Continuing with Japan, I want to share this crowdfunding project on Kickstarter: Growing City by Nick Sugihara. Sugihara is planning to produce a documentary about urban farming in Tokyo, which sounds really interesting, but he still needs some more funding to be able to do this.

Wayne Visser on Japan
I also came across a post on CSR in Japan by Wayne Visser (of CSR 2.0 fame). It’s interesting to read his ideas on the development of CSR in Japan, which seem to be based mostly on earlier visits. He also sketches a much more positive picture of CSR & sustainability in Japan than I have seen when I visited recently, which is interesting to find. The vision and front-runner examples he talks about are something that I have not recognized as clearly in Tokyo.

China’s middle class
McKinsey is continuing their coverage of market developments in China with a post on the developing middle class. An interesting post, as it highlights which regions and which categories of the population are expected to grow most quickly – and would therefore become more interesting target groups for business.

A Swedish look at human rights and business
And closing off with a video, from the Swedish consultancy EnAct, who’ve put together a prezi to give an overview of recent developments in the field of human rights and business and made this into a Youtube-clip. The video mostly highlights Swedish examples of issues and companies, but it’s easy to substitute these with Dutch examples (and probably examples from your own country if you’re reading this from elsewhere). The issues are the same everywhere.

Weekend reading: responsible business conduct, telecom in Myanmar, killer presentations & more

Another weekend, another round-up of this week’s news that caught my eye.

From Paris
I spent some of this week in Paris, at the Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct. These two days, organized by the OECD, were all about how to promote responsible business conduct – or, corporate social responsibility – and linked this to the practical application of the OECD Guidelines. There were various thematic workshops on Bangladesh and the textile industry, on the extractive industry, on transparency & reporting. I attended for the second day of the Forum which discussed responsible business conduct in the financial sector.

One of the moderators of the first day, Bhaskar Chakravorti, wrote a post talking about his expectations for the Forum and developments that he sees happening that can offer a way of taking the addition of ‘responsible’ away from responsible business conduct. Because shouldn’t CSR considerations be part of business as usual? In Chakravorti’s words:

You cannot scold, regulate, punish and nag your way to responsible conduct. It has to become part and parcel of regular business practices.

The twitter feed of the Forum provides a nice overview of the discussions and speakers.

Human rights in Myanmar’s telecom industry
One of the sessions at the Forum talked about responsible business conduct in the IT sector. At the same time, news broke about a large telecom investment in one of the most prominent developing economies right now, Myanmar. Two companies have been given licenses to develop the nearly non-existent telecom market in the country. The Institute for Human Rights and Business provides a good overview of the human rights’ challenges that lie ahead for the two winning companies, Telenor and Ooredoo, and calls on them to take care of implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Business in their human rights due diligence process.

Swimming in China’s rivers
China’s environmental problems are never far from the news, and Chinadialogue.net’s executive editor Sam Geall writes about popular movements to increase awareness of the environmental disasters happening in China and pressure (local) government to do something about it.

Creating stories
And lastly, a different topic – but one that relates to all of the above. Because all of the above articles talk about important topics and issues, and it’s important to find a way to get them out to a wider audience. One way of getting a wider audience is presenting at TED. And that requires being able to tell a great story.

There’s no way you can give a good talk unless you have something worth talking about.

The Harvard Business Review published an article this month by TED’s Chris Anderson in which he shares how to craft a ‘killer presentation’. I agree with pretty much all of his points, and this is what we practice at Toastmastersas well. Recommended read.