Christopher C. Pinney, director of executive education for the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, recently wrote about his CSR-focused trip to China, in “Why China Will Define the Future Corporate Citizenship.” He argues that China needs to continue to embrace corporate social responsibility to solve some of the biggest problems facing the country and the world, both social and environmental.
He emphasizes that if CSR is going to do all the wonderful things we know it can, its going have to be in China’s own style.
The challenge now is defining a “made in China” approach to corporate citizenship that respects the norms and values that underpin Chinese society while at the same time addressing global expectations and values.
He continues with a very optimistic view of China’s interest in CSR.
The government, business, and academic leaders we have met with recognize that the immense social, environmental, and economic challenges facing the country cannot be solved by government alone and will require the active participation of the rapidly growing domestic private sector and the foreign funded enterprises operating in China.
(I would be interested to learn more about specific examples he encountered on his trip).
He sites China’s economic and population numbers to explain the effects China’s participation in sustainability, or lack their of, could have on international scale.
With almost 21% of the world’s population (1.3 billion people) the sheer scale of the Chinese development model can be difficult to comprehend. It will build 500 coal-fired power plants in the next decade; at the rate of almost one a week.
While there are plenty of very true and impressive statistics like this, Pinney does not acknowledge China’s already established and growing power on the international stage over issues like climate change, environmental protection, labor rights, and human rights. Pointing out China’s geo-political muscle could strengthen Pinney’s argument that the morals China attaches to its business are going to affect us all, for generations to come.
He continues by noting what China is doing to compete in the international market:
To position China to compete in the global economy, leading business schools there are already making English the language of instruction and China will need to build 800 universities by 2015 to keep up with demand.
A fair enough point, but again I would point to China’s already accumulated power. Perhaps an equally relevant statistic would be the increasing number of native English and Spanish speaking children all learning Chinese in schools.
He continues noting “the flip side of this rapid growth” is a list of ills including:
Pinney flows on with the solutions China’s government is offering for these problems, focusing on the central government’s “harmonious society” theme and accompanying legislation, including, but not limited to:
Harmonious society legislation, in short, creates and keeps a stable society and country. That means addressing environmental issues brought on by China’s rapid development. Pinney continues:
Under the broad rubric of building a harmonious society, the national government and many regional governments are working to create an “enabling” environment that encourages voluntary initiatives by business that address the social, environmental and economic interests of the entire country.
In general, the idea of a harmonious society as a policy framework shifts the focus of development from centralized control to greater participation and multi-stakeholder involvement, and from a premium on economic growth to overall societal balance, including environmental stability and social equality.
It is true that the propaganda is shifting from pure emphasis on economic growth to an overall balance.
Though I think Pinney goes too far by calling it a “shift away from centralized control to greater participation and multi-stakeholder involvement.” At least, I would like to learn more about cases that substantiate this claim. Factory owners and businesses make their improvements at the “urging” tone the central government sets and stay well within their themes, as they should.
Pinney does hit on one of the big problems around here, one the central government readily acknowledges:
One of the current problems faced by governments, local and national, is while often there are laws in place, there are many problems with compliance and enforcement. Interpretation of laws is also often left up to regional governments.
He continues on by marking China’s development and improvement in this area:
To try and address these issues the national government introduced an amended company law in 2006 that expands on the social responsibilities of companies. It provides that a company, in conducting its business, must not only abide by the law, but also observe industry ethics, strengthen the development of the socialist spiritual civilization, and subject itself to supervision by the government and the public.
A new labor contract law (LCL) that took effect January 1, 2008, created in response to rising social unrest and income inequality, requires that all firms of more than 25 people allow unions and ensures some basic labor rights for employees.
In addition to these legal measures it seems like every ministry has some form of corporate citizenship or CSR initiative underway, but there is often little coordination between them. The National Development Research Council of the State Council of the PRC, a key policy body, has more recently taken a proactive interest in coordination of information on CSR initiatives as well as training.
These are tangible actions. Though I don’t think these are examples of moving away from central control to anything like a popular people’s movement. Quite the opposite, in fact, if we use the examples he gives above.
Luckily for all of us, whether decentralized or not, there are CSR movements beyond government initiatives. Pinney details “independent” business initiatives, academic programs and schools, and management and communication consultancies working to promote and support corporate citizenship in China. An example of this type of organization is the Chinese Committee for Corporate Citizenship and the China Business Council for Sustainable Development.
A private sector initiative he draws attention to is the Chinese Federation for Corporate Social Responsibility (CFCSR), which is interesting for its Western-Eastern mix of companies. It focuses on:
Pinney ends on a positive note, commenting on the energetic vibe you can pick up while traveling in China and musing at its economic wonders. He concludes, “Just as China launched its path to economic development in 1980, it is now determined to ensure that the benefits of economic development are shared by all Chinese, and is committed to making corporate citizenship a powerful tool for enlisting the support of the business sector.” China’s central government is taking its own steps, to its own beat. Regardless of what you think of their progress, private CSR initiatives are making improvements to lives and environments in China.