People walk and shop in a lower Manhattan shopping mall on September 13, 2023 in New York City. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP/LEHTIKUVA

International news

Countries in the Global South, encompassing regions like Africa, Asia, and Latin America, are increasingly asserting their stance on corporate social responsibility (CSR) by demanding the transfer of knowledge, resources, and technology from the developed world to their own regions. They emphasize that companies should not infringe upon state sovereignty. This evolving perspective is evident both at the international level, within forums like the United Nations, and at the national level, where these countries are shaping foreign companies' CSR initiatives to benefit their own interests.

Eva Nilsson, in her doctoral thesis titled "Making gains from ‘good oppressors’. Global South states contesting, instrumentalising and negotiating responsible business in the UN and Tanzania," explores how nations in the Global South engage with CSR. Despite a growing body of research on the impact of responsible and irresponsible business practices in these regions, there has been limited examination of how these states perceive corporate social responsibility and how it becomes a political issue at both global and national levels.

Nilsson's research delves into a significant gas investment project in Tanzania involving companies such as Shell, Equinor, and ExxonMobil. She also analyzes debates surrounding CSR within the United Nations, spanning from the early 1990s to the present day.

"At the international level, a major shift occurred 30 years ago when industrialized countries, led by Europe, began collaborating with responsible companies as a key strategy to combat poverty and promote sustainable development. Initially skeptical, Global South states have since adapted to this approach, asserting their authority in defining the meaning of corporate social responsibility," notes Nilsson.

In Tanzania, the research reveals that the government seeks to regulate CSR projects undertaken by large corporations at both federal and municipal levels. Through governance mechanisms, state actors can ensure that these projects align with local service needs or contribute resources to influential individuals and entrepreneurs.

"In the worst-case scenario, mismanaged CSR activities can inadvertently foster corruption, but at their best, they can create new opportunities for local businesses and workers," Nilsson emphasizes.

Tanzanian politicians aim to demonstrate to their constituents that they wield control over foreign investors' contributions to the country's socio-economic development.

Similar to many other African nations, Tanzania has enacted legislation specifying the percentage of local staff and subcontractors required for foreign investors. Moreover, the approval of companies' annual CSR programs must pass through the scrutiny of state authorities.

This evolving dynamic between countries in the Global South and Western corporations showcases a shifting landscape in which responsible business practices are viewed not just as philanthropy but also as a means of promoting equitable socio-economic development.