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  • on 27.12.2010
  • at 03:19 PM
  • by Staff

Is China greening Africa? 1

Is China smartening up its environmental and social act in Africa? It certainly wants to be seen as doing just that’, writes Stephen Marks.

Is China smartening up its environmental and social act in Africa? It certainly wants to be seen as doing just that. One telling example was the recent Chinese government-sponsored ‘top Chinese enterprises in Africa’ competition, won by China Road and Bridge Corporation [CRBC].

The aim of the award was officially stated as being ‘to commend the contributions by Chinese enterprises in Africa’ and ‘reply to Western criticisms of Chinese enterprises with facts.’ The competition, which was jointly sponsored by the Chinese-African People’s Friendship Association, China Radio International and Africa magazine, kicked off on 22 October with the launch of a website for online voting. According to the website, the winning enterprises should ‘devote significant resources for African countries’ local economy and social development, fulfil corporate social responsibility and make a positive return to the local people of Africa.’

Another Chinese award winner is China Merchants Bank, which in September was declared the winner of the third annual Green Banking Innovation Award.

Fifteen leading Chinese commercial banks were judged on their overseas investments as well as corporate governance issues, such as information disclosure, environmental policies and implementation measures. Nine Chinese environmental NGOs came together to conduct the competition – Green Watershed, Friends of Nature, Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, Green Earth Volunteers, Global Environment Institute, Civil Society Watch, China Development Brief, Green Volunteer League of Chongqing and Hengduan Mountains Research Society.

This trend is not new. In July 2009, in what the Swiss-based international NGO International Rivers called ‘the most significant step yet’ China’s ministries of commerce and environmental protection published draft ‘Guidelines on the Environmental Behavior of Chinese Foreign Investors’. The guidelines emphasise the social and environmental responsibility of Chinese companies and banks abroad, and foresee the creation of appeal mechanisms for ‘local controversial projects.’

But how far does this indicate a likely real shift in the behaviour of Chinese companies on the ground, and how far is it simply a Chinese version of the ‘greenwash’ for which Western companies and governments have themselves long been notorious?

The 15 October incident at a Zambian coal mine, where Chinese supervisors shot and wounded 11 workers in a labour conflict brought back memories of the blast at Zambia’s Chambishi copper mines which killed 49 workers in 2005, followed by the killing of five workers by security guards at the same location a year later.

Of course Chinese companies are often used as a whipping boy for the failure of African governments to apply their own regulations. A report by the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA) in July, three months before the shooting incident, stressed the failure of regulation by the Zambian government, especially its reliance on self-reporting and the influence of close relations between foreign investors and local leaders

There have been signs that African governments have been taking such criticisms on board. In October alone there were reports that Nigeria had closed the Abuja branch of China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) over its poor health and safety record (as well as another non-Chinese company) and that Mozambique had withdrawn the labour permits of three Chinese found guilty of assaults on workers and other violations of labour and company law in the construction industry.

By Stephen Marks Continue Reading on Pambazuka.org

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  1. max walker says:

    Great job right here. I definitely enjoyed what you had to say. Keep heading because you undoubtedly bring a new voice to this topic. Not many people would say what youve said and still make it interesting. Nicely, at least Im interested. Cant wait to see a lot more of this from you.

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