Monthly Archives: February 2011

Your money and CSR

The term Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) connotes self-regulation of private companies in the abidance of laws and ethical standards. In international development circles a large part of the term’s meaning has come to be about development projects sponsored by companies working in the South.

For example, once in a while Tim Hortons will build a school for an impoverished coffee-growing community it makes purchases from. It’s all really nice. The community gets a school (Why doesn’t it already have a school? Could it be because of the measly prices paid by Tim Hortons to the producers?).   Tim Hortons gets to make nice ads about it. And we get to feel good about how our coffee purchases are helping Central American children gain an education.

In terms of development it doesn’t amount to very much. In fact it probably has a negative overall impact. By portraying the image that its helping people while it actually impoverishes them, Tim Hortons stalls efforts that call for adjustment of the terms of trade, or other transformative measures, to help Southern farmers get fair prices for their goods.

Anyhow, CSR is great for public relations. And guess what? Corporations no longer have to work so hard to improve their image because the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is using our money to help them.

MiningWatch Canada reports that “taxpayer dollars are now subsidizing the corporate social responsibility… projects of the world’s wealthiest mining companies.”

“In a letter received by MiningWatch Canada, [Minister of International Cooperation] Bev Oda acknowledges the agency has set aside $499,445 for a corporate social responsibility project at a Barrick mine site in Peru. Barrick will contribute ‘approximately $150,000.’ Oda goes on to state that she is ‘pleased to inform you that I have recently approved the contribution of $500,000 over three years to a project in…Ghana’. This project is located at a Rio Tinto Alcan mine site and Rio Tinto Alcan will contribute $268,000.”

Oda’s letter also talks about CIDA helping “countries to build their… capacity over a wide range of responsibilities, including legislation, regulation, and enforcement” of extractive-sector investment. What that really means is that CIDA is working to make sure Canadian companies can continue to run away with super-profits. Euphemisms are great.

Now, you might be asking why I would make such a charge. Why? Because that’s what our government does. If it was actually helping countries better regulate their mining sectors, CIDA would be doing exactly the opposite of what our foreign policy is about when it comes to this sort of thing. And if you’ve looked, even just by accident, at a Canadian newspaper in the last little while you’ll know that CIDA’s role as crafted by our government has it fitting very nicely into our general foreign policy.

In The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy Yves Engler tells of the Canadian High Commission in Tanzania intervening in that country’s legislative process on behalf of our mining companies in 2008. The Presidential Sector Review Committee had “recommended that a larger proportion of profits created by higher mineral (mostly gold) prices be retained by the government.” The recommendation was rejected thanks to Canadian efforts (phew, amirite?).[1]

To close, I’d like to get back to CIDA’s funding of CSR efforts. I’m sure that the money jointly given by CIDA and [insert mining company name] for development projects does some good for the communities receiving the help. But this is a perfect example of the function of aid as described by Eduardo Galeano in Open Veins of Latin America:

“Aid” works like the philanthropist who put a wooden leg on his piglet because he was eating it bit by bit.[2]

———————-
1. Yves Engler, The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, (Fernwood Publishing, 2009), p. 176

2. Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America, (Monthly Review Press, 1997), p. 227


Hard times

Surveys conducted from 2007 through 2010 by The Gallup Organization have found that Sub-Saharan Africans perceive their living conditions to have deteriorated considerably in the last few years. In 2007 those who said they were “finding it very difficult” to live on their present household income made up a median of 22% of participants across all countries surveyed — this number rose to 36% in 2010. “The median of 16% who reported ‘getting by on present income’ in 2010 is nearly half of what it was in 2007.” This is happening even as GDP growth rates across much of the subcontinent have remained relatively high through the global economic downturn.

Participants were asked to chose 1 of the 4 options as an answer to the following question:

Which one of these phrases comes closest to your own feelings about your household’s income these days?
| Living comfortably on present income
| Getting by  on present income
| Finding it difficult on present income
| Finding it very difficult on present income

Ghanaians perceived some of the worst reported deterioration in living standards among the countries surveyed. The table below brings together the data from Ghana.

 

Year

Living comfortably on present income Getting by on present income Finding it difficult on present income Finding it very difficult on present income

2007

20% 30% 31% 11%

2008

11% 27% 35% 18%

2009

10% 15% 44% 29%

2010

4% 20% 41% 34%

Above data in graph form:

Reported living conditions in Ghana

From 1 in 10 people in 2007, Ghanaians who reported “finding it very difficult” rose to one-third of participants in 2010. Those who reported “living comfortably” fell from 1 in 5 in 2007 to only 1 in 20 in 2010.

Of course, the general responsibility for the decline in living standards lies with the usual suspects: the recent global economic downturn caused by the US housing bubble, the 2003-2008 oil price hikes, and the 2007-2008 food crisis.

But why have Ghanaians fared worse than most of the rest?  What’s special about Ghana that perhaps makes it comparatively more susceptible to external shocks? Is it possible that Ghana suffered from internal shocks in the last few years as well? Or could it just be that since in comparison to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, Ghanaians started off in 2007 thinking they were doing alright, and now that there’s a pinch they just feel a lot worse about it than most others?

I would go into answering the above questions myself (and I might still do so at a later time), but I’m told I have to keep my posts short because people on the internet have short attention spans. And also, I’ve been told that I have to try to encourage discussion on my blog. So discuss, please.


Salaam

Welcome to my blog.

I’m going to be in Ghana with Engineers Without Border from May through August. While I’m over there I’ll be writing stuff about it on this blog. And in the time before I fly over to Ghana I’ll be writing about the work I’ll be doing there, what I’m doing to prepare for it, and my thoughts and ideas about development, development work and activism in general.

Hopefully you’ll find what I have to say interesting enough to follow my posts.

Blog Name

The name of this blog, Jana Ghana Mana, may seem like it’s senseless but there’s actually something to it. Jana Gana Mana is the name of a famous Bengali poem written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1911. (It’s used today as the national anthem of India.) Changing the word Gana to Ghana is meant to be a gesture of solidarity between where I’m from, South Asia, and Ghana.