CIFOR-Cameroon: a case study of Chinese corporate social responsibility

 

 

 

NAIROBI, Kenya—When a continent as forest rich as Africa becomes the target of direct foreign investment – no matter what the origin – what are the risks and negative impacts on communities, agriculture and forestry?

 

This question is considered at the micro-level in a new study, from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

 

The study examines the evolution of corporate social responsibility through the changes of ownership of Hevecam, a rubber company located on Cameroon’s Atlantic coast near the southern town of Kribi.

 

Through studying just one company – which evolved from state owned, to foreign owned, to majority Chinese owned – the study’s authors evaluated whether Chinese companies have a lower sense of social and environmental accountability than other investors.

“Our research shows the situation is much more nuanced and complex than the sometimes untested, negative views about Chinese foreign direct investment in Africa would indicate,” says Samuel Assembe-Mvondo a CIFOR scientist based in Cameroon, and lead author of the study.

 

ONE COMPANY, SEVERAL PROBLEMS

Hevecam was created in 1975 as a state-owned Cameroonian company, with funding from the World Bank and technical assistance from the French Rivaud Group.

 

Two decades later it was sold to Singapore’s Golden Millennium Group (GMG).

Then in 2008 the Chinese state-owned company Sinochem bought 90 percent of GMG’s shares, with the Cameroonian state holding the remainder.

 

So was there a marked difference in attitude between state-owned and private, Chinese and non-Chinese management of the same company?

“Sinochem is a newcomer to Cameroon and its record of corporate social responsibility is relatively unknown,” says CIFOR’s Louis Putzel, another author of the study.

“But one thing that is sure is that the current owners have inherited a number of unresolved problems that go back many years. The degree to which they are able to resolve those problems will be a real test of their ability to implement policies to satisfy the needs of their workers and local communities while protecting the natural environment.”

 

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