| 19.09.2023

Countries in the Global South want to take advantage of Western firms' corporate responsibility

At the international level, states from the Global South (i.e. Africa, Asia and Latin America) agree that responsible business means transferring knowhow, resources and technology from the north to the south, and that companies must not violate state sovereignty. At the national level, these states can steer foreign companies' CSR activities, so that resources are channelled towards public and private actors in positions of power.

In her doctoral thesis Making gains from ‘good oppressors’. Global South states contesting, instrumentalising and negotiating responsible business in the UN and Tanzania, Eva Nilsson describes how countries in the Global South relate to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Although there is now a considerable body of research on how responsible and irresponsible business activities affect people's lives in Africa, Asia or Latin America, we know very little about these states' attitudes towards corporate social responsibility, and how CSR is politicized at the international and national level.

Nilsson has researched a major gas investment in Tanzania by companies including Shell, Equinor and ExxonMobil. She has also analysed debates about CSR within the United Nations (UN) since the early 1990s until today.

"At the international level, a major shift occurred 30 years ago, when industrialised countries – with Europe at the forefront – began to work with responsible companies as a key means of fighting poverty and supporting sustainable development. States in the Global South were skeptical at first, but they have since adapted, and are trying to take advantage of the situation and emphasising that they should have the power to decide what corporate social responsibility means," says Nilsson.

Research in Tanzania shows that the state seeks to control, at the federal and municipal levels, what kind of CSR projects large companies undertake. Through their governance, state actors can ensure that the projects support local service needs, or that they generate resources for powerful private individuals and entrepreneurs.

"In the worst case, CSR activities can be managed in such a way that they promote corruption, but at best, they can open up new opportunities for local companies and workers," Nilsson points out.

Politicians in Tanzania have wanted to prove to voters that they are holding the reins and deciding how foreign investors are going to benefit the country's socio-economic development.

"In Tanzania, as in many other countries in Africa, legislation has been introduced that dictates what proportion of foreign investors’ staff and of subcontractors must be local. In addition, companies' annual CSR programmes have to be given the green light by state actors," Nilsson explains.

You can read the whole thesis here: Making gains from ‘good oppressors’. Global South states contesting, instrumentalising and negotiating responsible business in the UN and Tanzania Opens in new window

Eva Nilsson will be defending her thesis at 12:00 noon on Friday, 22 September at Hanken (in the Futurum auditorium) and on Teams. You can join online by using this link. Opens in new window
PhD defence opponent: Ralph Hamann, Professor & Research Director, Graduate School of Business (GSB), University of Cape Town.
Supervisor: Frank den Hond, Hanken School of Economics