Corporate Social Responsibility in Zimbabwean business

Business | By Archibald Mathibela, PR Consultant | 04 April 2013
PHOTO: © Baynham Goredema

However, the challenge still remains that of most Zimbabwean owned firms to reach this level of social service and transcend the spirit of the profit ethic in pursuit of a higher calling instead of merely paying lip service to it.

This article gives a general look into the Zimbabwean business landscape and how it has been affected by the pressures of international business standards and practices. In this case, Corporate Social Responsibility. I am going to explain the origins of this practice and its ramified applications within the Zimbabwean context as a corporate governance tool. Corporate Social responsibility is a diverse practice with varied interpretations throughout the world. However, simplified, it is a demonstration of goodwill by a business entity towards its stakeholders through the pursuit of sustainable social activities. At corporate level, this encompasses the management of the full range of the company’s relationships with the world around it. The concept as we know it today with its modern ramifications, like most business practices, originated in the USA around the early 1990s where it took root globally.

The socioeconomic fabric of Zimbabwean life has been a heady mixture of uncertainty and lethargy. On the business side, corporate governance issues had taken the back burner as companies mainly focused on the proverbial bottom line.  In his treatise, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” which appeared in The New York Times Magazine issue of Sept 13 1970, Nobel Prize laureate Milton Friedman asserted that “the business of business is business”. So how do we fix this? An all encompassing framework to fully monitor business practices needs to be put in place to provide checks and balances for businesses which are fully fledged and derive huge benefits from the community. Whilst there are commendable cases of firms that have already led the way for CSR initiatives such as Zimplats, Nestle, Econet, BAT, Tanganda, Barclays etc, most of the firms in this category have international links and are not necessarily Zimbabwean in origin, such that they are compelled by virtue of their structure and by their absentee stockholders to take part in these initiatives. However, the challenge still remains that of most Zimbabwean owned firms to reach this level of social service and transcend the spirit of the profit ethic in pursuit of a higher calling instead of merely paying lip service to it.

We live in a global village whose paramount chiefs are organizations in constant pursuit of technology, environmental issues, employee welfare and relations, diversity, customer and community relations. If Zimbabwe, nay Africa is to get admission into this competitive hereditary line, corporate governance issues should take centre stage so that there is community buy in and stakeholder support in the businesses. As it stands, there is massive apathy amongst a varied scope of stakeholders where some feel they are being cheated off their hard earned money or businesses are taking advantage of their market monopolies to charge clients ridiculous premiums for services which are way beneath the radar of customer needs and expectations. Such hostility is exacerbated by the fact that there is no option for legal recourse to address these salient issues whatsoever, whilst consumers continue to bear the brunt of unscrupulous, profit hungry corporates.

On the international stage, change is taking place, investors now choose socially responsible firms to buy equity in. Consumers also discriminate when making a choice of who to buy their products from. Considerations of sweat shop practices, slave labour, health risk etc play a role in these choices.  Businesses must serve a need and a higher purpose to the communities within which they operate e.g socially useful goods, services, maintain sound and cordial relations with authorities, uphold environmental issues as sacred, and engage in philanthropic activities.
Unfortunately Zimbabwe lags behind in these choices because businesses have a monopoly and wantonly profiteer from consumers, corporate governance has gone the way of the dinosaur.
Listed firms are mostly particular about the market perception whereas, non listed private entities tend to use CSR as an advertising ploy which is assumed at the proprietor’s whim.

Unfortunately, as country, Zimbabwean firms cannot afford to rest on their laurels as poverty and disease continue to wreak havoc on the social fabric of communities. CSR cannot be left solely to Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) who have a totally different sectoral agenda altogether. The corporate sector needs to be proactive and take advantage of the synergies that exist and address the gaps that result from the scope of activities of government and NGOs in order to bring an element of completeness into the whole equation. Government has proven that social issues are way beyond its mandate and material capability, a development which immediately creates opportunity for the body corporate.