Nature Blog Network Future Earth: Rights and righteousness

Monday, 30 June 2008

Rights and righteousness

Liberal hacks are having a field day over corporate investment in Zimbabwe and British politicians are rushing to divest themselves of any dubious shareholdings. Superficially the criticism has resonance with the righteous, as outside investment can prop up a regime such as that of newly non-elected President Mugabe.

What are the alternatives however? The corporations who are there already, particularly those mining giants who have worked hard on their corporate social responsibility record, argue that they have made a commitment to their workforce and that pulling the plug would hurt that workforce more than the Mugabe regime. So, arguably a sacrifice for local stakeholders exceeding that of global shareholders. Who makes this call - the people themselves, the regime or the opposition who should by rights be in power?

And what of new investment - is this clearer cut? Companies are all having to conform to new rules imposing a 51% requirement for indigenous share ownership and there is fear that the current regime will profit from the new investment that has caused a particular outcry against Anglo American. Of course it will. It holds the strings of power and can sell off resources to the highest bidder; it is not constrained by the transparency of democracy nor the brake imposed by a freely operating media. I feel real angst about this one... as I know all that but would still prefer to see those companies that pay more than lip service to CSR (in fact those for whom it is CESR or Corporate Environmental and Social Responsibility) out-compete the insidious aquisition of Africa by Chinese companies unconstrained (as yet) by an electorally-derived social ethos or concern.

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