Chinese impact

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Africans are generally negative about the impact of Chinese business on the continent. This is the key finding from a long-awaited survey conducted by the Ethics Institute of South Africa (EthicsSA), writes Professor Deon Rossouw, chief executive of the Ethics Institute of South Africa (EthicsSA) and Extraordinary Professor in Philosophy at the University of Pretoria.

The research is based on an online questionnaire completed by 1 056 respondents from mostly South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.

Respondents were asked to record their perceptions about the behaviour of Chinese business in Africa. Questions covered the following aspects of Chinese business in Africa: reputation, quality of products and services, social responsibility, economic responsibility, environmental responsibility, and employment practices.

In all these categories, the greatest proportion of responses was negative:

•Reputation: 43.3% (negative perception), 35.4% (positive perception)

•Quality of products and services: 55.9% (negative perception), 22.7% (positive perception)

•Social responsibility: 45.7% (negative perception), 45.7% (positive perception)

•Economic responsibility: 40.1% (negative perception), 28.3% (positive perception)

•Environmental responsibility: 53.9% (negative perception), 11.1% (positive perception)

•Employment practices: 46% (negative perception), 46% (positive perception)

It is clear that Chinese business has some work to do in order to change these perceptions. Based on an in-depth analysis of the survey results, EthicsSA has tabled some clear recommendations. Chinese companies need to improve their awareness of particularly the quality of their products and services, their environmental, employment practices and social responsibilities when investing in Africa. As part of this process, Chinese companies and African governments and communities should engage to build mutual understanding.

EthicsSA will be organising a follow-on programme to facilitate this engagement.

It’s important to emphasise that this is not a one-way process: Africans need to take responsibility for ensuring Chinese involvement in Africa benefits them. African business and government leaders must be responsible and ethical when crafting investment deals with Chinese (and other) entities. They also need to ensure there are strong African institutions that can determine the terms of engagement – and compel adherence to those terms. Without this type of commitment, the benefits of foreign investment, whether Chinese or not, will not reach the majority of Africans.

China’s growing investment in Africa is very obvious and gives rise to strong opinions – but we cannot base our relations with a key trading partner on assumptions, innuendo and misinformation.

By gathering data on what Africans actually think about Chinese business, this research aims to provide a solid basis for a rational engagement between Africans and China about this developing relationship.

Deon Rossouw

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