Corporate social responsibility and Nigerian society

(By Adebiyi Adeyemi)

The logic behind organisation being urged to be interested in the growth and stability rather than mere profit making is quite simple and self-explanatory.   Organisations are sited within an area. If such an area is in chaos or unhealthy to the lives of its primary dwellers, then it will have implications for the organisation’s business: The business cannot thrive as it should and may even die. In other words, the growth of and continuity of an organisation is largely anchored on the peace and healthiness of its immediate surroundings and people. In fact, the wider the perimeter peace of an organisation is situated, the better.

BEARING in mind that organisation responsibilities are a function of their goals, it is sad that the general nature of the objectives of organisations, however, corporate or non-corporate, is often in strict adherence to the goals of its economic system which are mainly to provide goods and services to their customers- giving minimal consideration to other important factors like social responsibility that may come their way. As a result, it becomes imperative for an organisation to contribute towards the general welfare of the society, internationally, nationally and in the company’s immediate neighbourhood. Though this has not been fully fletched and properly appropriated in developing continents like Africa, it has, however, generated tangible attention on a global scale just as global warming has in the 21st Century.

  Corporate Social Responsibility is a concept that embraces the notion that every organisation has a humanitarian and philanthropic responsibility in addition to its ordinary responsibility to make money for the company’s purse. Corporate Social Responsibility can be linked with socially responsive marketing, one of four concepts that make up the concept of ‘Holistic Marketing’. It is concept that calls on marketers to fulfill the needs of their target markets in ways that improve society as a whole.

  The logic behind organisation being urged to be interested in the growth and stability rather than mere profit making is quite simple and self-explanatory.   Organisations are sited within an area. If such an area is in chaos or unhealthy to the lives of its primary dwellers, then it will have implications for the organisation’s business: The business cannot thrive as it should and may even die. In other words, the growth of and continuity of an organisation is largely anchored on the peace and healthiness of its immediate surroundings and people. In fact, the wider the perimeter peace of an organisation is situated, the better.

  Generally, the ‘stakeholder’ theory posits that a firm has responsibility to maintain an equitable and working balance among the conflicting claims of the affective groups or individuals either directly or indirectly i.e. employees, customers, board of directors, the environment and the public or society.

   However, on the average, the joggling of conflicting interest of the stakeholders to achieve the balance needed for the smooth operation of an organisation is ultimately geared towards profit making. Consequently upon the need of organisations to incorporate societal responsibilities into their goals, the context of ‘profit’ has grown to develop many definitions as opposed to the monetary terms which it ordinarily connotes.

  The consideration or effect of each and every stakeholder in an organisation is quite hieratical putting the interest of the board of directors at the top of the stakeholder pyramid and the public or environment at the bottom. This is, in fact, a generational misconception from the history of organisational structures which were only about profit making. This was drawn out of the general and individualistic selfish nature of every man. However, our eyes have been opened, even wider in this 21st century that the interest of public/environment (as stakeholders) should be accorded a higher place than the bottom at which it is now.

   In the nearest future it would dawn on us all, even though we may pretend or refuse it, that the public or environmental interest should be given the same- bracket level of preferential attention as the board of directors. This is in realisation overtime, of the interest of the organisation in relation to that of the communities in which they operate. This realisation which is getting globalised shows that an organization need not narrow its goals and operations to their customers alone (that is to their economic goals) but also the peace and general good of mankind. Now, profits are increasingly qualified by questions of public importance and significance because the success of firms may depend to a large extent on their public image.

   We ought to acknowledge that organisations are just like human beings. No one would want to leave is head blossoming while his leg is stricken. Likewise, a firm cannot exist in isolation from the society just as a human being cannot exist in isolation from his fellow men. It would be unfair for an organisation to carry out its business of proving goods and services without giving back to the society. It should be borne in mind that it uses the raw materials, resources, labour, the serenity, element of nature of the area and even other instruments of civilisation such as statues and laws which protect the company and its business. The organisation should give back in the same measure.

   The menace of militancy which almost swept the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria off her feet was helped to drive home poignantly the essence of corporate responsibility. The failure of foreign oil corporations in this regard got exposed. These companies were insensitive to their environment, concerned only with what they could take of Niger Delta but not what they were expected to put back. In carrying out their business they enjoyed everything, from their land, vegetation, waters, climate, labour and most importantly crude oil. The region’s minority ethnic groups felt they were being exploited, particularly the Ogoni and Ijaw communities. The conflict which brewed, took a dimension that got many quivering. The region became symbolised with vices like violence, insurgency, kidnapping, hostage-taking, oil pipeline vandalism, crude-oil theft, internecine struggles and all sorts. Tilltomorrow the land and waters in the communities remain an eyesore and of no use to the people. The waters have been irredeemably contaminated with the crude oil spillage- all owed to the negligence or ignorance of the companies to carry out their social responsibilities.

  The fulfillment of Corporate Social Responsibility by organisations can take different forms, tones and colouration. For example, the Managing Director of Nigeria Breweries Plc, Mr. Nicolas Vervede, explained the other day that his company’s partnership with Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop is in their desire to encourage the development of literary writing skill in Nigeria as part fulfillment of their corporate social responsibility. Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, the author of Half of a Yellow Sun is the face of this endeavour framed in her vision. In her words, ‘My vision for this  workshop is to create a space for talented Africans, because my vision is not only for a Nigerian space but Pan-African space where we can come together and receive what is critical artistes’ valediction.’ She was speaking during the end of the sixth edition of workshop.

   The recent scourge of Ebola that crept into the Nigerian space from West Africa gave corporate organisations many opportunities to demonstrate commitment to social responsibility. Some did this through massive creation of awareness and education of the virus. Although the ‘Bringbackourgirls’ campaign which has created awareness that went round the globe is a civic responsibility, it enjoyed the loving support of organisations. The campaign is akin to social responsibility of organisations, the difference being the activism of the former.

   On the contrary, it became no longer business as usual for smokers in Lagos State since the government arranged to enforce the law on public smoking from last August, even though the Governor, Babatunde Fashola, signed the smoking bill into law in February. The law goes as far as describing the contextual meaning of ‘public places’ and stating that sending a child to buy a cigarette is punishable by law. Actions and policies in this form ordinarily should also be the call of the manufacturers of such products under the umbrella of their Corporate Social Responsibility.

    Attitude of firms to their employees; workers’ protection policies; concessionary arrangements to workers/public; funding of public facilities; subsidised rate for general public services; avoidance of manufacturing products detrimental to public health e.g. cigarettes, weapon; avoidance of pollution to the environment ; balancing of company policies with national peace and environmental policies are channels of corporate responsibilities.      Other avenues are relationship of companies with political parties; whether or not to export or import from some particular countries or region; whether to use indigenous workers or expatriates, the level at which to adopt the use of technology in comparison to human labour, vacations/ study abroad schemes for workers; eco-friendly policies; charity services and situation of a company in rural area to enhance its development. They are all channels by which cooperate social responsibility are operational.

   It should be noted that the consequence of the neglect of corporate social responsibilities by organisations is inevitable. If the organisations do not rise to such responsibilities, the government would be pushed to the corner to kick the organisations to perform. That eventuality may then come with its inherent complications as we saw in the case of Niger-Delta crisis. This goes for the menace of the Boko Haram too. It is advisable for the government to comprehensively revise the corporate social responsibility policies to further commit organisations to these.

• Adeyemi is a serving National Youth Corps member.    He can be reached via adebiyiadeyemi@outlook.com

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