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Dossier "Multinational enterprises in Africa: Corporate governance, social responsibility and risk management"

Corporate Social Responsibility and Chinese Oil Multinationals in the Oil and Gas Industry of Nigeria: An appraisal

Responsabilidade social empresarial e multinacionais chinesas do petróleo na indústria de petróleo e gás da Nigéria: Uma avaliação
Eghosa Osa Ekhator
p. 119-140


Este artigo aborda as práticas atuais da responsabilidade social empresarial (RSE) na indústria do petróleo e do gás na Nigéria. O sector do petróleo e do gás da Nigéria tem sido marcado por muitos problemas não limitados à violência, raptos, ecoterrorismo e má-administração, entre os outros. Uma forma de fazer face a tais problemas é o uso da RSE por muitas empresas multinacionais (MNC) petrolíferas que atuam na Nigéria. Este artigo foca as empresas chinesas de petróleo que atuam na indústria do petróleo e do gás na Nigéria e procura investigar se elas operam com as mesmas bases que as ocidentais. Este trabalho irá tentar perceber se as variantes da RSE praticadas por empresas não-ocidentais na Nigéria têm tido um impacto negativo ou positivo na indústria do petróleo e do gás, sobretudo no que diz respeito à contribuição da China à economia nigeriana.

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Notas da redacção

Recebido 16 de abril de 2014; Aceite 27 de outubro de 2014

Texto integral

1Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the idea or theory that companies have a duty towards the society beyond its primary obligations to its shareholders or owners and it is said to be voluntary (Amao, 2014). CSR is an increasingly important part of the international business environment. Globalisation of world trade and the rise of powerful companies are mainly responsible for the rise of CSR practices. Thus, CSR is “a business approach for addressing the social and environmental impact of company activities” (Frynas, 2009, p. 1).

2Apparently CSR emerged from an area of research termed ‘business and society’ (Schwartz & Carroll, 2008). Carroll posited that CSR can be traced to evidence of businesses’ concerns for society over the centuries (Carroll, 1999). Gregorio de Castro alluded that the industrial revolution in Europe was a catalyst for responsible business behaviour (Castro, 2008). Castro further alluded to Robert Owen who in the early part of the 19th century set up social villages close to textile mills; the villages then catered for the general welfare (health and education amongst others) of the staff and family of the mills (ibid.). This concept known as ‘Owenism’ was later exported to the United States of America in the early 20th century. As President Theodore Roosevelt stated in 1901: “All the same, corporations must recognize their responsibility not merely to their shareholders but to the community at large” (Dieux & Vincke, 2005, p. 13).

3Formal writing on CSR started in the 20th century and exploded over the past 50 years. The modern manifestation can be traced to Bowen (1953). Carroll (1999) called Bowen the “father of CSR” (p. 270) and Bowen (1953) defined the responsibilities of businessmen as “the obligations to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society” (p. 6). Present-day notions of CSR are said to include concepts such as corporate citizenship, corporate sustainability and the stakeholder theory amongst other competing concepts. Wood posits that the CSR field or paradigm aims at investigating the relationships between business and society and the contributions they make in enhancing the quality of life of people (Wood, 1991). The major underlying factor common to the various manifestations of CSR in corporations (not excluding profit making) is that corporations should also be engaged in actions or operations that appear to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm and that which is required or expected by law (McWilliams, Siegel & Wright, 2006).

4Catherine Pedamon argues that ‘corporate social responsibility’ and ‘corporate responsibility’ espouse the same idea and that in doing business, companies values “such as profitability, and efficiency should work together with ethical values such as honesty, integrity and transparency” (Pedamon, 2010, p. 173). In implementing ethical values, corporations need to assess their actions (or inactions) against the triple bottom line of CSR (people, planet and profits) which comprises of the social, economic and environmental impacts of business activities (Pedemon, 2010). Thus, ethics and accountability play a major role in CSR paradigm.

5The major problems besetting CSR include lack of an acceptable definition and the use of various academic frameworks to measure its spread and influence. The next part of the article will dwell on the elusive search for an acceptable definition of CSR.

Defining CSR

Multiple Interpretations of Corporate Social Responsibility



Business ethics and morality

Stark (1993), Freeman (1994), Bowie (1998), Phillips (1997, 2003), Phillips & Margolis (1999), Fulop et al. (2000)

Corporate accountability

Owen et al. (2000), O’Dwyer (2005)

Corporate citizenship

Carroll (2004), Matten & Crane (2005), Andriof & Waddock (2002)

Corporate giving and philanthropy

Carroll (1991, 2004)

Corporate greening and green marketing

Hussain (1999), Crane (2000),
Saha & Darnton (2005)

Diversity management

Kamp & Hagedorn-Rasmussen (2004)

Environmental responsibility

DesJardins (1998),
Rugman & Verbeke (1998)

Human rights

Cassel (2001), Welford (2002)

Responsible buying and supply chain management

Drumwright (1994), Emmelhainz & Adams (1999), Graafland (2002), Amaeshi (2004), Spekman et al. (2005)

Socially responsible investment

Warhurst (2001), Jayne & Skerratt (2003), Synnestvedt & Aslaksen(2003),
McLaren (2004)

Stakeholder engagement sustainability

Freeman (1984, 1994), Donaldson & Preston (1995), Andriof et al. (2002),
Korhonen (2002), Amaeshi & Crane (2006),
Bansal (2005)

Table adapted from Amaeshi and Adi (2007, p. 5)

6There is a plethora of definitions of CSR. Some of the definitions include the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which defines CSR as ‘‘the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large” (Blowfied & Frynas, 2005, p. 499; Amao, 2014, p. 118). CSR makes corporations responsive to a lot more stakeholders other than just its shareholders. These stakeholders could include suppliers, customers, shareholders, and the environment, and communities amongst others. Thus, the corporations are expected to take responsibility for their actions (if any) on the aforementioned stakeholders. CSR explores issues relating to human rights, labour rights or standards, bribery and corruption amongst others (Amao, 2008). In essence, CSR extends beyond the traditional and legal requirements expected of corporations with regard to its impact on its stakeholders.

7Furthermore, the European Green Paper on CSR defines it “as a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with stakeholder on a voluntary basis” (Amaeshi & Adi, 2007, pp. 5-6). Thus, one manifestation of CSR might be self-regulation of MNCs.

8CSR is a widely accepted concept in the business world. Campbell argues that the major reason why there is no acceptable definition of CSR is the absence of an acceptable normative basis underlying CSR practice (Campbell, 2007). Whitehouse, who is in tandem with the above view, argues that:

the apparent failure of CSR to fulfil its potential in remedying the adverse impact of corporate activity is due in part to the failure on the part of its advocates to establish a universally accepted definition of the term and the normative grounding necessary for effective regulation (Whitehouse, 2003, p. 300).

9In furtherance of this, Frankental posits that “CSR is a vague and intangible term which can mean anything to anybody, and therefore is effectively without meaning” (Frankental, 2001, p. 20). Thus, CSR is highly subjective and its meaning is dependent on the area of specialisation it is being defined from. Thus, a universally applicable definition is unachievable. Hence, the concept of CSR is also seen (at times) as fuzzy, contested and unclear (Amaeshi & Adi, 2007). Okoye (2009) argued that CSR is a highly contested concept because of the numerous definitions, arguments and counter-arguments inherent in its numerous definitions. Furthermore, CSR is seen as an elusive term, with a multiplicity of definitions (Votaw, 1972), thus lacking theoretical integration (Post, Preston & Sachs, 2002) and a dominant paradigm (Jones, 1983; Jonker & Foster, 2002) amongst others.

10There are three major views on CSR in businesses or companies. The first view was encapsulated by Schwartz and Carroll (2008) who opined that business is obligated only to make profits within the boundaries of minimal legal and ethical compliance. Thus, CSR is seen as a disincentive to businesses. It goes against the tenets of sound business ideals and weakens its focus on the traditional function of business with regards to profit or wealth creation (Murray, 2005). In 1970, Milton Friedman famously stated that companies should have no social responsibilities other than to maximise returns to their shareholders. This article is not in tandem with the above assertion by Friedman. This is referred to as the accountability school of thought (Idemudia, 2008, p. 93). Thus, CRS is constrained by the traditional tenets of business (profit making) and firms will maximise profits over making meaningful contributions via the instrumentality of CSR initiatives.

11On the other hand, the social responsibility of business embraces the economic, legal, ethical and discretionary aspirations that society has of organizations or firms at a given point in time (Carroll, 1979; Jamali & Mirshak, 2007). In essence, firms need to look beyond their narrow prism of traditional stakeholders (shareholders) and focus on other members of society. Thus, CSR is said to add value to a company. Furthermore, it is said that CSR holds that only by acting in such a way, can businesses meet ‘society’s expectations’, and earn from ‘society’ their informal ‘licence’ to operate (Henderson, 2001). CSR initiatives have been adopted by a considerable number of MNCs, NGOs, commentators, ordinary business organizations amongst others (ibid.).

12The third notion of CSR has been described as the enabling environment view (Utting, 2003; Fox, 2004). This school of thought argues that CSR “encourages and provides incentives for business activities that minimise environmental and social cost while at the same time maximising economic gains” (Utting, 2003; Fox, 2004; Idemudia, 2008, p. 94).

13The notion of CSR or stakeholder management is not fool-proof. It has been suggested that accountability or ethics is a major hindrance. In ordinary companies, the company is accountable to its shareholders. In a stakeholder or socially responsible firm, it is argued that managers, employees or other agents could be said to be stakeholders (Ho, 2010). Arguably, this would be contrary to the tenets of good corporate governance. Thus, corporate governance which encompasses “accountability of directors to shareholders and the accountability of corporate employees and other corporate agents to the corporation... yet the theory is inimical to both” (ibid., p. 208). Ho further argued that a company being accountable to every stakeholder would be unjustified and therefore, unworkable. Thus, in the words of Sternberg (2004, p. 135), “an organization that is accountable to everyone is accountable to no one”. CSR is said to be a popular fad and a convenient label that encourages people to be dictatorial because any kind of government or state intrusion can be justified on the basis of stakeholder theory.

14Andy Gouldson (2006) posits that CSR initiatives have two dimensions and these dimensions are substantive and procedural. Procedural dimension of CSR encompasses the gamut of procedural manifestation of CSR. He gave examples of the way companies develop policies, management systems and their interaction with relevant stakeholders (Gouldson, 2006). Thus, it is about the processes companies engage in as a means of actualising their CSR objectives. The substantive dimension of CSR initiatives encompasses the practical manifestations or implications of corporate activities. This may involve environmental impacts of a corporate activity, human rights issues or poor labour standards amongst others. The stakeholders are not just keen on CSR practices but how “they (stakeholders) have gone to influence the social and environmental outcomes that are experienced by different social groups in the diverse contexts in which companies operate” (ibid., p. 3).

15CSR and its ideals are seen from the Western- (USA and Europe) influenced perspective and do not seem to take into account the unique cultural, socio-economic and political differences in the developing countries (Ako, Obokoh & Okonmanh, 2009). This theme will be further developed in a later part of this article.

16Notwithstanding the plethora of definitions of CSR, this article will align with the definition as enunciated by Blowfield and Frynas (2005, p. 503) that CSR is the umbrella term for a variety of theories and concepts. They define CSR as follows:

(a) that companies have a responsibility for their impact on society and the natural environment sometimes beyond legal compliance and the liability of individuals; (b) that companies have a responsibility for the behaviour of others with whom they do business (e.g. within supply chains); and (c) that business needs to manage its relationship with wider society, whether for reasons of commercial viability or to add value to society.

African conceptualisation of CSR

17Promotion of business ethics and social dimensions is not new. It can be traced to the pre-Western Christian thinkers and many of the existing religions condemned bad business practices in the early times (Blowfield & Frynas, 2005; Frynas, 2009, 2012). However, the modern manifestation of CSR is a Western influenced or imposed concept. CSR is more prominent or pronounced in the developed world (Visser, Matten, Pohl & Tolhurst, 2010; Muthuri, 2012, 2013). Thus, “the mainstream CSR agenda has largely been driven by Northern actors and therefore reflected the priorities and concerns of Western societies without sufficient room for other concerns” (Idemudia 2011, p. 2). Arguably, the mainstream CSR discourse neglects the local concerns of developing countries especially African societies.

18To cure the inherent defects in the mainstream CSR discourse, “a Southern perspective to CSR that will help highlight where and how corporate responsibility can best contribute to sustainable development and poverty eradication in developing countries” (Idemudia, 2011, p. 2; Fox, Ward & Howard, 2002) has been advocated by scholars.

19It will be difficult to produce a generic definition of an ‘African’ conceptualisation of CSR due to a number of factors including the circumstance that African countries have distinct colonial, religious and historical antecedents amongst other barriers. However, similarities can be gleaned in the manifestation of CSR in African countries especially from the development perspective (Okoye, 2012; Idemudia, 2014). In South Africa, issues such as apartheid, injustices and inequality have influenced the manifestation of CSR. Thus:

the responsibility of the company for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour that contributes to sustainable development, including health and the welfare of society; takes into account the legitimate interest and expectations of stakeholders; is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour; and is integrated throughout the company and practiced in its relationships (Kings III Reports, 2009, p.51> p. hak, 20view (Uttinn firms in Nigerhern perspective to CSR (ak,) agents en">It wilcorective to CSR encAfricagh talttinyn claraccounr prIegitimate intnd CSdevelo[…]rporate activitie,t will hery seate a unifsoctons) against the triple boe resKivuitu, Yer he instrumentality of CSR initiatives.Iap class="teporate agentf CSR (/a>15 03; Fox, 2004; Idemudia, 2008, p. 94).P0000;" dir (Uprocesses coasngs, ecomportant part xmlvalat CSR y of curingargued ere and how corporat,ocial rhe busines said to banifeste apenablporat toion">< (Snd cpx solidact onn> ss ethgatio onmeof CSR nd historical, CSR emerged ftnship, cAfricaxmlvalat CSR f CSR corpora will hery seate a un developoies on sociey set up es “sutable(or inactions) agbottoisvities on socie environmenHIV/AIDS, lang="en">thesl nos,e responsibilitementioned s0000ders (Ho, mprises of the socefinition of the term and the nors III Reports, 2009, p.51> ed on the basis of stakeholder theory.Tk of an ent problems is y in Nigeria

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Eghosa Osa Ekhator, « Corporate Social Responsibility and Chinese Oil Multinationals in the Oil and Gas Industry of Nigeria: An appraisal », Cadernos de Estudos Africanos, 28 | 2014, 119-140.

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Eghosa Osa Ekhator, « Corporate Social Responsibility and Chinese Oil Multinationals in the Oil and Gas Industry of Nigeria: An appraisal », Cadernos de Estudos Africanos [Online], 28 | 2014, posto online no dia 12 Dezembro 2014, consultado o 12 Dezembro 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/cea.1704

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Eghosa Osa Ekhator

Law School, University of HullCottingham Rd, Hull, Yorkshire HU6 7RXUnited Kingdom

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O trabalho Cadernos de Estudos Africanos está licenciado com uma Licença Creative Commons - Atribuição-NãoComercial-CompartilhaIgual 4.0 Internacional.

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