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What corporate social responsibility in sub-Saharan Africa?

The case of Mining Industry in Senegal
Quelle responsabilité sociale d’entreprise en Afrique sub-saharienne ? Le cas de l’industrie minière au Sénégal
Bruno Boidin and Jérôme Ballet


This article analyses the form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in sub-Saharan Africa, more particularly in the mining sector in Senegal. To that end, account has to be taken of the major institutional characteristics of low-income countries. One of the major characteristics is the existence of weak states. We show a quadruple characterization: a weak commitment of the state; a still high degree of corruption; a poor decentralisation process; a weak social state that makes companies uncomfortable with their CSR practices.

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  • 1 This article is not intended to provide a critical view of CSR practices as such, even though, of c (...)

1Corporate social responsibility is far from giving rise to a consensual definition (Crane, Matten & Spence, 2013). For instance the European Commission changed its definition between 2001 and 2011. While focusing on the voluntary nature of corporate practices in 2001, it gradually opted for an analysis of CSR that recognizes the role that the legislative environment plays in the implementation of these practices (see Commission of the European Communities, 2011). In this lineage we want to analyse CSR as a set of practices that are shaped by an institutional framework.The notion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) emerged out of the analytical frameworks and institutional contexts specific to wealthy countries. The strong growth in practices bearing the CSR label in the Southern countries (Campbell, 2012) raises questions about CSR’s compatibility with those countries’ institutional configurations. As some authors have noted (Aguilera et al., 2007), a form of CSR suited to the different political, economic and socio-cultural contexts has to be constructed, since implicit in the notion is a certain concept of the firm and of society. Of course, this does not mean that CSR in wealthy countries is developing the same way (Gjølberg, 2009). In particular, the regulating role of the state toward CSR practices is a major issue (see Matten & Moon, 2008, for a discussion, and Lister, 2012, for a specific application).1 The institutionalist literature has made it clear that CSR cannot be reduced only to a voluntary initiative on the part of companies, but must be part of a broader mode of economic regulation involving the market, the government and many other actors (Brammer et al., 2012). This literature highlights the diversity and dynamics of CSR in different countries (Blasco & Zølner, 2010; Jackson & Apostolakou, 2010). Nevertheless, the literature provides also some canvas for understanding this diversity. Hall and Soskice (2001), characterizing the varieties of capitalism, emphasize that the behavior and performance of large firms depend on the national institutional arrangements governing finance and labor. Deeg and Jackson (2007) as well as Kang and Moon (2012) underline the relevance of this framework for wealthy countries. However, this framework cannot be applied in sub-Saharan Africa countries as they generally do not have financial markets and formal labor markets. Following this literature, our goal is to provide a suitable reading grid for analyzing CSR in low-income countries, and in particular to sub-Saharan Africa, where many initiatives are presented as socially responsible while often being ambiguous in their effects, whether they be environmental, social or societal. Studies on low-income countries have started emphasizing the role of the institutional context in analyzing CSR practices, as being stated in Africa (Nigeria: Ite, 2004; Idemudia & Ite, 2006; Cameroon: Alemagi, Oben & Ertel, 2006; Ghana: Ofori & Hinson, 2007; Rwanda: Short, 2008; South Africa: Kehbila, Ertel & Brent, 2009; Mitchell & Hill, 2009; Kenya and Zambia: Kivuitu, Yambayamba & Fox, 2005). However, these studies do not provide a conceptual reading grid that could help to understand the differences in practice from one country to another.

2Like wealthy countries, sub-Saharan African countries also have different institutional contexts. Various studies in Africa have highlighted the specificities of each country. However, despite their differences, they share some common features compared to wealthy countries, especially with regard to the state and its role in regulating business practices. Following the literature that emphasizes the regulating role of the state to understand CSR practices (Matten & Moon 2008), our article first aims to highlight these common characteristics that can serve as a reading grid, which the previous literature on CSR in African countries did not elaborate.

3In tackling this subject, it is our view that the principal common institutional characteristics of sub-Saharan African countries have to be taken into account. Two major characteristics have been repeatedly addressed but have not been linked to the place of CSR. They are, firstly, the problem of weak states, which has been analysed from various theoretical standpoints (Jackson & Rosberg, 1982; Khan, 2003; Krueger, 1993), and secondly the inappropriateness of much of the aid provided as part of donor-driven programmes, which the Bretton Woods Institutions announced they wanted to combat from the end of the 1990s onwards (World Bank, 2004). In our view, it is essential to take this double difficulty into account in investigating how CSR, a supposedly universal concept, might be understood in sub-Saharan African countries. Nevertheless, we focus on only one characteristic in this paper: the problem of weak states. Indeed, we consider that the inappropriateness of development aid is much more important for the inclusiveness feature of CSR practices; whereas the issue of weak states shapes strongly the outlines of CSR practices. Although these two issues are intertwined, we do not consider that they are automatically linked and that a weak state necessarily implies that CSR practices are not very inclusive. Skocpol and Amenta (1986), for instance, have pointed out that social policies in wealthy countries were developed without the inclusiveness always being very pronounced.

4Our goal is to propose a reading grid that permits to characterize CSR in each country and that could facilitate the identification of the differences between the countries. To better illustrate the relevance of our analytical grid we focus on Senegal. In order to better characterise CSR in Senegal, we take as our starting point the common institutional characteristics of sub-Saharan African countries. In order to give consistency to our reading grid we apply it to the mining sector. It is indeed a key sector of many African countries today (Reed, 2002).

5The first section is concerned with the links between the position of the public actors and CSR in low-income countries, in particular sub-Saharan African countries. Our analytical framework is based on institutionalism. We refer here to Nelson and Winter’s 1982 analysis, in which institutions are conceived as patterns in society that mould the standard behaviour, with their various configurations fostering certain forms of economic transactions and changes (see also Nelson, 2008a, 2008b). Nelson and Sampat (2001) emphasised that institutions are structures and forces moulding the prevalent behavioural patterns or social technologies. Aguilera and Jackson (2003) have underlined the value of this approach for our understanding of CSR practices. Following this theoretical framework, we consider CSR practices as a social technology embedded in institutions delineated by the role of the state, as the state can create or strengthen the institutions, and then participate in the complementarity between multinational firms and local activities (Evans, 2018).

6Different sub-Saharan African countries may have different configurations in terms of CSR practices. Nevertheless, we consider that the issue we highlight allow us to better understand the different configurations.

7We then illustrate our analysis by taking the mining industry in Senegal as an example (Section 2). Senegal can be regarded as one of the most dynamic in sub-Saharan Africa (Wong & Yaméogo, 2011, p. 36) in terms of the mobilisation of public opinion on CSR. We then draw some lessons for CSR practices in sub-Saharan Africa.

1. CSR and the state: what links them in sub-Saharan African countries?

8The literature on country institutional profiles (Kostova, 1997) has shown that multinational companies are subject not only to the institutional environment of their home country but also to that of their host country; this institutional environment is defined as “the set of all relevant institutions that have been established over time, operate in that country, and get transmitted into organisations through individuals” (Kostova, 1997; Kostova & Zaheer, 1999). Similarly, studies of the various forms of corporate internationalisation (Dunning & Lundan, 2008) have shown that companies’ strategies are determined by the characteristics of the institutional environment in which they operate. More specifically, this literature leads us to take the view in our article that the characteristics of low-income countries may influence CSR practices. Of course, we could consider that firms, especially multinational firms, exert pressure to shape the institutions in their favor. It would, however, be focusing on strategic choices that deviate from the responsibilities they must assume. Meanwhile what interests us is how the responsibilities of the firms are, on the contrary, shaped by the institutions. In addition, the weakness of formal institutions in sub-Saharan Africa argues for research in this direction.

9One of the major arguments for CSR in sub-Saharan African countries is the failure of the public authorities to safeguard the general interest (Visser, 2008, p. 479). Of course, it could be the same in wealthy countries (see Skocpol & Amenta, 1986) or in emerging countries (Myint & Rasiah, 2012). However, contrary to wealthy countries, low-income countries and in particular sub-Saharan African countries are facing weak states that fail to provide basic functions. Because of this failure, large private companies play a major role in environmental and social programmes and replace the public authorities in carrying out certain functions, such as urban and rural development, health policies for employees, water and sanitation projects, construction of schools and infrastructure, etc. This is a somewhat paradoxical phenomenon, since companies publicise these programmes widely in order to enhance their image and legitimacy, while at the same time deploring the weakness of the public actors and the lack of support from the regulatory authorities (Ba & Bambara, 2011, in the case of Senegal). Thus the state appears to occupy a somewhat ambiguous position vis-à-vis CSR initiatives. After all, the failings of the state do not mean that companies are not influenced by the institutional environment of which the state is a part. Consequently, we propose in this article four criteria to analyse the way in which the characteristics of the state may influence CSR practices. These four criteria will certainly be subject to amendment in future works. But in the absence of a first reading grid, the criteria we have chosen seem to us to have a significant heuristic scope.

1.1. The nature of the state

10The first of these characteristics is the nature of the state. In sub-Saharan African countries, rentier states that seek to extort rent from the exploitation of resources, predator states that concentrate wealth to the benefit of those in power and states in the process of effecting a transition to democracy all exist alongside each other. Rentier and predator states have a significant bearing on companies. In some cases, the state closely monitors or even regulates companies’ social and environmental activities, with the aim of making CSR one variable among others in public policy (see also on China, Séhier, 2014; Forstater et al., 2010). In other cases, the state restricts any corporate initiatives as far as it can. This is the case in a large number of African countries with dictatorship regimes (Rose-Ackerman, 1999). Regardless of the case under consideration, states whose democratic nature is purely a façade or those that are clearly dictatorial leave little if any room for non-state initiatives (Khan, 2003). This undemocratic pattern is far removed from companies voluntarily participating in high value-added social or environmental programmes. On the other hand, in countries where the democratic process is well established, like Senegal, voluntary CSR initiatives are visibly increasing (GIZ, 2013, p. 265).

1.2. Corruption

11However, one of the characteristics of the countries in which the process of democratisation remains unfinished is the pervasive nature of corruption (this is also the case in Senegal, GIZ, 2013); certain studies (see, for example, Rodriguez, Uhlenbruck & Eden, 2016) have revealed the role that corruption can play in the strategies adopted by companies seeking to reinforce their legitimacy in the host country. In this respect, CSR practices are a way for companies to promote their efforts to establish ethical values in order to differentiate themselves from the customary practices in their environment.

1.3. The form of the State

12The third characteristic is the form of the state. This encompasses a wide spectrum, ranging from highly centralised states (concentration of political and economic power) to decentralised states (importance of devolved public actors). Decentralisation gives regional bodies a certain room for manoeuvre, which in turn often leads to the launching of cooperative ventures with companies (GIZ, 2013, p. 265). In this respect, decentralisation constitutes a set of rules governing the organisation of the public actors, which gives some flexibiliy to the companies in their relations with the decentralised public actors. Thus, following the example of Kostova and Zaheer (1999), who show that companies seek to adapt to the institutional rules and constraints put in place by their host countries, we consider decentralisation as a way of organising the public actors to which companies can adapt by developing collaborative schemes with the regional authorities. Such collaborative schemes make the regional authorities stakeholders in the companies, thereby modifying the companies’ sphere of responsibility.

1.4. The extent of the social state

13The fourth characteristic is the extent of the social state. This encompasses social protection, regulation of employment relations, policies in support of economic activity and public services. In low-income countries, companies position themselves largely in accordance with the level attained by these pillars of the social state. In a weak social state, companies cover part of their employees’ cost of protection against health risks (including environmental and industrial risks). They also implement what are often flexible labour regulations, they assume responsibility for part of the public services by producing them privately, and so on (Visser, 2008). As a result, they find themselves in the position of providing private services in the social and environmental fields (safety standards in production units, declared environmental protection targets, etc.). Of course, a weak social state is not unique to low-income countries neither to sub-Saharan African Countries (see Skocpol & Amenta, 1986, for western countries, and for instance Myint & Rasiah, 2012, for emerging countries); but it is its combination with the other criteria characterizing the role of the state, e. g. the nature and the form of the state, that makes it possible to understand the place of corporate responsibility programmes. However, the ambiguity lies in attaching the CSR label to such practices, since they are often driven by largely economic motivations based on the existence of a business case for them – in which the activities in question are seen mainly as tools for improving economic performance and enhancing a company’s image (Roy, 1999; Porter & Kramer, 2002). Perverse effects may also be produced when this private production of health or environmental goods serves to increase the inequalities that exist between the beneficiaries of such services – mainly the employees of large companies – and the other strata of the population. Hence, the weakening of the central state in sub-Saharan African countries has transformed companies into genuine actors in the field of social and environmental policies by presenting them as solutions to the limitations on public intervention. Nevertheless, as Abeysuriya, Mitchell and White, note (2007, p. 181) with regard to the sanitation question in developing countries in Asia, companies have a great need of government support in order to reduce the risks of an initial investment in fledgling industries. This observation also applies to social and environmental investments in Africa (Forstater et al., 2010, p. 37).

2. Case study: CSR in Senegal

14Senegal is an interesting case from the point of view of the characteristics of the public authorities outlined in section 1. The regime in Senegal can be described as transitional, in terms both of the nature and form of the state and the scope of the social state.

15All things considered, the nature of the state (emerging democracy), the degree of corruption (still high), the form of the state (incomplete decentralisation) and the extent of the social state (revival of social policies) are indicative of the situation of the public institutions in Senegal. It is against this background that so-called CSR practices can be examined. In this respect, Senegal is also an interesting case study because there has been a slow but steady rise in institutional initiatives promoting CSR. For instance, Senegal is the only West African country where an annual conference on CSR is held, on the initiative of the RSE Senegal network.

16The emergence of CSR in Senegal has been favoured by the fact that public actors have developed an institutional framework targeting particular industries with a high social and environmental impact. The mining sector plays a leading role in this trend, and is therefore concerned by the inequalities of power in global value chains.

2.1. Material and methods

17The study of Senegal is based on two complementary strands. In the first, a collection was made of corporate communication and information diffusion tools, which was supplemented by an institutional and documentary literature review. In the second, a qualitative survey was conducted among firms in the mining sector (Boidin & Simen, 2016), some of the results of which are used here.

2.1.1. Strand 1: study of corporate communications on social responsibility

18This study was based on field work carried out since 2009 in Senegal. There have been three stays of 8 to 10 days each year, which made it possible to observe the place of CSR over a period of sufficient length to avoid the limitations of a purely static approach. We used two methodological tools.

19The first was a meta-analysis of the annual reports published by mining companies (reports on sustainable development and various communication tools). For each company, we listed the sustainable development and CSR issues and the initiatives about which each company issued communications mentioning social responsibility. Although it is declarative and focused on corporate communications, this material is nevertheless interesting, since we are seeking to identify how companies understand – and communicate about – the notion of CSR on their own territory. The nature of the CSR initiatives presented in this way can then be considered alongside the institutional context (characteristics of the state) and the extent to which these initiatives are (or are not) inclusive. We were able to gather the material provided by eleven registered companies in Dakar. However, four companies were excluded from the analysis due to the ambiguity or inconsistency of the information gathered with our secondary sources. Therefore, we built a sample of seven companies.

20The second tool was a collection of documentation and literature on the subject of CSR in Senegal. Summaries of workshops, professional seminars and institutional conferences on CSR were supplemented by consultation of documents published by RSE Senegal. The exercise was carried out between 2009 and 2016 in order to capture the evolution of CSR in Senegal.

2.1.2. Strand 2: qualitative survey on sustainable development programmes in the mining industry

21The aim of this survey based on semi-structured interviews (Boidin & Simen, 2016) was to examine the sustainable developments projects initiated by three mining companies. The survey was conducted in three phases between May and September 2014. In the first phase, interviews were organised with managers of the sustainable development programmes in the mining companies in order to collect information on the programmes and their characteristics. Secondly, interviews were conducted among the populations in the localities surrounding the sites of the projects under investigation (Dakar, Diogo, Sabodala, Keur Mor Fall, Tobène, Bargny) in order to understand their assessments of the actions being taken. Finally, interviews were conducted with institutional actors (local authorities, central government and NGOs) in order to ascertain how the projects were supervised and perceived.

Our sample was made up of a number of different entities:

22- The mining developers represented by the sustainable development managers (4) and production engineers (3) by virtue of their expert knowledge of the environmental impact of their production activities. Three mining companies were selected, located in Dakar, Thiès and Sabodala respectively. These companies are engaged in the mining of gold, phosphate and industrial lime and heavy minerals (zircons). Each of these companies has a programme linked to sustainable development and headed up by a manager. They are all multinationals, with the exception of the one engaged in phosphate mining.

23- The populations living in the project sites, in order to assess the projects’ impact on daily life and on local people’s perceptions (2 farmers, 1 shopkeeper and 1 restaurant owner in each locality). Religious leaders and headmen in each locality (12 in all) were also questioned because of their importance in the communities.

24- The institutional actors involved in the mining operations. We conducted interviews with two local NGOs, the coordinator of the PASMI project (responsible for updating the geological and mining documentation), departmental councillors or mayors (5) and central government, represented by the Director of Geology and the coordinator of the National Commission on Sustainable Development and Mining.

25We conducted a total of 39 semi-structured interviews. We also used a documentary method based on an analysis of secondary and external data gleaned from the press, the communications media of institutions involved in the mining industry and reports from institutional actors. This analysis served to fine-tune the results of the study and to objectivise the interviews. Synchronous notes were taken during the interviews. The transcriptions were then analysed in order to reveal the characteristics of the sustainable development projects.

2.2. Principal results

We present here the results which, with reference to the case of Senegal, shed light on our analytical criteria outlined in the previous sections.

2.2.1. Public authorities on the road to democracy but still giving only limited impetus

26As we have underlined in the introduction of this part, Senegal is gradually moving towards democracy and a fight against corruption has been launched. The political alternation seems to have settled in the Senegalese landscape. However, the electoral process is still characterized by the hegemony of the governing party associated with the lack of neutrality of the Minister of the Interior and the possibility for high-ranking officials to have political activities (Smith, 2019). However, the impetus given by the government to CSR seems weak. CSR has not been the subject of a specific legislation. The state settles for asking mining companies to produce impact reports which are ultimately poorly used as a means of pressure on companies. The private RSE Senegal initiative operates independently of the state.

27Since 2003, Senegal has a new Mining Code (Law No. 2003-36 of November 23, 2003) aimed at attracting and stimulating investment in the mining sector. Significant resources were mobilised in 2004 to update geological knowledge and infrastructures. Thus the support program for the mining sector (PASMI) funded by the European Union has made it possible to strengthen institutional capacities and to implement projects aimed at updating geological infrastructures. These reforms are intended both to minimise the risks inherent in any mining operation (destruction of the ecosystem, displacement of populations, etc.) and to increase the impact of these operations on the activity of the companies that operate in the country while promoting local development. This includes, among other things, a better distribution of the revenues from operations and strict adherence to environmental standards. The State of Senegal has also set up a National Commission for Sustainable Development (CNDD). Based on the recommendations of this commission, the country now has a set of tools it can use to plan and implement its sustainable development goals. This concern is highlighted by measures to safeguard and strengthen safety in industrial and artisanal operations.

28In this national context, companies operating in the mining sector are generally responsible for managing the environmental and social impacts. They have a legal obligation to assess the possible impacts of their mining projects. Within this legal framework “the state must monitor and supervise mining activities within a clear, transparent and non-contradictory framework” (interview with the Director General of Mines and Geology). This view is consistent with the National Report on Sustainable Development (October 2009) and the Emerging Senegal Plan (ESP) drawn up by the government, which establishes the principle of:

[…] guaranteeing a balance between the development of productive activities and management of the environment, whose essential role it is to ensure the stability of production systems. Within this framework, an environmental impact study will be conducted prior to the implementation of all projects planned as part of the ESP. (République du Sénégal, 2014, p. 86).

However, the interviews conducted reveal poor coordination on the part of the ministry in charge of mining. The Ministry of Industry and Mines remains focused on the economic potential, but does not balance this objective with the results of environmental impact studies.

29For this reason, it seems that the main impact of such legislative framework is on the largest companies, whose awareness has already been raised because of their high visibility and exposure to external criticism. Corporate social responsibility practices are more driven by external pressure than by the government.

2.2.2. A still high degree of corruption

30As far as the nature of the state is concerned, it is characterised by a democracy still in the process of construction, however, a persistent corruption affects the economic and political system (GIZ, 2013, p. 155, p. 160). The fight against corruption is a declared priority objective for the public authorities and a programme under the supervision of aid donors is devoted to the establishment of “good governance”.

31Senegal dropped from the 94th place in 2012 to the 66th place in 2017, out of 180 countries evaluated by Transparency International. However, the trend is unstable since Senegal has reached the 55th rank in 2015. Even though the political patronage continues to play a role, it seems to have decreased. Indeed, some cases cast doubt, such as for example the role of Aliou Sall, the President’s brother, in oil and gas sectors (Shipley, 2018).

  • 2 Source : Agence de presse sénégalaise, 3 october 2019 : « Industries extractives : la méconnaissanc (...)

32Concerning the economic activities, the World Bank Enterprise Survey (2014) shows that out of 601 business owners surveyed, 11.1% had to pay a bribe to complete their administrative procedures, compared to 23.4% for the region. Senegal seems to be doing better than most countries in the region. However, three sectors remain particularly vulnerable to corruption: public procurement, fisheries, oil and gas sectors. One of the major causes of corruption is the lack of transparency over the actual owners of the mining industry.2

2.2.3. A paper decentralisation, weak in the facts

  • 3 The 1996 Decentralisation Act initiated this process (Act No. 96-06 of 22 March 1996 establishing t (...)

33The form of the state is also in transition. Having undergone an intensive process of centralisation between the 1960s and the 1980s, as did most African countries, the country changed direction from the 1990s onwards and embarked on a process of decentralisation (GIZ, 2013, p. 161).3

34In their study of the “dialogue” between companies and local authorities in Senegal, Ba and Bambara (2011, p. 22) indicate that local councillors very frequently do not have the capacity to devise coherent policies on the level of their regions or to enter into structured dialogue with companies. Companies then call on the state to manage their relations with local authorities (ibid., p. 28). This configuration is not repeated in every African countries. For instance, in Madagascar, companies negotiate with the state but practical implementation of CSR programmes is also negotiated with local authorities (Ballet & Randrianalijaona, 2014).

35In Senegal, the legislative framework, in the shape of the 1996 Decentralisation Act (Act no. 96-06 of 22 March 1996 establishing the Local Authorities Code), should in principle provide for the inclusion of regional and local authorities and their involvement in decisions on the mining projects. However, the interviewees were unanimous in pointing to the disconnection between the public statements and statutory regulations on the important role assigned to local populations and local authorities, on the one hand, and their lack of involvement in the projects, on the other. Consequently, social acceptance of the mining projects and of the dialogue between decision-makers and local populations appears, from our interviews, to be limited:

36(i) the communities in which the mining projects are to take place are reluctant and very often opposed to these projects (interviews with inhabitants in the localities in which the projects are situated);

  • 4 The mining of phosphate in Taiba (Thies region) is emblematic of these conflicts (Diallo, 2017). It (...)

37(ii) civil society, religious leaders and headmen complain about the negative impacts of mining operations on the environment (this is the case with the population of Daf vis-à-vis the company mining phosphate, according to the statements made by one headman). Thus, an NGO official expressed the view that, because of weak institutions and a lack of experience at the level of the state, the multinational companies operating Senegal’s mining sector indulge in practices that degrade the environment, natural resources and communities’ rights;4

38(iii) with the support of the press and organisations in civil society, there are frequent calls for the mining industry to invest in social funds set up for the benefit of the host community and those surrounding it (interview with an NGO working in the village of Sabodala).

2.2.4. A weak social state that makes companies uncomfortable

39Finally, the social state is in the process of re-emerging after more than 20 years of structural adjustment. This is not specific to Senegal, since the state has been making a comeback to varying degrees in other low-income countries.5 In Senegal, the State has launched a universal health coverage strategy and programs to support the most vulnerable (such as the Sesame Plan for free healthcare dedicated to the elderly). Despite these efforts, 55% of the population remains without social security coverage and 45% of health expenses are out of pocket payments.6 Corporate CSR could thus be seen as a means of making up for the failures of public initiatives.

40The document review enabled us to investigate more specifically the Mining Social Programme (MSP), which is an emblematic example of a public initiative aimed at establishing responsible practices within companies. Launched in 2008 for a period of 5 years, the aim of the MSP was to improve the living conditions of people in the mining regions through dialogue between central government, the people and companies (République du Sénégal, ministère des Mines et de l’Industrie, 2008). The MSP was based on the following pillars: the development of basic infrastructures, the opening up of the regions, raising local actors’ awareness of their responsibilities and the promotion of revenue-generating activities. One essential characteristic of the MSP was the voluntarist nature of the cooperation that was expected to emerge between companies, regional authorities and central government with the aim of promoting the improvement of living conditions. It was on this basis that the state was able to obtain social funds from the mining companies Mineral Deposit Limited and Arcelor Mittal intended for the populations affected by mining operations. This programme shows that the Senegalese public authorities are, in some respects, the precursors of a public drive to raise the level of CSR. Nevertheless, this public dynamic has to be considered with caution. The results of the MSP at the end of its 5-year period do not seem persuasive. During a workshop organised by the Ministry of Mining and Industry at which the MSP was to be evaluated (workshop held on March 27, 2013), several participants spoke of the programme’s limitations. By way of example, one of the industry representatives, the general manager of Industries chimiques du Sénégal noted that, given the extremely precarious living conditions in the regions around the production sites, people’s expectations often surpassed companies’ capacities to bring about improvements. He then called for greater involvement from the state in managing relations between companies and local populations and creating a “framework for dialogue” between the parties. Thus one of Senegal’s largest companies was admitting it was powerless to find long-term solutions for the challenges posed by poverty and asking the state to play a major role in fighting vulnerability. For their part, local councillors, represented by the president of their national association, were of the view that local people had not really seen any improvements in their living conditions that could be attributed to the MSP. They called on the mining companies and the state to allow local people to be more involved in drawing up the programmes and putting in place a framework for dialogue and asked the ministries of mining, local government and economics and finance to establish a steering committee to oversee the use of funds. These various testimonies make it clear that a voluntarist CSR policy is not in itself sufficient when the public authorities are not acting as the prime movers.

41The company representatives all emphasised their fear of having to substitute for the state as producers of social and environmental services, which they did not wish to do. However, the interviewees were also most emphatic about their desire for recognition of the social and environmental measures they had taken in pursuance of the statutory regulations on certifications and quality labels.

42The strand 1 of the study confirms these results. The analysis of the reports from the companies shows that the CSR programs are essentially geared towards philanthropy and targeted social investments, without changing the company’s strategy on the production tool and its environmental and social impacts. Furthermore, these programs have little connection with national or local public policies. These elements highlight that companies do not wish to replace public actors but are uncomfortable with the insufficient voluntarism of the state in matters of social and environmental policy. Finally, the survey shows that the parties involved in the sustainable development programmes take the view that the action taken by the state to support these initiatives is necessary in principle, but inadequate in its implementation. The interviews underlined a weak commitment on the part of the state, the weak role assigned to local authorities in the process, competition for access to the social funds and recurrent demands from the local population not covered by the programmes.


43Corporate social responsibility has been developed in wealthy countries. Institutionalist literature has, however, clearly demonstrated the multiplicity of configurations and the important role of the state in these configurations. This literature has been supplemented by an analysis of the varieties of capitalism, highlighting the institutional arrangements linking the financial markets and the labor market. However, in low-income countries, and especially in sub-Saharan African countries, there are no formal financial markets or labor markets. The analysis grid of corporate social responsibility must be adapted accordingly. We proposed an analysis grid that revolves around the place and the role of the state. We believe that this analysis grid makes it possible to scrutinize the corporate social responsibility in sub-Saharan African countries.

44We used the case of Senegal as it can be considered as emblematic in this regard. We then show that Government initiatives in support of CSR remain tentative. The still emerging democracy, corruption, the faltering attempts to decentralise power and the barely re-established social state all conspire to throw considerable doubt on the capacity of entrepreneurial initiatives alone to produce social and environmental value added. CSR programmes have little impact on companies’ business models. Consequently, there is a discrepancy between the role the socio-economic actors would like the state to play in CSR and actual public initiatives. Of course, the validity of our analytical grid and its relevance requires comparing Senegal with other Sub-Saharan African countries.

45Two further features should be taken into account when characterizing CSR practices in low-income countries. The first is the integration into value chains of companies acting on the ground. What is the position of such companies in the value chain? Are they local or national subcontracting companies or are they foreign companies operating in the country? As we have stressed in the case of Senegal, most of the companies we have included in our analysis are foreign companies operating in the territory. The second feature concerns the role of civil society. Once again the role of civil society in putting pressure on corporates in sub-Saharan African countries is embryonic. It could be different in other low-income countries. Our analytical grid should then be completed for analyses on other low-income countries than sub-Saharan African countries.

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1 This article is not intended to provide a critical view of CSR practices as such, even though, of course, it is worth remembering that they have been the subject of a large body of critical literature. See, for example, Postel and Sobel (2013) or Quairel and Capron (2013). Quairel and Capron (2013) emphasis in particular the incompatibility between sustainable development and a concept of CSR motivated mainly by the benefits that the company expects.

2 Source : Agence de presse sénégalaise, 3 october 2019 : « Industries extractives : la méconnaissance des propriétaires réels, porte ouverte à la corruption »,, accessed February 4, 2020.

3 The 1996 Decentralisation Act initiated this process (Act No. 96-06 of 22 March 1996 establishing the Local Authorities Code). The country has drawn up a national action plan on developing local Agenda 21s that seek to establish sustainable development at regional authority level (Ba & Bambara, 2011, p. 13).

4 The mining of phosphate in Taiba (Thies region) is emblematic of these conflicts (Diallo, 2017). It has led to forced displacements of populations in ten villages of herders and farmers.

5 By way of example, a national strategy for extending health cover has been drawn up on the basis of several laws and public commitments.

6 Source : International Labor Organisation, 2019. URL: [accessed february 4, 2020]

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Electronic reference

Bruno Boidin and Jérôme Ballet, « What corporate social responsibility in sub-Saharan Africa? », Revue de la régulation [Online], 27 | 1er semestre/spring 2020, Online since 30 June 2020, connection on 21 September 2020. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/regulation.16761

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About the authors

Bruno Boidin

Professeur, Centre lillois d’études et de recherches sociologiques et économiques [Clersé], université de Lille ; Bâtiment SH2, 59655 Villeneuve d’Ascq cedex ;

By this author

Jérôme Ballet

Maître de conférences, GREThA, université de Bordeaux ; , Avenue Léon Duguit, 33600 Pessac, France ;

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