The potential of corporate environmental responsibility of Chinese state-owned enterprises in Africa

Tan-Mullins, May and Mohan, Giles (2013). The potential of corporate environmental responsibility of Chinese state-owned enterprises in Africa. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 15(2) pp. 265–284.



Drawing upon empirical data collected in China and Africa, this article evaluates Chinese overseas corporate social responsibility strategies and their effectiveness in mitigating environmental impacts in parts of Africa. China’s enhanced role within the global economy has profound environmental implications for the world. In particular, China has rapidly expanded its environmental footprint in Africa, largely because of its burgeoning economic presence through trade and aid projects such as infrastructure and public works. These large-scale projects, commonly managed by State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), tend to be in sectors that are environmentally sensitive such as oil and gas exploration and construction of major infrastructure. At the international level, global financial institutions along with growing pressure from civil society organisations are encouraging China to demonstrate a commitment to addressing the environmental impacts of its overseas projects. At the domestic level, growing awareness of such issues has generated an emerging trend of Chinese entities promoting and adopting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. These moves seek to improve the environmental and social impacts of Chinese overseas investments. However, research has shown that the outcomes of Chinese overseas CSR strategies (particularly in environmental protection) vary widely due to the operating procedures of the Chinese SOEs in combination with specific local political and social structures. In general environmental protection is weak and so there is a need for the Chinese and African governments to create a legislative and institutional framework to address Chinese investment in Africa especially in the area of natural resource extraction. But what is more important is that CSR should become a tool of empowerment and provide a platform for the stakeholders’ negotiation and wider public participation in environmental issues arising from Chinese investment in Africa.

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