Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Corporate Social Responsibility in Tibet and China

By Tushar Gupta*

What is Corporate Social responsibility?

In the world of enterprise, the main “responsibility” for corporations has historically been to make money and increase shareholder value. In other words, corporate financial responsibility has been the driving force. However, in the last decade, a movement defining broader corporate responsibilities for the environment, for local communities, for working conditions, and for ethical practices has gathered momentum. This new driving force is known as corporate social responsibility (CSR).

While there is no universal definition of corporate social responsibility, it generally refers to transparent business practices that are based on ethical values, compliance with legal requirements, and respect for people, communities, and the environment. Thus, beyond making profits, companies are responsible for the totality of their impact on people and the planet (Sir Geoffrey Chandler, 2001). Nowadays stakeholders expect that companies should be more environmentally and socially responsible in conducting their business.

Today, the companies are realizing that in order to stay productive, competitive, and relevant in a rapidly changing business world, they have to become socially responsible. In the last decade, globalization has blurred national borders, and technology has advanced at an unprecedented rate. Given this sea change in the corporate environment, companies want to increase their ability to manage their profits and risks, and to protect the reputation of their brands. Thus, more and more companies have begun to incorporate ethics and CSR in their strategic planning and objectives. Many large companies have adopted formal environmental policies with the objectives of creating a sustainable business and being environment friendly.

Current status of CSR in People's republic of China

Two-thirds of companies in China are only bystanders in corporate social responsibility (CSR). They don't promote CSR and disclose insufficient information about it, according to the Corporate Social Responsibility Blue Book released on Nov 8, 2011 by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).The report investigated the top 100 State-owned, private and foreign companies in China and scored them on a 100 points scale by comparing them to international CSR indices, the Domestic CSR Initiative and the CSR Evaluation Package of the World's Top 500, reported the Beijing Morning Post.

The Chinese government often emphasizes the low cost of labor when trying to attract new investments. But should this be prioritized above the cost of lives and basic human rights?

The government should supervise the protection of workers’ human rights. The Times reported how “workers assembling iPads, iPhones and other products often work in abusive and sometimes deadly conditions.”

Apple factories run 24 hours a day. Each worker is required to work 12 hours per day, six days per week. Workers must choose shifts from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., or 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Although they work 72 hours, they can only receive “$112 before tax.” In addition, child labor was found in Apple factories. These facts are against the Chinese labor law, which states that the maximum of working hours per week is 44 hours and that it is illegal to hire child labor. However, no action has ever been taken by the government to protect these workers.

The Chinese government fails to protect workers’ human rights and conceals the fact that workers are being exploited. Standing for 12 hours at work makes it difficult for a lot of workers to walk after their shift. The materials and work environment that they face every day are also poisonous. Back in 2011, 137 workers had nerve system injuries due to the material used to clean iPhone screens. The material is poisonous. However, these accidents did not draw the attention of the government to take action.

CSR generally embodies two basic elements: rigorous compliance with financial and legal rules, and the embrace of ethical or other actions that go beyond formal requirements. Given the absence of laws relevant to CSR in China, to embrace the concept companies should make a basic commitment to the work safety and welfare of their employees, augmented by a secondary commitment to the public and to the environment. Regrettably, Chinese companies have scored poorly on both levels, focusing almost exclusively on profit maximization. Occupational accidents, food-poisoning incidents, and industrial pollution events occur frequently.

CSR status in Tibet

The industries operating in China lack in social responsibility and aim primarily at profit making and economic growth. Thus, it is not hard to visualize the condition of human rights and the compliance of various environmental and labor laws in Tibet, where the sole interest of the companies is to exploit the natural resources. The mining companies involved in operations in the Tibetan Plateau are-

1. Sterling Group Ventures, Inc (Canadian) Dangxiongcuo salt lake project at Nyima County, Nagchu
2. Central China Goldfields (British) Nimu Copper Project, Lhasa  Prefecture
3. Inter-Citic Minerals Inc (Canadian) Dachang Gold Project (Qinghai)
4. Eldorado Gold ( Canadian) The Tanjianshan gold mine (TJS), Qinghai
5. Tanjianshan Gold Mine (Qinghai)
6. Gobimin (Canadian) Malonglang Copper-Zinc project located in Dazi County. Lhasa  Prefecture
7. Continental Minerals Corporations (Canadian) Shethongmen Project copper deposits

Sterling Group Ventures don't even have a CSR section on their website. After operating for more than six years in Qinghai, Inter-Citic has adopted a program at the Dachang camp to provide a free medical outreach service to local villages and nomadic herders. Eldorado Gold, has done a decent job by working in the fields of Earthquake Relief and Promoting education and training.

A questionnaire was sent to each of the Canadian companies implicated in mining activities in Tibet on July 2, 2009. To date not one company has replied.

Yi Fuqiang, a lawyer with the Beijing Longan Lawfirm, told the Legal Mirror that current Chinese laws only impose weak controls on actions by companies."Making profit is the prime driver for companies, and the penalty for breaking the law is too low here. Take the ConocoPhillips China oil leak for example, the 200,000 yuan fine was trivial for the oil giant," Yi said.

In Tibet, there is no such corporate social responsibility, nor do Chinese mining companies belong to industry bodies such as International Council on Mining and Minerals, which promote high standards of local community and indigenous involvement in how mining is done and who benefits. Although ICMM publishes Chinese language manuals on human rights in mining,, no Chinese miner has joined. The biggest copper miner in the world, Codelco, joined ICMM in 2011, but Chinese miners, reflecting national policies on refusing international accountability, stays aloof, unaccountable and answerable only to the party-state.

What does the Tibetan community want?

The local inhabitants of the grasslands of Tibet want the same normal life as nomads that they have been leading over centuries grazing their livestock and living a life of self sustainability. They lived harmoniously using the natural resources judiciously and lived a life of complete freedom. Tibetan nomads, spending their entire life on the rangeland, have gathered an integrated knowledge of pasture management which they passed on through generations over the centuries despite of the lack of modern education and specialized training.

The remarkable rangelands of the Tibetan Plateau and Himalaya will experience a great and tragic emptiness if the environment is allowed to deteriorate or if, in the name of ‘modern development’, nomads are forced to settle down. The unique Tibetan pastoral culture will be transformed beyond recognition and nomads will lose their singular identity. The wildlife – grand, moving masses of migratory antelope, herds of magnificent wild yak, and graceful Tibetan gazelle bounding across the rangeland – will only be found in photographs of explorers’ accounts or in the stories told by older nomads to their children. These consequences can be avoided if timely action is taken to acknowledge the special attributes of the Tibetan pastoral ecosystem. This requires serious evaluation of the rangelands, increased understanding of the nomadic pastoral system, greater appreciation for the nomads and their worldview and a rethinking of many current development policies. These actions are crucial for ensuring the survival of nomads and their way of life in the face of growing threats from modernization.

What should be done?

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama spoke out against China's forced nomad resettlement at the Kalachakra teachings in Bodh Gaya in early 2012. In a rare audience with Tibetans from Tibet, the Dalai Lama urged China's leaders to “instead of forcefully resettling them, building of hospitals and schools for the nomads around their grazing areas would be more constructive.”
1. In order to save its “water tower”, Chinese need to work with the Tibetan nomads instead of settling them and stripping away their culture. The mining companies and the Chinese administration should-
Aim at strengthening communities by infrastructure development and formulating income strengthening programs.
2. Respect and strengthen indigenous community cultures, rather than trying to change or supplant them with non Indigenous cultures. They should address community concerns about culture and development -on every issue from water use, to sacred sites, to food sources and preparation, labor rights, technical training etc.
Respect land rights, as the land originally belong to the people and have been the source of their livelihood. 3. Land acquisition should be done legally keeping in mind the benefits and feelings of the Tibetans.
Post mining closure should be done such that the land is returned to the people in a condition that it can be used again for some productive activity.
4. Prior and informed consent should be taken from the local people living on or nearby the mining areas. By equally involving them in the decision making process the companies can really prove themselves trustworthy to the indigenous people.
5. Environmental conservation should be the topmost priority of the mining firms. The Tibetans consider nature to be sacred and any attempt to disturb the ecology of the area can hurt their sentiments.
6. Proper care should be taken for the human health near the mining sites. As the occupation is hazardous and results in a lot of pollution, adequate medical facilities should be provided to the people and the miners by developing infrastructure capable of treating basic diseases and to handle natural calamities/mining disasters.
7. Proper governance will ensure equality among people and will discourage illegal and antisocial activities.
8. The companies should open up institutions to promote awareness and education in the younger generation. They should work with local technical schools and universities to enhance their mining-specific programs to help increase employability.
9. It should be a priority to hire local residents, training all employees and instructing construction contractors in the best environmental, health and safety practices, procedures and controls. This can be done by identifying gaps in skills and providing on-the-job training.
10. Basic Infrastructure (water, electricity, sanitation & communications etc) should be developed in the remote areas.


* Mr. Tushar Gupta is a graduate in Mining Engineering from Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad. He worked as a volunteer at Environment & Development Desk and a participant of the 12th Gurukul Programme 2012 held in Dharamshala, India (5 June - 7 July, 2012)

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