Britain's role in extracting continent's resources

The pattern discerned through much of this chapter, of uneven responses, is also true of responses to HIV and AIDS, which has come to be seen as a core test of corporate social responsibility in the region. While this may seem to be a labour relations issue, since companies are usually responding to employees who are affected by the virus, it is usually seen as a CSR issue because some companies do offer support programmes for people beyond the workplace. Responses range from total indifference to significant concern expressed in elaborate policies and programmes.


Small and isolated deposits of minerals are scattered all over SADC countries. These often lend themselves to economic exploitation through small-scale mining. With modest demand on capital expenditure and a short lead-time, they also provide employment opportunities for the local population. In certain countries, artisanal miners are exploited by companies who buy their produce cheaply. Artisanal mining in its current form in most SADC countries is poorly regulated and often not taxed.

The patterns identified thus far are serious indictments of some Chinese companies’ approach to labour relations in the region. But, as we indicated at the outset, other patterns are discernible too – those in which Chinese companies show at least as much respect for worker rights as other firms.

Do Chinese enterprises contribute to the societies in which they extract resources? According to independent researchers Chinese companies generally do not promote corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes in Africa, but are increasingly interested in these programmes and the positive impact they could have on corporate image. Our research revealed a familiar pattern: the companies insist that they are contributing to society, their critics respond that they are not putting back anything like that which they take out. But this is hardly unique to Chinese companies.

How socially responsible is Chinese investment in Southern Africa? Does it respect worker rights and contribute to society? The common perception is that it does not. Work conditions in Chinese-owned enterprises are perceived to be poor. Workers are said to be forced to labour in harsh conditions inferior to those in other workplaces. In China, it is argued, people are expected to work hard for very modest pay and, predictably, Chinese firms therefore expect African workers to labour under the same conditions as their Chinese counterparts.

A consistent theme of this study has been the extent to which the limited developmental impact of Chinese investment is the responsibility of the Southern African states in which China invests.

How could the problems and challenges identified by this study be addressed? What do Southern African governments and other actors with the potential to initiate change need to do to ensure that the potential of Chinese investment to meet the needs of the countries studied here is fully realised?

China has prioritised Africa as a strategic partner at both the political and economic level, but the China- Africa economic relationship is still in its infancy. China `s drive for oil and raw materials has initiated a new scramble for Africa, the long-term implications of which are uncertain. As Christopher Clapham argues “China’s irruption onto the African scene has been the most dramatic and important factor in the external relations of the continent – perhaps in the development of Africa as a whole – since the end of the Cold War.”

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