Corporations, human rights and corporate social responsibility in Africa: between neglect and inadequate policy direction

International Journal of Law and Management

ISSN: 1754-243X

Article publication date: 4 March 2014



Yusuf, H. and Adelopo, I. (2014), "Corporations, human rights and corporate social responsibility in Africa: between neglect and inadequate policy direction", International Journal of Law and Management, Vol. 56 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Corporations, human rights and corporate social responsibility in Africa: between neglect and inadequate policy direction

Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Law and Management, Volume 56, Issue 2

The roles of corporations, generally and multinational ones particularly, in our individual and collective lives are sometimes veiled but salient, and with far reaching implications. The development and spread of the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) around the core question of how business should interface with society has occurred virtually simultaneously with the contemporary focus on human rights. On its own terms too, CSR discourse in the academic and professional spheres appear to have reached tipping points but concerns about the role of corporations in many countries have grown in nearly geometric proportions. CSR and human rights, interestingly, engage at their core, a concern for society; either at the level of the individual, groups, communities or the state. They also share, even if only to varying extents, a normative interest in some form of accountability for power as a mechanism for promoting social well-being. Yet, notwithstanding fairly strong normative basis for expecting corporations to buy-in to human rights, corporations and human rights have found it difficult to mix. The flagrant violations of human rights across the globe have occurred (and continue) with complicity of powerful (typically but not only) multinational corporations (MNCs).

On a positive note, the international system has witnessed a sustained engagement with corporations in the last two decades. This engagement is fast developing into a movement on business and human rights with, not surprisingly, some reference to CSR. Developing economies are worst hit in terms of the towering of powerful MNCs above states and societies. Specifically, African concerns and experiences are still under-represented and less understood in the global discourse on the implications of the activities of corporations. This is despite the significant, sometimes, overwhelming impact of the activities of corporations, especially multinational ones, on national economies, lives, ecosystems and environment of the continent. Thus, rigorous academic engagements with the multifaceted issues that are relevant to the concerns remain very important to facilitate understanding of problems developments of relevant law and policy to deliver on real and informed solutions.

Our call for papers in this special issue sought contributions which adopt a variety of approaches (empirical, qualitative, quantitative, socio-legal, etc.) in addressing this theme. We are greatly delighted to have received so many expressions of interest and papers for the call. Typical of this sort of endeavour, we have been constrained to limit the number of contributions presented in this issue. To all those who submitted from different parts of the world, we say a big thank you. It has been quite challenging in taking final publication decisions following the process of editorial and peer-review. Nonetheless, we hope (as we set out to do) that the contributions in this special issue provide crucial insights on, and further engender rigorous analysis and understanding of some of the key concerns on the theme.

Either from a law and, or management perspective, the authors have, separately, but strikingly, adopted a critical but constructive approach to address some of the difficult and pervasive issues in Africa’s contemporary experience of the activities of corporations. Where appropriate, the contributions have also been enriched with some comparative references from other experiences. Lee J. McConnell’s piece on Establishing liability for MNCs focuses on the case study of Akpan (Nigeria, decided in The Netherlands) to demonstrate the salience of how the intersection of weak regulations, failure of Host-State apparatus, corporate expansions and articulate foreign judicial organs combine to raise (doubtful) hope for protection of personal spaces but fail to deliver on responsibility. This failure of constructed regulation and the need for conceptual alternative was also highlighted in Bethel Uzoma Ihugba’s article. Ihugba focuses on the importance of stakeholder engagement in generating an inclusive regulation as a basis for an effective prescriptive regulation and self-regulation. Extending the concerns over ineffective regulations which are aptly reflected in the inefficiency of the market, Ciara Hackett’s piece adds an interesting and important twist to the debate by considering the role of dependency in the interactions amongst various social actors. The fact that MNCs are operating at level above inter-state relations and yet regulated by state law and management rhetoric is a conundrum of some sort which can only exacerbate corporate irresponsibility. Engobo Emeseh and Ondotimi Songi contend that accountability and sustainability reporting as a panacea to the problem of CSR and human rights in Africa in their article. This view was interestingly consolidated in the empirical piece by Thomas Kimeli Cheruiyot and Loice C. Maru which explored the dimensionality of the corporate human right social responsibility and its effect on employee job outcome.

The fine contributions in this special issue present a well-blended mix of doctrinal, theoretical and empirical studies which should serve as a veritable springboard for future similarly well-focused inquiry into understanding the role, organisational culture, mission and corporate mantras on MNC behaviour, impact and (non) regulation in Africa and other jurisdictions. They add significantly to theoretical and practical knowledge of CSR and the role of MNCs in implementing corporate policies and practices that are consistent not only with the letters of the law but its spirit. We suggest there is ample room for future studies to take forward emergent and mainly unaddressed issues relating to this theme. This includes focus on the role of (de) legitimising agents in the global system such as non-governmental (NGOs), inter-governmental organisations (INGOs), supra-national bodies like the United Nations, the international financial institutions (IFIs) like the World Bank in not only setting standards, but initiating and monitoring policies and programmes that can contribute effectively to mitigating the excesses of MNC while at the same time working with state apparatuses to enhances the protection of human rights (including economic rights) while not undermining business interests.

Hakeem Yusuf, Ismail Adelopo
Guest Editors

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