South Africa’s automotive industry is surprisingly robust for a relatively small country, even after the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the economy, but is it equally impressive in terms of CSR?
With roughly a third of South African households owning at least one car, not to mention the vast minibus taxi industry and commercial fleets, the local automotive industry is one of the largest manufacturing sectors in the country. In terms of GDP, the broader industry contributed 4,9% in 2020. What is more, a South African Automotive Masterplan has been put together to increase local production from 600 000 to 1,4 million vehicles a year by 2035. This will also boost employment which currently stands at 110 000.
Comprising 22 production companies, as many importation and distribution companies and around 500 suppliers of automotive components, the local automotive industry is not only a significant provider of jobs, but also contributes greatly to technological capacity skills development. It therefore plays a significant role in the achievement of national economic goals. The question is, to what extent is it giving back to society, especially after the economic tsunami of the COVID-10 pandemic?
During the most restrictive stages of the lockdown, the automotive industry responded generously to South Africa’s unprecedented socio-economic crisis. Some initiatives include the production of ventilators, face shields and masks for essential workers; servicing of medical equipment; the donation of masks and sanitisers to schools and thousands of meals in Alexandra; the erection of a field hospital in Gqeberha, capacity expansions at two Eastern Cape hospitals and temporary testing facilities elsewhere. In addition, more than 470 vehicles were donated and a R10-million awareness campaign was launched amongst taxi operators and commuters.
Besides these contingencies, the international vehicle manufacturers with South African operations run well-defined CSI programmes, altogether spending several billion rand every year. These companies include Ford, Isuzu, Mahindra, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, VW and BMW. Often partnering with NGOs, they focus on matters such as technology development, education, youth development, vulnerable groups, healthcare, HIV/AIDS, community development, the environment and sports.
As companies with a global footprint and set CSI policies, they also ensure that their South African programmes are aligned with national SDGs and communities’ individual needs. Community engagement and needs assessments are always key in highlighting basic needs as well as distinct solutions such as:
- The donation of solar power- and battery-operated lamps to assist 5 000 Grade 12 learners living without electricity in their studies (Mahindra); and
- Skills development and support networks for mothers of children with disabilities living in rural areas, and assistance to the children (Ford).
Amongst the manufacturers, the BMW Group has been rated The World’s Most Sustainable Automobile Manufacturer on the Dow Jones Sustainability index for eight years. The group focuses on equipping communities for sustainable development through upliftment and partnership programmes. Initiatives include supporting 144 schools as well as securing a large investment for the upgrading of nine hospitals and four community clinics across three South African provinces.
The automotive industry also includes a host of importation and distribution companies, hundreds of component suppliers, and used parts and accessories sales companies. In such a large industry, who is keeping track of CSR? We are aware of a number of stalwarts, such as Continental Tyre SA which has twice been recognised at the PMR Africa Excellence Awards for its initiatives. These include supporting the Youth Employment Service programme and the National Certificate in Automotive Repair and Maintenance learnership. The company has also contributed generously to the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber Ubuntu COVID-19 Fund.
In general, automotive manufacturers present with impressive CSI track records and commendable philanthropic motives. The level of CSI practised by the members of the broader industry – suppliers and sales companies – is, however, not always obvious. This may be due to either a lack of publicity or a lack of effort. Given the fact that CSI affords a company a well-deserved image boost, modesty is likely not the explanation.
Post the economic havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic, companies still wanting to stay under the radar now need to come forward and take up their full corporate social responsibility, following the example of their high-profile peers. Even if writing a big cheque is not possible, meeting specific community needs can make a life-changing difference.