In Namibia, formalised government policy on corporate social responsibility (CSR) may well be the strategy that helps to tip the scales in the fight against poverty.
For the people of Namibia, economic recovery cannot come soon enough. The legacy of apartheid, a recession in 2016 and, now, the coronavirus pandemic have placed a massive 64% of the population under the poverty line. A third of Namibians are unemployed, with youth as well as small and medium enterprises especially hard hit by the lockdown. Relief is urgently needed and the private sector may just be able to provide some – if greater buy-in from this sector can be achieved.
The more CSR shifts from being spontaneous philanthropy to an integral aspect of a business strategy, the more significant the role it will play in economic recovery and inclusive growth.
Explicit CSR directives from government and corporate boards empower private-sector companies to effectively tip the scales for disadvantaged citizens. Even where legislation is lacking, companies should still have the ethical impetus to implement their strategies. In Namibia, many externally based organisations seem to outrun their local peers in this regard.
Rather than explicit statutory requirements, various disparate CSR policies guide the private sector. The Namibia Investment Promotion Act, 2016, for example, gives guidelines for foreign investment in sustainable development, but does not mention CSR.
The New Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF) aims to increase the participation of formerly disadvantaged Namibians in the economy and basically sets requirements regarding tenders for government contracts.
The government’s Harambee Prosperity Plan II, a comprehensive action plan for economic recovery, mentions the need for “enduring partnerships between government, development partners, business, academia and civil society including the youth”, but does not compel the private sector.
The Namibian Financial Services Charter requires that financial institutions contribute 0.25% of their profits toward improving the lives of disadvantaged Namibians. Standard Bank (SBN Holdings), however, has pledged 1% of its net profit generated by its business operations to CSI initiatives. Others such as the Bank of Namibia, Nedbank and Agribank have CSR policies focusing on education, training, skills development and internships.
Organisations holding to the Namibian Retail Sector Charter undertake to contribute at least 1% of their net profits after tax to CSI, but there are indications that some retailers do not appreciate the need for this investment. Many externally based companies, however, routinely practice CSI. Shoprite Holdings, for example, supports several initiatives focused on hunger, early childhood development and vulnerable communities.
While South Africa requires that mining companies submit a social and labour plan when applying for mining rights, this is not needed in Namibia. Nevertheless, the mining sector contributes significantly to CSI. Companies such as Rössing, Swakop Uranium, Langer Heinrich, B2Gold, Dundee Precious Metals and the Debmarine-Namdeb Foundation pour millions into a range of community upliftment projects. The De Beers Group donated USD2 500 000 to Botswana and Namibia in 2020 for pandemic relief. The mining group Anglo American spent USD3 900 000 in Namibia in 2020, largely on building sustainable local economies. These are invaluable contributions to socio-economic development as mining companies invest in distant, often neglected areas, aiming to achieve a lasting impact.
Given the overwhelming need for socio-economic relief in Namibia, how can organisations ensure that their CSI efforts make a real difference? One option is collaborating with the Sustainable Development Goals Impact Investment Facility (SDGIIF). Encouraging investment through dynamic partnerships, it aims to increase the participation of women and youth in business.
While some companies lack formal CSI policies, others are seen to go above and beyond the call of duty. Whatever CSI strategy an organisation is embarking on, a well-structured policy drafted at board level is vital for ensuring lasting positive impacts. Consultation with all stakeholders, especially the beneficiaries, is also essential and part of an in-depth needs analysis. These approaches are unquestionably the route to success.
South African- and other externally based companies applying sound CSR policies in Namibia are prominent amongst those helping to tip the scales for the poverty stricken. A concerted effort amongst the rest of the private sector to gain a deeper understanding of socio-economic issues, and a commitment to providing solutions, will help bring even more much-needed relief to this country.