Community Convos: Is China Business an Existential Risk to Rural Communities?

The diplomatic relations between China and Nigeria go as far back as February 10 1971, spanning agreements on trade, economic and technical cooperation, science and technology and even investment protection. Sahel and West African Club Secretariat, in a publication titled China and Nigeria: A Powerful South-South Alliance records thatbilateral trade between China and Nigeria has continued to grow exponentially, with Nigeria becoming China’s fourth biggest African trading partner, and the second largest Chinese export destination on the continent.”. Chinese, like the Igbo, are natural entrepreneurs, wandering the globe finding and harnessing opportunity, oftentimes to the chagrin of their hosts.

In spite of the affinity that exists between these countries, members of the Nigerian business community have raised serious concerns about a few particular aspects of Chinese business practices (Pat Utomi)[1], government regulators seem ill-equipped to handle the situation – even though in 2019 the government vowed to crack down on illegal mining practices of these firms – and host communities, helpless. There is a reason why scholars and governments alike have called on China over the years to show sustainability leadership in consideration of people and planet.

In Kimberly A. Madsen of the University of Michigan’s paper, China’s Unethical Economic Development Practices, she reflects on the fact that “China’s economic growth has come at a huge sacrifice to their citizens and to its environment”, with forced industrialisation unwittingly leading to corruption of the atmosphere, evictions of rural citizens and a banking structure that makes money not from loans, but from citizen deposits, the latter parts not unlike its Nigerian counterpart. No doubt, while China is a shining example of how possible it is to figuratively rise on the back of one’s sheer wit, it’s approach to human rights and extra-financial consideration has remained stunted.

Corporal punishment, a practice reserved in the historical archives of slavery, is one of the human rights violations that seem to be popular amongst the largely unregulated Chinese trade in the country and the African continent, at large. For instance, in October 2018, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), along with the Nigeria Union of Mine Workers (NUMW), accused three Chinese companies of paying their Nigerian employees below the already meagre minimum wage and restricting their access to collective bargaining, contrary to the country’s labour law.

In June 2007, officials of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) arrested two Chinese nationals in Abuja for abusing the rights of Nigerians working in their bakery by caging them near an oven in the bakery. Just a month later on 12 August 2020, an anonymous tweet emerged alleging that, Inner Galaxy Group, a Chinese company’s inhumane treatment of workers, included “male Nigerian workers [being] physically assaulted, while their female counterparts are sexually assaulted without any consequence.” And the list in different states across the country goes on.

The situation is much worse in the ill-regulated mines and mining communities in the country, particularly in the northwest and southwest. Anecdotal and proven tales of illegal mining abound with zero regards for negative impacts on livelihoods and culture and the spirit of the recommended Community Development Agreement of the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development. In addition, Chinese mining companies further breed resentment among local mining communities by refusing to open up employment opportunities to locals. A few years ago, a picture of a Chinese national with several bare-chested pubescent young women in the plains of a rural community went viral; further emphasising the imbalanced relationship between poverty and power.

The tensions from the irreconcilable acts of Chinese organisations have pushed Nigerians to call on their government to ensure that Chinese employers no longer abuse workers in Nigeria. Without a doubt, it would be disingenuous to exculpate states from being primarily responsible for ensuring adequate protection of human rights within their respective jurisdictions. [2] As Eric Olander, Managing Editor of The China Africa Project said, “The ultimate responsibility for protecting the rights of workers falls on the federal government and state authorities to enforce labour codes.” In the same vein, however, one of the responsibilities of corporate bodies is to obey Nigeria laws and regulations (federal, state and local) governing all aspects of business enterprise, in totality (CES 2019).

Gradually, there is an outcry against practices detrimental to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focused on an end to inequality and a drive for inclusive societies, given voice by the liberal digital media. There was a time when communities suffered under the throes of bad corporate governance, but not now, nor should it be tolerated. With the rise in deepening and expanding public engagement globally, community engagement has become pivotal for well-functioning, twenty-first century democracies. Companies of whatever nationality have no choice but to exist symbiotically within their host companies, and it is not too late for China, a good friend of Nigeria, to proactively establish best-in-class rules for its businesses’ overseas operations.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Have you accessed the Community Engagement Standards (CES), the holistic tool for companies and governments willing to deliver tangible and sustainable benefits to communities for their own sustained economic progress? For governments and companies looking to manage relationships between communities, the CES is a significant instrument to achieving that. Check out and adopt the CES here.

References

[1] https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/media/csis/pubs/080603_utomi_nigeriachina.pdf

[2] HUMAN RIGHTS: INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION, MONITORING, ENFORCEMENT 257 (Janusz Symonides, ed. 2003)



Leave a Reply