China’s economic push into Africa has provoked a lot of global chatter, much of it concerned. And though plenty has been said and written on the subject — by high-level politicians and pundits alike — one voice has been largely left out of the ongoing debate. Namely, the opinions of Africans about the business practices of the Chinese in the continent.
The overall perception that African citizens have of Chinese companies that do business – be it trade or cooperation – in the continent is negative. 43.3% of Africans have an adversarial opinion of the investments and development Chinese companies carry out there. That is compared to 35.4% of locals who have a positive one, according to a recently released study (drawn from polling data taken in 15 countries) by the Ethics Institute of South Africa (EthicsSA), a non-profit organization based in Pretoria.
Reputation of Chinese Business in Africa: Overall results
China gets bad marks on specifics as well. For instance, the quality of its products and services as they relate to infrastructure projects rates a 55.9% negative perception vs. a 22.7% positive one. On the other hand, there are who argue that diversification of low-cost quality products in clothing and technology has improved the standard of living among the continents low-end consumers of Africa. Annual trade between China and Africa rose from $10 billion in 2000 to close to $200 billion in 2012, the year in which China surpassed the U.S. and the E.U. as Africa’s largest trading partner.
Social and environmental standards are not high on China’s priority agenda, even back home, so they got similarly bad marks for its behavior on those issues abroad. Up to 53.9% of the participants disagree with the idea that the world’s second largest economy is environmentally responsible when doing business there; only 11.1% agree. 45.7% of those polled said China is not socially responsible.
Social responsibility Environmental responsibility
The results echo what acclaimed primatologist Jane Goodall told AFP last week: “In Africa, China is merely doing what the colonialist did. They want raw materials for their economic growth, just as the colonialists were going into Africa and taking the natural resources, leaving people poorer.”
True, the survey concludes that Africans are happy with Chinese investment in the sense that it contributes to the development of their countries, but that has not blunted the other concerns the data outlines. If Chinese companies want to reinforce their position in the continent, which they are since its economic development depends in part of China-Africa trade and cooperation, making a substantive push on green issues and social responsibility may be the best place to start.
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