The Debate over Corporate Social Responsibility

By Steve May; George Cheney et al. | Go to book overview

19

Corporate and Institutional Responses
to the Challenge of HIV/AIDS
The Case of South Africa

GRANT SAMKIN STEWART LAWRENCE


A THREAT TO SUSTAINABILITY

Threats to global sustainability are increasingly evident. A glaring example today, in South Africa and much of the developing world, is that of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The extent of the threat to humanity from this epidemic is apparent, for example in the barometer showing cumulative AIDS deaths in South Africa since the start of the HIV epidemic (http://www.redribbon .co.za), while at the end of 2003, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS estimated that 37.8 million people were living with HIV/AIDS, with the highest concentrations in the sub-Saharan continent (http://www.redribbon.co.za/home/ default.asp?access_page=5825). This chapter examines the organizational and institutional responses to a major challenge to business and social sustainability in South Africa.

According to Koelble (2004, p. 71), the South Africa government has adopted an approach that involves minimal direct interference in the economy. This policy is comparable to the “third way” (Giddens, 1998)—an approach that accepts that it is no longer possible for social democrats to assume the state has the capacity to compete with market forces to provide security for all of its citizens. It appears that the government has decided that the transformation of its society cannot be achieved without the support of capital, both international and local. Business firms have been charged with a large part of the desired societal transformation.

This chapter examines the conduct of business in the changed political and social conditions of South Africa and the possibility of transforming society through business. It is based on evidence collected through multiple research methods, including focus groups, intensive interviews, and field site visits. It tells the story of a developing consciousness and the associated business practices and accountabilities evident in postapartheid South Africa. In an interconnected global community, the problems evident in South Africa are symptomatic of more widespread challenges to global sustainability. There are shifts in consciousness that may provide new structural possibilities and accountabilities.

A general issue is that of business accountability. What are the limits to firms' accountability when the government is unable or unwilling to tackle serious threats to a sustainable society? The concept of corporate social responsibility is becoming widely accepted. But as the distinction between the firm and its “external environment” is blurred, the extent of social obligations is debatable, and subject to voluntary definition. In this chapter, the shifts in consciousness are shown to be captured in the influential report in South Africa of the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa (IODSA) King Committee on Corporate Gover-

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