Adding public value: The limits of corporate responsibility
It is suggested that natural resource companies undertaking large-scale projects may be expanding the scope of corporate social responsibility by working to enhance the capabilities of the public sector. Naturally companies are concerned to protect their investments, and to ensure their viability. They will therefore invest in necessary infrastructure and facilities of all types, where those are lacking. Such investment often provides benefits to the wider community, but with a few exceptions these are normally incidental byproducts rather than inherent objectives. The motivation for companies to provide resources of all types in order to enhance the capabilities of the public sector to provide public services is usually an expectation is that the tangible benefits will exceed the costs, rather than altruism. One driving force is to secure and maintain a company's social licence to operate. More recently competition from Chinese firms is prompting private sector companies to offer comparable investments in infrastructure. It is unclear whether investment in public sector capabilities is cyclical and liable to cutbacks when market conditions deteriorate. Changing market conditions affect not just corporate willingness to spend but also host countries' bargaining strengths. In boom periods host countries will be more able to secure straightforward financial benefits through higher tax receipts than when markets are weak. Beyond the specific needs of individual projects corporate policies are strongly influenced by the beliefs of senior managers. External pressures both from international institutions and from NGOs also drive corporate behaviour. The success of investment in public sector capabilities relies in the end on the responses of host countries, and on how closely the objectives and interests of the government are aligned with maximising the nation's long term wealth and welfare. Where they are not corporate resources may be frittered away. There are also questions over the legitimacy of corporate investments, especially by foreign-owned companies. They have a right to offer advice and protect their legitimate interests, but these may not always coincide with those of their host countries. There is a range of questions about the appropriate role of companies, which lead on to feasible and effective ways of improving weak governance.
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