A Critical Appraisal of Stakeholders’ Views about the Role of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Achieving Sustainable Development: The Case of Sierra Leone
The key aim of this study was to critically examine stakeholders’ perceptions about how multinational corporations (MNCs) in Sierra Leone can use Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives to contribute to sustainable development and in so doing address the ideals of sustainable development goals (SDGs). This thesis focuses on Socfin Agricultural Company Ltd. (SL), Addax Bioenergy and Goldtree (agricultural) as well as Sierra Rutile Ltd. and Koidu Holdings (mining), which are the largest MNCs operating in Sierra Leone. These two sectors are the largest in Sierra Leone and constitute the bulk of the country’s GDP. Also, given the huge presence of these MNCs in Sierra Leone, they are considered to contribute to sustainable development and CSR. Additionally, in comparison to other developing countries, there is paucity of research in Sierra Leone addressing the relationship between CSR and sustainable development. Accordingly, this research examines CSR practices and initiatives of MNCs in Sierra Leone with the aim to critically determine if their CSR practices and initiatives as well as comparable projects are advancing the principles of sustainable development and corporate responsibility. In order to answer this study’s research questions, interviews and focus group data was gathered from internal and external stakeholders including documentary data for triangulation. Documentary data was sourced from four main organisations including Oxfam, Christian Aid (CA), The Human Rights Defenders Network – Sierra Leone (HRDN-SL), and Human Rights Watch (HRW). Specifically, thematic textual analysis (TAA) was used in the analysis.
In this study, combination of legitimacy, stakeholder and triple-bottom-line theories are used within an interpretive, qualitative research method to contribute new insights into how CSR can be used to achieve the ideals of sustainable development. This study therefore demonstrates the centrality of normative CSR as opposed to the strategic approach for legitimate CSR practice that will impact on win-win principle. The findings of this study demonstrate that although MNCs in Sierra Leone make efforts towards sustainable development through CSR, however as empirically shown, these efforts are not effective given the ‘‘business case’’ and strategic orientation of CSR initiatives and engagement platforms, which undermine the win-win approach aimed at encouraging firms to be normative in their operation as well as socially and environmentally responsible and make profit.
This thesis thus concludes that in order to arrive at win-win approach, MNCs have to engage in more result-oriented, genuine approaches for sustainable development and for MNCs to continually have social licence to operate in a complex, challenging business environment in Sierra Leone. In sum, the thesis shows that CSR programmes and policies initiated and/or supported by MNCs are appropriated to further the interest of economically powerful stakeholders – shareholders – at the detriment of less economically powerful stakeholders – particularly the local communities in Sierra Leone.