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Africans’ Perceptions of Chinese Business in Africa


by Nadia Gianoli

This survey measures Africans’ perceptions of Chinese business in their countries. Such a survey is long overdue. Fifteen African countries with a large presence of Chinese companies were identified to participate in the survey. In total, 1,056 Africans completed an online questionnaire. The results indicate that Africans are happy with Chinese investment in that it contributes to development. They are, however, concerned about its economic, workplace, social and environmental impacts.

This survey measures Africans’ perceptions of the business practices of Chinese nationals (hereafter “Chinese business”) in African countries. Such a survey is long overdue. While there have been several studies of the perceptions of Chinese and Europeans, Africans are the ones who are directly affected by investment of Chinese business in their countries. Also, there is a widespread perception that Chinese investment in Africa is not benefitting Africans. China stands accused of being a ‘new colonial power’, extracting resources for their own benefit with little return for Africa. In addition, Chinese presence in Africa is viewed with suspicion, especially from Western countries, and their human rights record, labour practices and environmental practices are often questioned. On the other side, the Chinese are very positive about their investment in Africa, contending that it contributes to the development in Africa.

However, we cannot rely on assumptions, fuelled by rumour and misinformation as the relationship between Africa and China becomes more and more important, hence the need to measure the perceptions of Africans themselves. This report presents the findings in this regard, preceded by a literature review.

Fifteen African countries were identified to participate in the survey, selected on the basis of their having a large presence of Chinese companies. In total, 1,056 Africans completed an online questionnaire. The following categories were identified to measure the perception of Africans towards Chinese business: Reputation of Chinese business in Africa; Quality of Chinese products and services; Social responsibility of Chinese business in Africa; Economic responsibility of Chinese 10 Africans’ Perceptions of Chinese Business in Africa business in Africa; Environmental responsibility of Chinese business in Africa; and Employment practices of Chinese business in Africa.

Overall, the perceptions of Africans are rather negative as in all six categories more respondents are negative than positive. In terms of the reputation of Chinese business in Africa, 43.3% is negative and 35.4% positive. In respect of the quality of Chinese products and services, 55.9% is negative and 22.7% positive. Regarding environmental responsibility of Chinese companies in Africa, 53.9% is negative and only 11.1% positive. In terms of economic responsibility of Chinese companies in Africa, 40.1% is negative and 28.3% positive. There is somewhat more optimism when it comes to the social responsibility of Chinese companies, with 45.7% being negative and 21.0% positive. Lastly, perceptions of employment practices of Chinese companies in Africa are 46.0% negative and 19.1% positive.

Although there is recognition of the positive impact of Chinese investment in Africa, there is, in particular, considerable concern about the social, environmental, workplace and economic responsibilities of Chinese business. It is therefore important for the Chinese government and companies to take the following recommendations into account:

• The survey indicates that Africans are happy with Chinese investment in the sense that it contributes to the development of their countries. However, Africans are concerned about the economic, workplace, social and environmental impact of Chinese investment. Hence, Chinese companies need to be aware of their economic, workplace, social and environmental responsibilities when investing in Africa;

• Chinese companies and Africans should engage with a view to understanding one another and discussing the issues raised in this report in order to ensure mutually beneficial solutions. One of the follow-up activities of this report will be to organise a Lead Ethics in Africa Dialogue (LEAD) in this regard; and

• It is to a large extent up to Africa to gain from its relation with China. African leaders should be responsible and ethical when entering into business and investment deals with China (and all other countries). They should also ensure that there are strong institutions in Africa that can determine the terms of engagement and make sure that Chinese companies are held to such terms. They should ensure that African citizens reap the benefits of foreign investment, whether Chinese or not. For any questions related to this report, please contact Sofie Geerts at sofie (@) ethicssa.org.

Download for free:

Africans’ Perceptions of Chinese Business in Africa (2014)
Sofie Geerts, Namhla Xinwa and Deon Rossouw
ISBN 978-2-940428-92-2 - Globethics.net Focus No. 18

This survey measures Africans’ perceptions of Chinese business in their countries. Such a survey is long overdue. Fifteen African countries with a large presence of Chinese companies were identified to participate in the survey. In total, 1,056 Africans completed an online questionnaire. The results indicate that Africans are happy with Chinese investment in that it contributes to development. They are, however, concerned about its economic, workplace, social and environmental impacts.
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Published on: 30 August 2014
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