Ann Bernstein, the head of a South African think-tank called the Centre for Development and Enterprise, thinks that advocates of corporate social responsibility tend to miss the point that companies' chief contribution to society comes from their area of specialization. In her new book, "The Case for Business in Developing Economies," she stresses the ways companies benefit society simply by going about their normal business. In a free and competitive market, firms profit by selling goods or services to willing customers. To stay in business, they must offer lower prices or higher quality than their competitors. Those that fail disappear. Those that succeed spread prosperity. Shareholders receive dividends. Employees earn wages. Suppliers win contracts. Ordinary people gain access to luxuries that would have made Cecil Rhodes gasp, such as television, air-conditioning and antibiotics.
These are not new arguments, but Bernstein makes them fresh by writing from an African perspective. Citizens of rich countries often fret about the occasional harm that corporations do, yet take for granted the prosperity they create. People in developing countries do not have that luxury.
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