Corporate Social Responsibility in a Brazilian Mining Company: A Simple, yet New Anthropological Examination of Organizational Culture

Fernanda Duarte is currenly an associate professor at the School of Management, University of Western Sydney. She received a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of South Wales. A general theme in Duarte’s work is the analysis of organizational culture, such as that of businesses, through socially scientific approaches. A significant amount of her publications discuss research she has conducted in Brazil, where she was born. Duarte has lived in Australia since 1974.

In this article(1), Duarte discussed her 2008 study of a major Brazilian mineral extraction company which has a “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) culture embedded in it. This company was selected because it was promoted in Brazil as exemplary in its CSR programs and regulations. She gave the fictive name, “Ferrus,” to this major mineral extraction company with strong economic health and approximately 3,000 employees.

Duarte explained that she chose a mineral extraction company which practices CSR because of the image problems mineral extraction companies often have within the communities they operate. Despite this, Ferrus held a good reputation in the communities in which it operated.

Duarte’s qualitative research was conducted during a six week window study between August and September 2008 in a large Brazilian city. The information utilized in her analysis came from qualitative research. Her stated goal was to explore the complexities of CSR present in large companies.

Duarte noted that her article is an interpretation of the information she received during her research which she does not assert to be neither objective nor impartial.

Duarte’s principle data collection method was conducting open-ended, face-to-face interviews utilizing a prefabricated questionnaire which posed questions regarding CSR at Ferrus, the perception of the organizational values by the participants, the general perspective of the CSR structures and initiatives, and the personal values of the research participants.

Duarte conducted interviews with 13 participants: 2 CSR directors, 2 employees, and 9 community members. Duarte stated that the small number of research participants was not problematic to her study because the goal of her study was to have rich information regarding how CSR works at Ferrus rather than to make large generalizations regarding the topic.

Duarte explained that a CSR culture permits the actors to create and sustain a collective perspective of the world with a shared importance placed on social and environmental values. In order to facilitate the comprehension of CSR to the reader, Duarte divided CSR elements into the three separate categories of:

– values and beliefs

– structures and practices

-symbolic elements.

She discussed these three separate categories both as general concepts, and also how they were represented at Ferrus.

Under the category of values and beliefs are the ethical ideals of the organizational culture at diverse levels. The ethical ideals create a specific philosophy that is embedded in the structures, practices, and speech of the organization. Ferrus’ principle CSR values of equality and justice, respect for human life and the environment, and the importance of ethical and transparent conduct are typical of CSR cultures.

These values were manifested in certain structures and practices. A key research participant discussed a direct connection between the management’s social justice values, and the importance placed on CSR by the company. He explained that the management was always actively involved in civic activities, particularly in doing volunteer work in the local community.

Structures and practices are created when an organization places importance on CSR values over an extended period of time. In this development, the structures and positions created by CSR values in turn create more CSR policies, such as evaluations of social and environmental impacts, social policies such as work/ family balance programs, environmental protection policies, and community programs, such as those to promote education and health.   At Ferrus, there was a specific division set up with the intention to create, implement, and regulate CSR programs. An important branch of this division was the “Community Relations Unit,” which was a liaison between the corporation and the local communities in which it operates. This unit also orchestrates employee well-being programs such as the “Stop Smoking Campaign,” “Get Fit Program,” and the “Eat Well Program.”

Symbolic elements are the most abstract components, such as symbols, language, metaphors, and stories.  “Symbols are artifacts or icons that represent the organization and reaffirm its core values.” (Duarte: 118).  Language is a very important symbolic element; the words and phrases utilized by employees of a company can display important information. During the interviews, it was evident to Duarte that the employees and management of Ferrus shared a collective understanding of key CSR vocabulary such as “social investment,” “social equity,” and “environmental and social performance.”

At Ferrus, the themes of environmental protection and ecological sustainability were central symbolic manifestations of their CSR culture. Duarte identified numerous slogans that included symbols of environmental protection. During a visit to one of the company’s plants, she received a tour given by one of the Sustainability Division managers of the 20 acre “Sanctuario Ecologico” surrounding the plant. Her guided tour on the paved walkway through the ‘sanctuary’ was filled with ecological symbolism, such as signs describing the various animal and plant species which the ongoing conservation programs of Ferrus contributed to conserving.

Despite the obvious impression management displayed in Ferrus’ ‘sanctuary,’ Duarte does not further explore this subject. She also does not offer any sort of in-depth analyses of other symbolic manifestations aimed at positive impression management for the employees or for the communities in which they operated.

The verbal metaphor of “family” was utilized by two separate employees during interviews to describe the positive atmosphere of the company. This excessively positive metaphor causes me to question how honest the research participants (especially the employees) were being about their thoughts and feelings regarding the company.

Duarte did not state how she recruited research participants. The participants’ extreme enthusiasm for the positive aspects of having CSR incorporated into Ferrus without any discussion of the negative aspects of the company caused me to question the motives of the research participants. It is conceivable that their exceptionally positive responses may have been prompted by the hope that their positive portrayal of Ferrus could help their career. Although Duarte insured confidentiality to her research participants, it is highly possible that the research participants did not believe that their participation in this research would be truly confidential.

There is a lack of depth displayed in Duarte’s article; all cited research participants were unanimously pleased with the CSR culture at Ferrus. This lack of diversity is demonstrative of how ethnographic research in which multiple perspectives are included in the text can add to a more comprehensive understanding of a situation. When only one perspective is depicted, it is difficult for the reader to understand the true reality of the situation.

As a person from Alaska, a state with a significant natural resource extraction economy, I am familiar with extraction companies making efforts to have a positive public image. While reading this article, there were many aspects of Ferrus’ image projection strategies which reminded me of the ways in which extraction companies in Alaska attempt to generate positive company images in both the public sphere and with their employees.

These companies usually have many perks for their employees, such as company parties and other enjoyable leisure activities. The public receives community benefits such as educational and athletic program sponsorships. Like Ferrus, these extraction companies invest in portraying themselves as being environmentally friendly. For example, in Alaska mineral extraction companies routinely air television commercials showing images of pristine wilderness with messages regarding their commitment to environmental respect and sustainability.

Although the positive aspects of the presence of extraction companies are appreciated by most Alaskans, if an accurate anthropological study was conducted regarding how these companies are viewed by their employees and by general community members, a far wider variety of responses regarding the companies’ social responsibility policies would be obtained than what was displayed in Duarte’s article. The lack of diverse opinions in this article alerts me to the lack of complexity included in it.

This lack of complexity is briefly addressed by Duarte. In the conclusion of this article, she explained that to truly understand CSR, a more complex study must be undertaken. She acknowledges that her study largely focused on the official view of CSR that was given by the company rather than how CSR works in reality according to the general employees and general local population. In this concluding statement, Duarte did not explain why she focused on the surface level of CSR rather than on how it worked in the reality of the situation she was exploring.

Despite the lack of complexity which could have been illuminated through the inclusion of more diverse perspectives, this article explored the unique organizational culture of CSR, which had been previously explored by only one other author. Duarte’s article was extremely useful in understanding both the general concept of CSR culture, and also how to look for manifestations of a specific type of organizational structure when conducting research. Despite the article’s lack of significant depth, it contributes to the discourse of organizational culture by initiating the examination of organizations that place an importance on CSR.

(1) Duarte, Fernanda. 2011. What Does a Culture of Corporate Social Responsibility “Look” Like? A Glimpse into a Brazilian Mining Company. International Journal of Business Anthropology 2 (1): 106-117.

 


Margaret (Peggy) Brady

Master of Arts, Anthropology (University of Alaska, Anchorage.) Research Interests: cultural continuity and change, diaspora, urban anthropology.

More Posts

Laisser un commentaire

Votre adresse de messagerie ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *