China’s state-centric approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR) abroad : a case study in Africa


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy - PhD




Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is conventionally understood as voluntary and market-based corporate behavior without direct involvement of government. The CSR development in China is challenging this typical understanding. Over the past decade, China has demonstrated a state-centric approach in promoting CSR. It may be understood as a complementary regulatory approach to address the limitations of a fully market-based CSR model. While existing studies have already noticed the state-led approach to CSR in China, they only focus on its application in advancing Chinese domestic CSR practices. With the rise of Chinese companies’ overseas investment under China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) Initiative, it is important to examine how the state-centric approach applies to Chinese companies’ overseas CSR. This is an urgent issue given that China’s foreign investment is significantly concentrated in countries where legal and regulatory institutions are weak to protect social and environmental justice. This dissertation aims to fill this literature gap through an examination of China’s CSR policy development and a Chinese state-owned enterprise (SOE)’s infrastructure project in Africa. It firstly provides an overview of the various measures adopted by the Chinese government and its affiliated institutions including SOEs and state-owned banks in promoting CSR. It uses qualitative and quantitative methods to analyze relevant legal documents published by the Chinese government, Chinese companies and financial institutions between 2007 and 2017. The analysis provides a legal framework of how existing Chinese policies and guidelines may shape Chinese companies’ social and environmental behavior overseas. Secondly, it gives a close look at China’s CSR development in Africa, the major investment destination of the OBOR Initiative. It also gives an in-depth analysis of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project in Kenya. The findings are based on in-depth interviews, an extensive review of publicly available documents, and field visits to project sites between September 2016 and February 2017. Thirdly, through the policy analysis and the empirical case study, the dissertation analyzes the strengths and limitations of the state-centric approach in advancing Chinese companies’ overseas CSR. It also recommends how to improve China’s state-centric approach when applied abroad.

Date Available



Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International




Law, Peter A. Allard School of