Hydropower company reports on impact assessment experience

China International Water & Electric Corp., an operator of BOOT hydroelectric projects abroad, posted an account of what it calls its “Nam Lik model” of corporate social responsibility, developed at the Nam Lik hydropower plant in north central Laos. The report describes CSR as not only including contributing to solving “local labour and resource issues,” i.e. creating jobs and economic growth, but also “charitable behaviour such as helping people in backward areas develop education, social welfare and health care, … gradually develop social activities, and to gain a publicity effect through charitable activities, improving the corporate image and consumers’ approval rating.”  

The specific activities undertaken under the CSR label are nonetheless probably not quite what Western critics have in mind. In the case of Nam Lik 2, they included setting up an environmental protection office, making a donation towards the ASEAN Games held inVientiane in 2009, building a primary school and giving villagers cash handouts.

The description of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process suggests a model focused on government approval rather than independent evaluation.

First we conducted a census of the population, property, and housing in the village and took photographs. The first draft report was sent to the Lao environmental protection authorities; then the provincial government dispatched county officials for an inspection; after revising the EIA, it was returned to the provincial authorities for discussion … after approval by a special conference at the provincial level, it was sent to the central environmental office. … The main objective of the above was to prepare for offering villagers resettlement compensation and house reconstruction funds.

It is unlikely that provincial, let alone county officials would have enough power to object to the results of an EIA, even if they wanted to. In any case, the only issue at stake was the amount of compensation for villagers. This is perhaps a step forward compared to the reputation of Chinese companies for ignoring EIA and social impact assessment altogether, but perhaps not quite “corporate citizenship” yet.

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