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Can the alliance between civil society and private companies work?

Nowadays the private sector is considered to be one of the key actors in the development sector as we will see in July in Addis Ababa. For the civil society organisations in Mozambique, the inclusion of this “new” actor and “model of development” is still in the twilight zone: there is no clearness about the responsibilities of private sector.
Lucia Jofrice
25.6.2015

An increasing number of private companies operate in partnership with states, INGOs and other development actors around the world under the shared objective to fight against poverty and to achieve sustainable development.

This is the context also in Mozambique, where CSOs are now for the first time establishing a partnership in request of Portucel Mozambique (Portucel Foresty Investment).

The company holds the right to use the land (DUAT) of 173.000 hectars in the Central Province of Zambezia and 183.000 hectars in Manica, where they want to plant eucalypt to produce pulp and paper.

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Now the aim is to create new and regular dialogue space between CSOs and the company in a project for social development. The creation of an advisory committee, which is a new approach in Mozambique, will be facilitated with IFC.

The objective of the committee is to give advice, monitor and assist the company in the social and environmental areas through technical analyses.

As it is a new experience the CSOs want to guarantee that the principle of confidentiality proposed by the Portucel will not prejudice the rights of the most vulnerable and communities.

In the last meeting, people who agree with this initiative, requested Portucel to include another actor in the project, namely the government, so that the CSOs could use the space also to influence public policies in a similar way as in the Development Observatory. This is a coordination space among CSOs, government and donors with goals to discuss, monitor and evaluate the implementation of government plans like general budget, economic and social plans and annual plan.

In this case CSOs aim to influence policies on extractive sector and forest exploitation in Mozambique. On one hand civil society wants to guarantee the respect of community rights, on the other hand the company wants to avoid any potential damage in their image.

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The advisory committee (that is not formed yet) is already creating division within CSOs. Usually, CSO in Mozambique look to companies as “enemies” of the communities and of poor, doing whatever they have to, to guarantee their own profit, and sometimes even violating human rights.

Big companies, especially from the extractive sector have gained fame as land usurpers and human rights violators. There are plenty of examples denounced by CSOs. Could CSO trust this new approach? Who wins?

Another concern is the existence of asymmetry between CSO and companies that prevents the equilibrium on what they will implement together. Who will give the last word?

An important element to note here is the core reason, why CSOs exist. Some organizations that are against the initiative, like JA!, said that there is no maturity for this partnership. The balance of power in negotiations and influence is unequal and eventually, the lack of sustainability of CSOs could kill their watchdog role in the long term. Civil society is still in construction here. And some CSOs, like CIP, are usually against the partnership with World Bank (in this case IFC).

The group against this also believes that the advisory committee will work to Portucel and will lose their independency especially because the budget to implement the activities will come from the company.

On the other hand the group led by ActionAid Mozambique refers to the advisory committee as an opportunity to make real advocacy and influence policies to benefit the communities.

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Civil society in Mozambique has a lack of sustainability and needs to gain financial independence. Now CSOs can turn out be losers, at least when compared to the economic strength of the Portucel company. Are CSOs truly ready to cooperate with companies? Who wins in this partnership?

What do you think?

In the case of advisory committee of Portucel in Mozambique, time will tell us…