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Morocco embraces CSR

January 2006

The Moroccan government says it wants to ‘differentiate’ the country from other emerging markets by gaining a reputation for high workplace standards in human rights, environmental impact and other respects. The new policy has been driven partly by trade agreements with the US and the European Union that demand improved labour and environmental standards, but Morocco also sees it as a way of attracting the growing number of European companies and investors sensitive to such issues. It may also compensate for wage rates that are higher than in other parts of the developing world.

In particular, the government says portraying Morocco as a socially responsible place for companies and investors to operate in should ‘present an opportunity for the country to position itself apart from countries such as China’.

To provide a framework, the government has introduced a labour code based on international conventions, child labour controls, legislation improving workplace rights for women, disabled people and trade unionists, and anti-corruption laws. Most of the $2.5billion (£1.4bn) of foreign investment in Morocco during the past year has come from France, Spain and the UK, where social responsibility is now a business issue.

One of Morocco’s strongest sectors is textiles and leather, which employs two per cent of the workforce, but the country wants to attract investment in motor manufacturing, aeronautics, call centres, telecoms, agribusiness, electronics and tourism. Last month it devoted the entire two days of its annual Investing in Morocco conference to socially responsible business topics. Investors and companies from all over the world discussed topics such as benchmarking of companies and how SRI can aid development.

Rachid Talbi Alami, the economic affairs and trade minister, told EP: ‘This is partly as a result of increased pressure from investors, but also a way of getting Morocco to stand out from the crowd. It’s an ambitious idea and a little bit strange for an emerging market, but if we want to find a new position for Morocco we have to prepare ourselves. There is growing pressure from abroad on SRI, but this is our own choice, made largely from internal pressure. We are at the beginning of an explosion of investment in Morocco, so we want to control it and avoid it having a negative impact on society.’

The government has begun working with the rating agency Vigeo to benchmark 50 leading companies on their CSR performance and is considering an official social labelling scheme for some products.

However, the new policy may not be embraced by all. Jassim al Manai, chairman of the Arab Monetary Fund, told the investment conference that it could work against the country’s interests. ‘Developing countries like Morocco are desperate for any investment and do not have the luxury of being picky,’ he said. ‘You have to be careful with this subject as it can give the wrong signals and put off the investors you are trying to attract.’

Kerdoudi Jawad, president of the Moroccan Institute of International Relations, claimed many Moroccan business people felt socially responsible business practices should be ‘a concern of developed countries, not developing ones’. He said: ‘We should not have any additional constraints that would reduce investment in our countries.’



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