The Human Element: Can Canadian Social Responsibility Make a Difference in China?
Posted on Mar 12, 2012 / Author: Joanna Wong / Tags: Global Economy, Human Rights and Development, Education, Culture and Communities, charity, social enterprise
© Joanna Wong/FlowCS
When’s the last time you heard the words “China” and “social responsibility” in the same sentence?
Stories about China’s growing soft spot for charity projects rarely make it out of the country. But as the country’s middle class gets more comfortable, giving back is on the rise – to the tune of 70 Billion RMB just last year.
Canadians have long supported a strong stance on human rights in China. Yet while Prime Minister Harper said during his recent visit to China that his work as a vocal advocate of human rights in China is “paying dividends,” critics remarked no one important was listening.
How could we broaden our strategy on promoting human rights in China? How else could Canada contribute to China’s social development?
Canadian designer Nathan Zhang is part of a growing movement around social responsibility sweeping China’s major cities.
Zhang was first inspired to start a social enterprise after immigrating to Edmonton to be with his Canadian wife Terry. While in Canada, Zhang was introduced to fair trade businesses such as Ten Thousand Villages, an international craft supplier.
In 2008, Zhang moved back to China with a bold mission: to help rural women. He founded Brand Nu, Beijing’s first charity store focused on ethically sourced goods, and partnered with a local development organization supported by prominent feminist Wu Qing.
The idea of social enterprise first came to China in 2004, and as elsewhere, often remains intertwined with the work of non-profit and grassroots groups. From artisan crafts that benefit unemployed women to bakeries run by the physically disabled, inspiring domestic stories abound.
But it’s still early, fragile days. A wave of recent scandals at the state-run Chinese Red Cross, which suggested a young staffer had bought luxuries such as a villa and lamborghini with donations, sparked public interest in greater regulation of the non-profit sector.
With the highest authorities in China calling for strengthening charity organizations in the latest ‘Five Year Plan’ (2011-2015), it is crucial time for a homegrown social responsibility movement eager to learn from international experience.
Social responsibility may be Canada’s most graceful entrance to promoting human rights in China. What could it look like to walk through the door?
This video can also be viewed on youku.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.