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In China / Society and environment / Water for All / Transparency of Corporate Social Responsibility: the Case of “Water for All” Project in Longde County

Transparency of Corporate Social Responsibility: the Case of “Water for All” Project in Longde County


Nowadays it has become a common view for more and more companies that they should take social responsibilities. They have also realized that the evaluation of CSR projects not only needs the auditing from the independent third parties, but also the involvement from their employees as they have the right to know how their donations have been allocated. That should be absolute transparent for all parties.

Ensuring Safe and Clean Water Supply

Water for All Project in Longde 2011
Xiaoli is a 15-year-old boy in Zhangcheng Township, Longde County, with red cheeks which is typical for children in northwestern China. Water pipes are now already in place in his home. However, “there's no water at all and we still need to get water from wells”, he said. Even worse, in drought seasons, after school, he has to run to the river beside the village to get water, which is dirty and requires sedimentation for long and boiling before becoming drinkable.

Located in the south part of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and neighboring the Western main range of Liupan Mountain, Longdei’s one of the poorest areas in Ningxia. With an area of 985 sq km, it  administrates 3 towns and 10 townships which are divided into 122 villages.

Zhangcheng Township is 40-minute ride away from the county town of Longde. Xiaowei, also aged 15 as Xiaoli, has been told, since he was a kid, to save water at any time. He has a bath once every two weeks in average. Like Xiaoli’s home, Xiaowei also has water pipes at home, but there is no water supply in most case. So walking to the hole of spring to get water has become what he has to do every day.

Now, the “Water for All” Project, initiated by Atlas Copco in Longde, is helping these boys and their families change this.

As a world leading provider of industrial productivity solutions, Atlas Copco, headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, operates in more than 170 countries and regions. From August 2009 to September 2011, the project has been implemented in 10 villages of Longde County with a fund of $344,301.Atlas Copco donated $129,448 with the Children Exchange Fund of the Plan International allocating the remaining.

The project has benefited 15,187 people, including 3,708 children in 3,600 families in 10 villages of 4 townships.

Before the start of the project, these villagers had been coping with acute shortage of safe and reliable drinking water in their community, which has worsened their livings. Besides, due to the water shortage, villagers are not quite aware of the hygiene and sanitation.

Due to inaccessibility to clean water, the children have to walk a long way to fetch water for their families. , Xiaojun, a 12-year-old boy in the county, has to travel far with his younger sister after school, and gets exhausted with a bucket of water every day. However, this is very commonplace in Longde.

According to the Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the contracting states shall take appropriate measures to combat disease and malnutrition, supply adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking water to children, and mitigate the dangers and risks from environmental pollution. Mark Stephen Leighton, the Chief Representative of the Plan China, said: “Children have the right to live in a clean and sanitary environment, and have access to clean and safe drinking water.”

Building a comprehensive sanitation system

Employee visit to Atlas Copco’s Water for All Project in Longde 2011
Mr. Wei Zhanjin, Director of the Office for Plan China’s “Water for All Project in Longde, told Xinmin Weekly that China has succeeded in feeding its people even in the poorest villages, “and now the priority is to ensure their health partly by supplying them with clean drinking water”.

Finding a source of clean water is now a big project in Shanhe Village of Shanhe Township, Longde County. Liu Wenke, head of Shanhe Village, told Xinmin Weekly that there were more than 1,000 people in 260 families.

This village, with a farmland of 2,375 mu and per capita net income of 3,160 yuan, is facing a big challenge in finding a source of clean water as the household waste, piled for years, has seriously contaminated the water source in the village.

Chen Xiaoming, 36, the accountant of the village, said that there is a bazaar in Shanhe village and people from adjacent villages come to this country fair once every three days. The frequent movement of people has seriously contaminated the river and those living in the downstream, for years, have to drink the water which has been contaminated in the upstream. Moreover, all the 9 natural springs there are, vulnerable to pollution by the feces and urine of people and animals, garbage and other pollutants. And during rainy days, all these can be easily flushed into the river.

“Previously, the villagers dumped their household waste into the river. Now, the Water for All Project has enabled us to clean up the garbage which has been accumulated for years. The garbage weighed over 400 tons and we had to transport it in trucks for more than 40 times,” Chen recalled.

The project received a warm welcome from villagers as it has helped upgrade 9 springs and established a garbage disposal system. A garbage truck collects the waste every three days, and some people have been designated to oversee garbage incineration and landfill.

Many projects, previously, have been focusing too much on putting facilities in place. When the people involved in the projects leave, lives of the villagers return to “normal”. Nothing, actually, has been changed. So how can sustainable operation be guaranteed?

Chen explained that three village leaders and the three cleaners were responsible for cleaning the garbage in their own designated areas respectively, and the cleaners were paid 4,000 yuan each per year by the town government, which “ensures the sustainability both in human and financial resources.”

However, it is noteworthy that the water and sanitation in communities are not isolated.

The “Water for All” project in Longde is part of the community-based CDWES, which covers 10 villages in Longde County, including sanitary toilets, building and maintaining water systems, upgrading springs, flood prevention, pollution discharge and garbage disposal.

Chen Yonglin, a 43-year-old villager in Shimiao Village of Guanzhuang Township, Longde County showed reporters with much pride the newly-built urine diversion sanitary toilet in his yard.  “Different from the conventional toilet which was simply a hole in the ground, the new one was cleaner, more convenient and practical,” said Chen Yonglin, adding that the new toilet was completed in only two days.

At present, 238 families in the village with a population of 530 were benefited from the project, including Mr. Chen Yonglin’s and his brother's families.

Such a toilet costs about 1,100 yuan. After it is completed, the family can get a subsidy of 600 yuan from the “Water for All” Project.

With six family members to support, including a son and two daughters at school, Mr. Chen Yonglin had been working in Yinchuan City to make a living for five years before coming back to his hometown to continue farming in 2000. Chen Yonglin has a farmland of seven mu with an output of 550 kg wheat per year. Even so, he still needs to buy additional 50 kg of grain to feed his families.

He said that without the support of the “Water for all” project, he couldn’t afford such a toilet although it’s cleaner as he still has difficulties in making a living.

Transparency is fundamental

Magnus with happy Children, Water for All Project in Longde
How did such a cooperative model come into being?

According to Magnus Gyllö, vice-president of Atlas Copco (China) Investment Co, Ltd, “Water for All” project was initiated by Atlas Copco employees in 1984 in Sweden with the belief that “clean water is a human right”.

In early 1980s, Swedish movie director and actor Torgny Anderberg shot a short documentary Död Jord (Dead Earth), a movie about draught and famine in southern Peru. The movie was aired in Swedish TV programs in 1984 and received much attention from Atlas Copco’s employees in Sweden who then started raising money for the disaster-afflicted people in Peru. The initiators also began pondering how they can utilize Atlas Copco’s products and expertise to help those in need. Then they founded the “Water for All” organization and the Board of Directors of Atlas Copco AB responded by pledging to support the project with funds matching employees' donations.
By mid-1990s, “Water for All”, in collaboration with “Save the Children”, drilled over 500 wells in Peru, which have helped to saved many lives.

Now, “Water for All” is still run by Atlas Copco employees and has more than 4,000 members across the globe. Today, it has presence in more than ten countries. In the past 27 years, it has helped more than a million people get access to clean drinking water.

Since 1997 Magnus Gyllö has been the vice-president of Atlas Copco (China) Investment Co, Lt. During an internal meeting in 2008, he proposed to launch the “Water for All” project in China and hoped employees would attend. To his surprise, several employees expressed their wish to get involved in this project immediately after the meeting.

Then, some employees formed a supporting team to localize the “Water for All” project in China.

The employees voluntarily take some money from their paychecks each month for the “Water for All” project. Since the launch of the project in China, the company has been matching its employees’ donations funds of same amount. Starting from 2011, Atlas Copco started funding twice the amount of the employee donations to the project. “We began to form teams, and talking to some NGOs for partnerships. In China, we first chose three NGOs as our partners, one of which is Plan China,” Gyllö recalled.

After months of extensive research and planning, Atlas Copco selected the Plan China as the first partner in carrying out the projects on water sources in China.

“Founded over 70 years ago, Plan International was one of the most experienced organizations focusing on children's development, with a long history. Every year, it worked with 3.5 million families and their local communities,” Gyllö said.
In 1995, Plan China began to cooperate with the Yanqing County, Beijing, to carry out projects in upgrading agricultural production, school infrastructure and improving sanitation and health. In the past one decade, Plan China has been working in more than 16 provinces in China.

Gyllö explained that when carrying out CSR projects, Atlas Copco (China) selected partnering NGOs by looking at their financials and credibility, in particular the transparency in finance.

“As the chief representative of an international NGO working in China, I need to deal with a lot of issues, among which the transparency in financial management is one of the priorities. If something goes wrong in expenditure, I need to take the largest responsibility. So I attach great importance to the transparency. Internationally, there are also some universally recognized standards for the accountability and transparency in financial management which I'm very familiar with. So in terms of financial management, we have both internal and external auditing to ensure transparent accountability in finance,” Leighton said. He added that Plan International excels globally in transparency and accountability, and has also signed the International NGO Accountability Charter with PWC acting as an independent auditor.

Having actively facilitated such a project, Leighton  also believed that only by cooperating with governments, civil societies, academic institutions and businesses, can Plan China be successful in lifting children out of poverty in a sustainable manner. Leighton used to work in the Charity Commission of the U.K. Government as a senior executive and oversaw the work related to NGOs in the U.K., so he is very familiar with the transparency of charity undertakings.

Therefore, at the end of 2008, Plan China submitted a letter of intent to Atlas Copco. After extensive communications, both agreed that Atlas Copco would fund the project via Plan International (Hong Kong). The proposal for the Project was completed and approved in July, 2009. In August, 2009, Plan International (Hong Kong) signed an agreement with Atlas Copco.

According to Wei Zhanjin, the auditing of the project began in this July. “We decided to hire a third-party to audit the project. We held a public biding and the Xi’an branch of Shinewing Certified Public Accountants, was selected for auditing this project.”

Why did Atlas Copco, as a donator, decide to take a field trip to Longde County?

“We also want to know the destination of our money which includes not only my personal donation, but also that from more than 2,600 employees working in China. They do not have the opportunity to check the use of money themselves, but they have the right to have such knowledge. Now, those representatives in the field trip can share with them what have been seen,” Gyllö said. Every employee who had made a donation to the project would receive a photograph which shows a happy little boy getting tap water with a glass.

For many Chinese companies who can afford large CSR projects, this might be a good example. Maybe they need to travel in person to where their projects are being carried out to check how their donations have been used.

Reference Source: Xinmin Weekly - Issue 39, 2011 (By He Lidan)