A review of the ethics behind Orange Guinea's strategy


01 Apr 2020    13 mins read.

Introduction

This report is an in-depth review of the ethics which form part of the organisational activity and strategic decision making of ‘Orange’, a telecommunication company in Guinea Conakry. In the report, the underlying social and environmental contexts have been critically evaluated and appropriate ethical models and frameworks, which would enable one to draw a better understanding of the situation applied. Although Orange Groupe is a large multinational telecommunications corporation, spanning 220 Countries in total, this report has taken a choosing to focus on the activities of the specific subsidiary operating in the west-African country; Guinea Conakry. Given the numerous amounts of evidence found during the research, and presented in this report, this review might come off as advocating on behalf of the firm’s ethical position/actions. Nevertheless, issues or arguments arising against the firm’s ethical behaviour have also been examined and dealt with in the concluding remarks, rather than simply ignored.

About Orange

Formerly known as France Telecom S.A, Orange S.A is a multinational telecommunication company headquartered in France with over 266 million customers worldwide (Orange, 2020). It was the 4th telecommunications company to enter the Guinean mobile market in 2007, and through a cost leadership strategy and continuous push for the expansion of its network coverage in the whole country (including rural areas), acquired market leadership in 2013. As of September 2018, Orange still maintains its leadership position with a market share of 67%, well over that of its competitors with the second largest telecom company -cellcom, owning just 18% in contrast (Monnet, 2019). Whilst it continues to reap the benefits of being the largest telecom player in the Guinean market, the company recognises the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and makes conscientious efforts to appear environmentally and socially responsible. Following a code of ethics embedded at group level, Orange claims to commits itself to a set of guiding principles based on five key aspects. These are; 1. Respect of fundamental freedoms and human rights, 2. Promotion of socio-economic development and digital inclusion, 3. Driving environmental and energy transition, 4. Offering of responsible services and products and 5. Encouragement of workplace well-being and employability.

What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as defined by the Oxford dictionary is the “Awareness, acceptance, and management of the implications and effects of all corporate decision‐making, taking particular account of community investment, human rights, and employee relations, environmental practices, and ethical conduct” (Park and Allaby, 2017). In recent years, CSR has become the prominent topic of institutional reform as firms seek to become more socially conscious (Ahamad Nalband et Al., 2013). More increasingly, organisations have been using CSR activities to position their corporate brands, favourably and ethically consciously in the eyes of consumers. This increasing change in sentiments was re-echoed and solidified by the business roundtable, a group of 181 chief executive officers from major U.S. Corporation (including Amazon, Apple, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and more), with a novel definition for the purpose of a corporation. Signed and published in august 2019, the re-defined purpose of a corporation drops the age-old notion of corporations maximising their profits and serving shareholders, first and foremost (Fitzgerald, 2019). Instead, it proposes that a corporation should commit to delivering values to all of its stakeholders; from its shareholders to its employees, suppliers, customers and communities in which it works (Business Roundtable, 2019). It is therefore imperative that companies employ CSR measures in order to increase investment and internal company morale, whilst simultaneously avoiding reputational harm and attracting more competitive staff. As such, modern corporations employ CSR measures which usually involves opting into one of two Strategies; Offensive or Defensive CSR. Offensive CSR involves approaching and embedding CSR into the core business operations so that it influences decisions across the company (Buhmann, 2011). Kramer et al. (2006), argue that if approached strategically, offensive CSR can become part of a company’s competitive advantage. Defensive CSR on the other hand, involves improving the reputation and image of a company, rather than creating new business opportunities (Buhmann, 2011). This approach is usually seen as disingenuous by critics, who often argue that it enables businesses to propose ineffective, voluntary, market-based solutions to social and environmental crises under guise of being responsible, while they deflect blames for problems, they caused themselves.

CSR and Orange Guinée

Given these understandings, it is deductible that the commitments by Orange mentioned earlier, form part of an Offensive CSR Strategy as they have sought to embed it at groupe level through their code of ethics. Nevertheless, a closer assessment of the demonstrable actions it has established so far in practice, is needed to fully ascertain this claim. As such this report would evaluate two of its most notable initiatives which are: ‘Orange Fondation’ and ‘Programme Citoyen’.

Orange Fondation

‘Orange Fondation’ is the telecom company’s philanthropic arm and has been a driver for the whole group’s CSR commitments (Orange, 2007). By working with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and local associations involved in long- term projects, the foundation aims to fulfil its purpose of supporting projects linked to health, education and culture. More practically in Guinea, it has supported and accompanied large childhood vaccination and awareness campaigns and improved schooling conditions for children in rural areas. It built several schools and hospitals, in partnership with the NGO; “Plan International Guinea”, sustainably aiding over seven thousand (7000) children in the country (Orange, n.d.). The non-profit nature/element of this initiative means that the initiative has, understandably so, generated a lot of positive good will for orange in the country as a champion for Guinea’s social development.

Programme Citoyen

Programme Citoyen on the other hand is the company’s attempt at transforming organised CSR initiatives into competitive advantages. Recognising that digital technology is a powerful lever for economic and social development, their strategy here is built around creating solutions that encourage inclusiveness and sustainability. By leveraging their reputation as a trusted telecom operator and a champion for economic and social development, they have ventured into new business models, an example of which involves clean ecological and energy transition. This translated structural approach at operational level gives rise to the emergence of new inclusive, sustainable and collaborative solutions. One profitable by-product of ‘Programme Citoyen’ is the Solar Energy service the telecom company developed with the expertise of the operator BBOXX, a leader in off-grid solar energy in Africa.


The provided solution involves renting a kit consisting of a solar panel, its battery and additional accessories consisting of bulbs, radio and a television. For a subscription price of 100,000 Guinean francs (less than £10 GBP) per month, subscribers also benefit from free installations, maintenance and troubleshooting. Plagued with a general lack of adequate infrastructure, only 33.5% of Guineans (as of 2016) had access to electricity, the majority of which resided in urban areas (CIA, 2016). With its solar energy service, Orange Guinea is positively contributing to the sustainable development of the country in a manner that favours responsible use of environmental resources. Provision of electricity in a community brings about multiple positive dynamics that go beyond socio-economic developments. A case study conducted by ‘Sustainable Energy for All’, an international organization working with leaders in government towards the achievement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 7, found that, households in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Kenya saved hundreds of dollars through the use of solar energy, to power household services like lighting and mobile-phone charging, instead of using kerosene or costly external phone-charging services (Sustainable Energy for All, 2017).

Further analysis

Virtue matrix To further uncover/analyse the ethics of the strategy behind ‘Orange Guinée’, the Virtue Matrix, an analytical tool designed to help one understand what generates socially responsible corporate conduct will be used in this section. This should enable us to answer the question of whether Orange’s actions is truly part of an offensive CSR strategy to generate goodwill and preserve a good brand image or just a Faustian bargain where it spends money not for the goal of solving social problems but to keep non- governmental organisations happy and away from interfering in its business. The matrix consists of four quadrants each of which depicts the forces that generate corporate social responsibility (Martin, 2002). The bottom two quadrants consist of laws and norms that govern corporate practice. They are the civil foundations and behaviours of companies in these quadrants do no more than meet society’s baseline expectation either by Choice (where they choose to observe norms) or in compliance (as a result of a mandate by law) (Martin, 2002). Such behaviour is described as instrumental as it explicitly serves the cause of maintaining shareholder value. The upper two quadrants on the other hand, consist of innovations in socially responsible behaviour and is deemed intrinsic, since corporations engage in such conduct mainly for its own sake (Martin, 2002). When the actions of a company benefits society but not its shareholders, then this falls into the structural frontier. If the actions coincidentally benefit both shareholders and the society, then this falls under the strategic frontier. Orange Guinee operates or is classified in the upper quadrants as both CSR initiatives discussed earlier were intrinsically motivated. This, despite such actions not being the norm or legally required. The philanthropic and non-profit nature of Orange foundation means that they have acted in ways that bring benefits not to shareholders but to the Guinean society. As such this particular CSR initiative falls under the ‘Structural’ quadrant. Programme Citoyen on the other hand falls under the ‘Strategic’ quadrant due to the coincidental benefit of bringing value to shareholders via sustainable and profitable business models.

Controversy and ethically questionable behaviour

In April 2017, the telecommunication company was ordered by the Dixinn court of first instance in Guinea Conakry to pay about 1.03 million euros to the production house; Suk’Arts. This, for the “fraudulent exploitation for commercial purposes” of a song by the Guinean artist Khady Diop (Barry, 2017). The scheme, which is a popular service among telephone operators in Guinea involves offering their customers, the option to subscribe to popular songs as their waiting tone. The commercial exploitation of the music was invoiced monthly at 2,050 francs (about £0.2 GBP). This accusation is in contradiction with Orange Foundation’s stated intention of strengthening its program on Guinean cultural enrichment at the start of 2017 (Orange, 2016). While in clear violation of commercial law and intellectual property, it could be argued that Orange seems to have unduly and illegally enriched itself for years on the back of small musical labels who fight daily to invest in talent. And in so doing, deprived Guinean artists of potential income capable of improving their poor living conditions.

Conclusion

To conclude this report, it is fair to ascertain that overall, Orange Guinée operates in an ethically minded way that benefits both its shareholders and the Guinean society. Although the telecommunication company does not have a perfect track record due to the controversies and ethically questionable actions it has taken at times, it still remains a great driver for socio-economic developments and a pioneer for sustainable and strategic CSR initiatives in Guinea. In spite of the fact that, Orange Guinée at a point in time, took advantage of Guinean artists, the company has lately been trying to reverse this through partnership deals and sponsorships activities for various multicultural events. Admittedly, this might be a defensive CSR strategy aimed at curbing reputational damage. Nevertheless, the fact still remains that, no other corporation in Guinea is as socio-economically impactful, and the clarity and execution of their CSR vision is unrivalled.

Timeline


References

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