CSR – The Way Forward

CSR stands for Corporate Social Responsibility and academicians, corporate executives, MNCs share differing definitions of what it means. Some define CSR as simply corporate conscience, which gives a connotation some ethical values are involved, while others define CSR more elaborately as corporate initiative to assess and take responsibility for the company’s effect on the environment and impact on social welfare. Most CSR definitions, however, agree that the objectives of companies should include social and environmental goals, not just financial profits.

The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) defines CSRas a management concept and process that integrate social andenvironmental concerns within business operations and a company's interactions with the full range of its stakeholders.A stakeholder is those impacted by the operations of a company. Stakeholders include a company's employees, directors, shareholders, bankers, suppliers, customers, surrounding community, regulators, and the environment.

RHA Media feels that a publication that focuses on CSR is appropriate as Malaysia endeavours to increase income levels, build airports, roads and affordable housing for everyone, and at the same time caring for the less fortunate while maintaining its forests, wildlife, beaches, and rivers for generations to come. CSR Malaysia can be a tool to help build a just and sustainable Malaysia by highlighting corporate best practices and recent innovations in CSR.The theme for its new magazine is ‘Let’s All Play a Beautiful Part in Contributing to The Environment and Social Welfare’.

CSR Malaysia will be a quarterly magazine, sharing with its readers the unwavering commitment of Corporate Malaysia towards the community at large and their roles as change agents in the socio-economic transformation of Malaysia. CSR Malaysia will highlight Corporate Malaysia’s aspirations that go beyond mere profits or building world class buildings or infrastructures. CSR Malaysia hopes to promote sustainable economies by featuring CSR initiatives by corporations in Malaysia. Whether it is programmes to serve the marginalised communities or environmental efforts to preserve our heritage for future generations, CSR Malaysia will feature stories for others to emulate.

The United Nation's Global Compact (UNGC) is a strategic policy initiative in CSR that asks companies to embrace, support and enact within their sphere of influence a set of 10 core values in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment, and anti-corruption.The United Nations believes that businesses, as a primary driver for globalisation, can help ensure that markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere. Business goals of profitability are inseparable from the societies and the environment within which companies operate. Whilst short term economic goals can be pursued, the failure to account for long term impacts on social and environmental areas make those business practices unsustainable.

The benefits of CSR are numerous. Research in the United Kingdom, for example, has shown that 88% of consumers were more likely to buy from a company that supports and engages in activities that improve society. Some people view CSR programmes as a drain in resources, but carefully-thought-out CSR activities can, among others, win new business, increase customer retention, enhance relationships with customers, suppliers and networks, build a happy workforce, save money on energy, create a differentiation from competitors, and improve business reputation. All these benefits will lead to a higher financial performance.

In North America and Western Europe, CSR efforts began in earnest in the early 21st century. While CSR programmes in Western Europe are made compulsory via the legal framework, the CSR approach in North America ismore voluntary in nature and driven by management principles like the Triple Bottom Line where the goals of a company include social and environmental benefits. While the internal drivers within companies for CSR in western countries are long term sustainable profitability, the external driver for CSR is the customers, and to a lesser extent the shareholders. For example, consumers for Nike’s apparel pressured the company not to use child labour in China, and Apple iPhone customers pressured the company to improve working conditions for employees of parts suppliers in China. Shareholders activists like the California Pension Fund (CALPERS) and the Norwegian Employees’ Pension Fund require the companies to invest their funds to adhere to strict environmental and labour standards.

In Asia, CSR awareness is relatively low. Critics say that some countries flew headlong into quick economic development mode and along the way corners were cut in the effort to be rich fast. Baby milk contamination, food poisoning, polluted rivers, product safety issues, child labour, high worker suicides, dangerous work conditions, and worker revolt manifest themselves.World scrutiny is slowly but surely, however, turning the tide in in those countries because these countries have aspirations to be world players and to sit at the top table international practices must be followed.

CSR efforts in Malaysia, as in many areas, are driven by the government. CSR inMalaysia is however, not legalistic in nature even though the government is the leading voice. The government pushes the CSR agenda by policy initiatives like the CSR frameworks in TheSilver Book by the Putrajaya Committee on GLC High Performance, the Economic Planning Unit and Ministry of Finance’s tax incentives and budget allocations for CSR programmes, the Securities Commission and Bursa Malaysia’s mandatory reporting of CSR effortsby listed companies, and the Malaysian Institute of Integrity’s universal values.

In Malaysia, therefore, CSR is driven by principles and guidelines, and it is up to the companies to frame their own programmes to fit their business operations. CSR is touted as good business and good business wins customers’ hearts and leads to increased profits.

For example, DiGi.Com Berhad, a major telecommunications provider has a community intervention project programmecalled the DiGi Yellow Mobile Programme where underprivileged and disabled children are immersed into their cultural heritage through highly interactive arts-based workshops. These kids learn to appreciate the beauty of culture by learning from well-known Malaysian artists, musicians, dancers and craftspeople. This CSR programme reflects DIGI’s vision for unity in a diverse culture and aims to give these special children a chance for individual expression, as well as to learn and participate in a harmonious environment with other children and adults.

Other enlightened companies have established childcare centres for their employees with infants to create a happy working environment that will enhance productivity.

EmkayBerhad, a well-known property developer, is another huge role model in CSR initiatives. It has got all its employees involved in conserving the Belum Forest Reserve, a pristine 350,000-hectare site in Perak where some of the world’s rarest wildlife, flora, and fauna exist. This forest has been evolving for a period of 130 million years and is untouched by man.

CSR initiatives are not only multiplying on a global basis but are here to stay and are all targeted at ensuring a better world for all, especially for the generations to come. There’s no doubt that it’s the way forward.

By Dato R. Rajendran