ECONOMY

Companies increasingly involved in corporate social responsibility action

Across the EU, 2005 is the Olympic Year for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Its official start was signaled by the Dutch government, just before relinquishing the EU presidency, inviting Europe’s entrepreneurs on stage to show their progress this year in CSR and to commit to their next targets, and expressing the European philosophy of parallel development in economy and society. This is the «New Strategic Objective for Europe of 2010,» as agreed in the Lisbon summit in March 2000, to «make Europe the most competitive and dynamic economy based on knowledge and sustainable economic development, with more and better jobs and social cohesion.» The three ‘pillars’ For Europe to march forward, the heads of states and governments in Lisbon also made a «special appeal» to business world leaders in Europe, asking them to help heal social imbalances with investment in people and to adopt practices toward these ends. The business world reacted warmly. Therefore, the European Campaign for Sustainable Development and Human Progress was formed, culminating in 2005, and has three main pillars: human resources, dialogue and business management. The original objective set by leaders was the mobilization of 500,000 people for more CSR, that is, for the application of principles, practices and procedures at companies they represent. Today this objective has swelled to reach a million «CSR protagonists.» Then the dialogue was extended to shareholders and cooperation with governments, investors and the active community. The third and most important pillar of management innovation for companies and corporations refers mainly to support for lifelong learning, difference and entrepreneurship. Halfway toward 2010, Europe will applaud this year the companies progressing in the first «European business plan,» those companies which adopted this campaign as a chance to marry their passion for profit with values and attracting talent and partners by trust in making a difference. Among the campaign’s priorities is to create strategic channels through corporate communication, the Internet and the mass media to mobilize people in favor of CSR. Greek enterprises A significant quantitative survey was recently published in Greece regarding CSR in domestic companies by the Consultancy Section of PricewaterhouseCoopers, headed by Haris Kyriazis and the CSR expert Myrto Kontaxi, as well as by the Executive MBA Department of the Athens University of Economics and Business, led by Professor Dimitris Bourandas. Using the size of turnover as criterion, 468 companies were invited, though just 77 responded, most of them were big and well-known corporations. The survey sample includes multinationals (36 percent), ASE-listed companies (42 percent), while 70 percent is also active abroad. Six out of seven of the companies have a turnover of above 50 million euros. Given the relative uncertainty of CSR’s definition, the survey wanted to establish how significant CSR is for companies. All enterprises sampled said they view it as important, with 71 percent of them considering CSR from very to absolutely important. Most companies (60 percent) have their own official definition of their own CSR, while multinationals show the greatest commitment to the CSR definition. It follows that companies not only have a good grasp of the issue but also, through their negative answers, reject the myths about CSR and say «it is not anything fashionable or for public relations or a notion involving enterprises only;» on the contrary, it involves all social partners. Although CSR is hard to assess, it can be a measurement tool. So far, so good. The survey findings get much darker later on, though, as companies are invited to account for their policies or practices in applying CSR. «Health and safety at work,» covered by Greek law and therefore obligatory anyway, is cited as the most widespread CSR policy at the large Greek companies sampled, ignoring that CSR is defined as any act, policy or measure in favor of staff, environment and society «over and above what companies must adhere to according to laws and regulations.» This is branding compliance as CSR. The survey gets brighter again with the answers about corporate administration and morality codes, seen as high on companies’ agendas, «showing that Greek enterprises have been influenced by global pressures to improve governance and the professional morality of companies,» as the survey’s authors comment in the conclusion. Another positive sign is that many respondents recognize that CSR will prove beneficial if linked to risk management. Finally, we note as particularly important and optimistic that most Greek companies with CSR as part of their activities have appointed one of their top officials as responsible for CSR issues. Furthermore, that CSR engulfs an entire company from the top down, mainly involving the directors of communication, public relations, marketing and human resources.