The ‘good employer’ factor records rise among corporate profile determinants

Consumers in Greece do not seem to know much about the social profile of companies, reacting mostly to bad corporate news without rewarding firms which display adequate corporate social responsibility (CSR), a survey titled «Responsible Consumption and Corporate Social Responsibility» has found. The survey was conducted by the Institute of Communication in March and April 2005 with a sample of 2,500 people, in the context of the worldwide survey by Canadian polling company Globescan Inc. Kathimerini spoke with the president of the Institute of Communication, Theodoros Kotionis, and asked him to comment on the findings. «The new survey reflects the shift in the people’s mentality, who are affected by news about massive staff layoffs, bad product quality and bad company practices, if isolated, such as employing underage workers in factories and so on,» Kotionis said, stressing that consumers are recognizing the increased role and power that enterprises have in forming our everyday life. The main topics of the survey were the role of big corporations in society and the citizens’ expectations from them. Also examined were the importance of the changes recorded in relevant attitudes and views of consumers both in Greece and in the other 20 countries the survey took place, since the previous one happened a year and a half earlier. In general, citizens focus on CSR in four areas: Products, which have to be safe for public health and of good quality; working environment, where behavior to employees must be responsible and new jobs must be created; environment, that companies must protect and respect; and active participation in combatting poverty and in supporting weaker social groups. In these areas «there are great expectations, even demands,» Kotionis stated, adding that «there is also a rise in the percentage of consumers who believe that big companies are heading to the right direction.» Even if these percentages are rather low, «there is no doubt that the consumers’ interest in the degree of companies’ social responsibility is increasing. It appears that in the near future the percentage of consumers punishing companies for their bad practices will be considerable,» noted the Institute of Communication president. «Unfortunately the opposite is not happening. And I say unfortunately because unless this dimension of rewarding is constructed so that enterprises include or strengthen their CSR in their strategy as an integral aspect, we will remain in the simple awareness of bad practices, tackled as ‘crisis management,’ i.e. superficially and without real pressure for a strategy change, and, therefore, without an economic benefit from this change,» Kotionis stressed. Surprisingly, the survey also found that respondents placed television channels on top of the various business sectors with CSR, which is a little worrying. «If this result originates from the revealing of ‘bad practices’ and the socially irresponsible action by others in the public and private sectors, then how responsibly and objectively is this done? Because if it is not responsible and objective, it is a bad practice which the consumer cannot discern,» argued Kotionis, wondering «where else should the media’s CSR focus besides others’ revelations?» Expectations Panteion University participated in the research, being one of the four founding universities of the non-profit Institute of Communication. Dr Betty Tsakarestou is assistant professor at Panteion and told Kathimerini that «the significant findings of the 2005 survey will have considerable effects on corporate reputation, communication and strategic planning, crisis management, cooperation development and the dialogue with society.» She added that people’s expectations from CSR have increased across all 21 countries in the world where the survey took place. This includes Greece, where «people are gradually gaining greater familiarity with and a basic understanding of issues related to the debate and the movement for CSR.» Tsakarestou also clarified that she distinguishes two categories in corporate responsibility: One with responsibilities that are closely and directly linked with the productive and business operation, and the other with responsibilities about the broader connection with and contribution to society. «In Greece as well as most countries citizens’ expectations are primarily focused on responsibilities related to the productive and business operation, for which they place full responsibility on companies. In this context we add the increasing importance a company obtains as a good employer.» There follow, with high percentages, the responsibilities related to the broader social sensitivity and mobilization of companies (e.g. support of foundations beneficial to the public or of weaker population groups). One of the main findings that Tsakarestou highlighted is that enterprises still have a long way to go until they gain and maintain the trust of citizen-consumers, despite the improved picture from the increase (by 9.3 percent) of the people evaluating positively the responsible corporate actions and efforts. Another notable finding is that the view promoting the legislative imposition of CSR against its voluntary application is gaining ground. «Concluding, we would say that there is chaos between the high expectations citizens have from companies regarding showing responsibility, and the degree of trust enterprises have gained through their corporate and social activity in the field of CSR,» underscored Tsakarestou before citing a couple of issues emerging from the 2005 survey. First, it is the cooperation of the private with the social and public sectors. «Companies can gain a greater share of appreciation and trust if they cooperate with the government, the non-governmental organizations or international institutions to jointly resolve social problems,» she suggested. The other issue is the labor uncertainty due to outsourcing. «Internationally, as well as in Greece, the issue of company relocation to other countries constitutes a primary source of worry for the majority of citizens. Consequences will be important on the labor climate, the competitiveness and the reputation of enterprises,» Tsakarestou predicted. Social activity must be made public As much as 81 percent of citizens demand that companies publicize and communicate their social responsibility activity, which can enhance their credibility, the annual survey «Reputation Quotient 05» by Tradelink Reputation Management found this year, the fifth survey since 2001. The survey measured people’s perceptions of CSR and found that 74 percent of Greeks believe companies should not just make profits and be responsible toward their staff and consumers, but also have «a broader responsibility to assist in efforts to resolve important problems which society has.» About half (49 percent) of a corporation’s good reputation depends on its social responsibility and the good working environment it provides. Although Greeks understand CSR with a range of characteristics, they attribute most weight on the handling of human resources, the respect of human rights and the protection of health and safety of employees and products. Finally, and crucially, they consider CSR to be the second most important factor for building corporate reputation, behind products and services.

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