ECONOMY

Titan gets responsible

Greek enterprises are becoming increasingly sensitized to the principles of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and issues of sustainable development. The latest evidence of this sensitivity is the strong interest shown by many firms in the Global Compact (GC), a United Nations initiative for enterprises. The first Greek company to sign GC is Titan Cement (www.titan-cement.com). This was announced on October 24, at the event for the celebration of the company’s 100th anniversary and in the presence of Mary Robinson, the outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Firms wishing to join the GC network commit themselves to applying existing international agreements embodying the so-called nine principles that concern human rights – in particular, labor rights with respect to joining a trade union, the ban on child labor and environmental protection. «I urge all of you to study one by one the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; you will realize they almost all concern firms and enterprises to the degree that they influence working people, their families, their communities, either because of their impact on society in general, or through the building and maintenance of those lawful structures that are of substantial importance to enterprises,» said the former UN high commissioner. How is one to know that a firm joining GC keeps to the commitments involved and that its membership is not just a public relations exercise? «Perhaps some will ask: Is it the business of a businessman to be concerned about the rights of refugees, structural unemployment or a country’s various social problems? Does he/she have the time or the knowledge to deal with such issues? In today’s globalized economy, where a hundred different factors may demand his/her attention, is it fitting to divert efforts to issues foreign to the firm and with doubtful effectiveness?» asked Titan’s Theodoros Papalexopoulos. «The operation of a firm within the letter of the law and exclusively for profit is not sufficient. Lawmakers are late in tuning in to the frequent changes of real conditions and the new beliefs in society which are often expressed intensely and sometimes dynamically, as seen in recent years on the issues of globalization,» was his answer. He said daily problems are assuming such dimensions that dealing with them requires the cooperation of all social factors; sustainable development, for instance, cannot become a reality without corporate social responsibility, which includes respect for labor rights and the environment. Such principles are precisely what the UN and the large global organizations participating in GC are promoting, including the European Union, which has planned 2005 as CSR year. Since the UN’s official launching of GC in July 1999, hundreds of firms, trade unions, academic institutions and NGOs have joined it and are continuing to do so. It is the first time that the UN has created a body – the GC Council – composed of activists and business executives from north and south working together for such wide-ranging principles. Joining GC The procedure for a firm to join GC begins with a letter to the UN secretary-general, in which it expresses support for GC and its nine principles. From that moment on, the enterprise undertakes two obligations: one, to inform and sensitize selected groups of stakeholders (workers, suppliers, shareholders, clients, local communities and the media) through press releases and various activities. «The effectiveness of this universal movement requires the energy of many dedicated professionals of your enterprise, including those in charge of human resources, labor relations, relations with the community and external relations,» the UN Secretary-General’s executive office said in a reply letter to Titan. The second obligation of a GC member is to report annually at least one example of practical application or experience derived from its efforts to implement one or more of the nine principles.