When most people think of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the first things that spring to mind are usually sporadic charity or philanthropic ventures undertaken under the banner of the company. However, CSR expert Roberta Lepre believes that while such activities are all well and good, CSR goes far beyond that. “A company that is serious about CSR would seek to integrate social and environmental responsibility into the various aspects of its business,” said Dr Lepre, Managing Consultant of Weave Consulting, a boutique firm specialising in CSR. “CSR ranges from the company’s governance mechanisms, to the way it manages its workforce, onto the way it impacts the wider community and the environment.”
Dr Lepre said that while there seem to be a handful of companies who regularly support good causes by providing financial or material support, the real practice of CSR in Malta is still in its infancy. “There are only very few companies that really understand what CSR entails and look at it as a strategic way through which to enhance their operations and gain advantage over the competition. On the positive side, there seems to be a growing number of forward-thinking business leaders who understand the benefit of ‘doing good’ and who are willing to be proactive in this regard.”
But what are these CSR strategies that can give companies the edge over their competition? Well, a quick glance at the challenges businesses face in 2018 include the need to safeguard their brand equity, which can be negatively affected through social media if not managed carefully; the challenge of attracting, engaging and retaining suitable and competent employees; the need to be compliant with a variety of regulations; and the need to constantly evolve and innovate in order to stay ahead. Dr Lepre stated that all of these challenges can be effectively addressed through a well-planned and resourced CSR programme. “In the medium to long-term, companies which invest in CSR will become sustainable whilst the ones that don’t will fade away,” she said.
While multinational companies are admittedly somewhat better acquainted with the concept of true CSR and have therefore advanced a little bit more in this regard, Dr Lepre dismissed the idea that only major firms can undertake CSR initiatives, stating that it is crucial for companies of any size to implement it if they are to thrive in the market. “It is a myth that only very large companies can afford to engage in CSR, when the reality is that a company cannot afford not to engage in CSR if it wants to survive. There are also many activities already being carried out in companies of different sizes and in different industries, which could be construed as CSR initiatives, but due to lack of knowledge about the subject matter are not even acknowledged as such – in turn resulting in a missed opportunity for such companies. All business operators, be they large or small, have an impact on the wider community, and therefore they can all be more proactive in terms of CSR, albeit in different ways. When it comes to CSR, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.”
So what can a company do if it decides to tackle its CSR seriously? “First of all, top management needs to take a decision to become proactive in relation to CSR. Secondly, it needs to create internal engagement and make sure that all key players within the organisation are on board,” said Dr Lepre. “Last but not least, a CSR audit can help a company identify those areas in which it needs to implement actions in order to address shortcomings which might be hindering its overall business goals, whilst highlighting those areas which can be leveraged further in order to increase return on the ‘social investment’.”
Weave Consulting is one such company that conducts CSR audits on the basis of ISO 26000, which provides guidance on the seven key underlying principles of social responsibility: accountability, transparency, ethical behaviour, respect for stakeholder interests, respect for the rule of law, respect for international norms of behaviour, and respect for human rights. “Our current main goal is that of increasing awareness and providing education in relation to CSR – and in fact we will shortly be conducting a short course for business leaders in order to further help them understand this concept and how they can gain from it on a personal and an organisational level,” Dr Lepre said.
“We will also be working with a select few companies to build a local business case for CSR – highlighting measurable benefits that such companies would have gained as a result of a well-managed CSR programme. Finally, we are looking at how to better leverage ICT in order to achieve these goals.”
This article originally appeared in The Business Observer