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Corporate Social Responsibility - a PR tactic for both corporate reputation and the environment?

26 Eylül 2011 , Pazartesi 09:36
Corporate Social Responsibility - a PR tactic for both corporate reputation and the environment?
melis.sunay@halklailiskiler.com

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the perpetual commitment of enterprises to carry out policies that integrate responsible and ethical practices into daily business operations so as to sustain economic gain while taking care of their workforce and protecting the environment.  Proponents will, of course, argue that businesses attain long term profits by operating with a certain perspective and an objective, while critics will sustain that CSR distracts from economic role of businesses, taking their justification as far as pointing to the fulfillment of social demands, political performance and ethical values involved, primarily as cover-ups for economic gain.

Encouraging such tactics is basically private sector’s method of collectively fulfilling the economic, social, and environmental requirements of their investments. They may be regarded as devices of publicity, a mere public relations tools;  yet when integrated into corporate structures, CSR principles and practices lead to innovation, productivity and competition, which all lead to teamwork among investors.

Many businesses worldwide have begun adapting CSR strategies as fundamental principles due to the changing business environment thanks mainly to ‘corporate self-regulation’ integrated over the years into business models.  Such models entail specifics as adoption of internal controls, anti-discriminatory practices, appraising employees as assets, consenting workers a ‘say’ in company decision making processes, compliance to social and environmental laws, and most importantly, taking responsibility for their enterprises’ labor practices.

Corporate Social Responsibility has thus become a concept that is quite popular throughout the world due to certain setbacks forcing these strategies to be adopted in various multinationals’ circumstances. This is where skeptics have had an advantage in their arguments, pointing to CSR implementation as a reaction to public dissatisfaction; a mere ‘window dressing’ of sorts only settled on to ensure investor and public dedication. Yet again, it is at such occasions that companies can use CSR to build or rebuild their reputation, somewhat of a public relations tactic, to differentiate themselves for the benefit of all participants.

In theory, CSR departments work closely with areas of enterprises that are in contact with the environment, employees and their outsourcing bodies. It is at the companies’ best interest to invest in efforts to improve the livelihoods of those who are influenced by the workings of businesses and to ensure the moral and ethical values throughout all steps of the supply chain. CSR efforts will, of course, vary depending on the field of expertise of the company.  However, CSR department may also focus solely on philanthropic efforts, which often comes with the benefit of improving the public opinion of the company. This form of CSR is the main reason for the bad reputation of this movement.  Altruistic ideas of the aid phenomenon are apparent yet in some cases so is the hidden agenda. Consumer opinions and values are slowly changing and it is vital that companies abide by the moral needs of consumers from a business perspective in order to gain a competitive advantage.

Cultural diversity also influences how CSR is defined. US definition relies on a philanthropic model where companies are unhindered in their profit earning with tax payments being their sole obligation. Thus CSR is defined as operating a business in a manner that meets or exceeds the ethical, legal, commercial and public expectations that the society has of a business in the US.

The European model, on the other hand, is much more focused on operating the core business in a socially responsible way, complemented by investment in communities for solid business case reasons. They define CSR as a concept where companies decide voluntarily to contribute to a better society and a cleaner environment, integrating social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their investors on a voluntary basis. Thus, social responsibility, when managed properly, enhances the competitiveness of businesses and maximizes the value of wealth creation. 

Social responsibility in Turkey, in the meantime, has also been a subject that has been on various company agendas for years. It was discovered, based on Capital magazine’s survey in 2005 that Turkish consumers do not want to buy products from companies that do not fulfill their social obligations.  Assessing the impact of CSR activities in Turkey from the perspective of the business world, accordingly, revealed that ‘education and teachings,’ followed by funds for ‘health and health services,’ and ‘the environment and the protection of nature’ ranked at the top of CSR efforts’ priority listing.   

Some companies in Turkey prefer to conduct their charitable works and social responsibility projects quietly and out of the limelight.  They believe that publicizing such efforts is ‘shameful’.  While majority surveyed agreed that companies should expound on what they were doing in terms of social responsibilities via media outlets such as the television, radio and newspapers, a small percentage chose it not necessary to promote.

Two important results were seen when people were asked whether firms were successful in areas of social responsibility such as ‘education’, ‘sport’ and ‘culture and the arts’. The first of these was that, as was the case overall, Sabancı Holding ranked first in each of these separate categories. The second important result was that firms can make a difference in a particular category only if they provide, and intensively communicate, long-term, regular support to specific subjects.

Regardless the culture, however, great strides have been made towards integrating CSR into the core culture of major companies throughout the world. US companies as Chevron, GE and Microsoft have publicly committed to CSR and regularly report on CSR performance. Various European governments, meanwhile, also require companies to report on their social and environmental performances.

As tolerance for corporate malfeasance has been dropping throughout the years, expectations of good corporate behavior have risen. As a result, transparency and authenticity have become vital for all companies. Accordingly, corporate responsibility has become more important than ever.

Many companies had in the past had refused to acknowledge the problems lingering in the future such as environmental demise, social exclusion and basic human rights violations. The focus was on profit maximization no matter what the collateral damage.  Globalization and the impact of the internet in our days have forced individuals to become more mindful of their consuming habits and the impact globally thereof.  Companies have the responsibility, accordingly to be fully transparent on all of their actions to ensure competitive advantage and sustainability of their business.

Essentially, there are those who will categorize CSR as being about labor practices while others will seek environmental performance and sustainability through them.  Whichever the case currently, the requirement I hold essential for our future is one where individuals in general benefit from the existence of a company.  Therefore, it would prove irrational to oppose CSR that keeps a check on corporate practices benefiting all involved.

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