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CSR - What it means to the businesses in the region

Written by Minju Kim.

There are many definitions on the term 'Corporate Social Responsibility' or CSR. The most commonly quoted ones are:

Triple Bottomline: Values and criteria for measuring organisational success: economic, ecological and social (John Elkington, 1997)

Sustainable Development: The type of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (UN World Commission on Environment and Development,1987)

More practically, CSR is about mutual relationship between a business and everyone around it – i.e. customers, employees, business partners, the community and the environment – that aims to maximise businesses' positive impact and reduce their negative externalities in society.  Implementing this global concept therefore requires a clear understanding of local needs and industry context.

Many businesses in Asia may not be aware of or use the term “CSR”, but relationships they maintain with clients, employees, business partners and the local community are more often than not built on trust, and embed a responsible approach to business. In a small, open and regulated market like Singapore, where there is a limited talent pool and clientele, reputation has always been critical to the success of companies. In other words, there is a strong correlation between business excellence and what we now call “CSR practices”.  These include product/service quality, trust-based partnerships and fair operating practices.

Such characteristics, combined with Singapore’s national commitment to anti-corruption and environmental sustainability, have created a unique business landscape in which CSR, in substance, was a de facto license to operate and a prerequisite for business survival.

CSR has nonetheless been regarded as a costly affair because it seemed to involve with everything but business. Not surprisingly, we have heard many comments, like:

  • “I have no staff hours to plant trees or clean parks.”
  • "I know volunteering makes you feel good about yourself, but my employees are too busy to do volunteering.”
  • “I am busy surviving. No time and money to donate.”
  • “Call me a cynic. I think numerous charity events and green washing activities are public relations exercise. I'd rather focus on my business.”

But, let's get straight to what truly matters in CSR, and see how they are relevant to business:

  • Enhancing your work environment and office culture, reducing staff turnover
  • Hiring based on merit
  • Improving power / water efficiency
  • Minimising waste, enhancing productivity
  • Developing employees and raising their competitiveness
  • Seeking customer feedback, improving customer satisfaction
  • Ensuring product safety
  • Guaranteeing customer privacy

Well-implemented CSR practices can help raise productivity. Good employee welfare gets you good employees, and helps you keep them.  Making better use of raw materials keeps your costs down.  Managing environmental health and safety will reduce the potentially costly crises that your company could face.

CSR is about product innovation, resource productivity and timely investments.  It is about becoming an employer of choice, about business competitiveness, and of course, about making money.

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