Corporate responsibility: You can't afford to ignore it

How can your business gain a unique competitive edge? Although vitally important, the answer may not lie solely with innovative products, price point or even convenience. 

How can your business gain a unique competitive edge? Although vitally important, the answer may not lie solely with innovative products, price point or even convenience. 

Using your resources, skills and profits to help communities in need may also give your business a competitive advantage.

The corporate responsibility concept (CR, also known as ‘CSR’, corporate social responsibility) helps businesses respond to the ethical, legal, environmental and social expectations of their stakeholders, while at the same time helping them achieve their economic imperatives. Underpinning CR is the notion that companies can, and should, do their part to make a meaningful and positive contribution to the community.

CR combines business management tools, such as global reporting guidelines, governance, risk management processes, supply chains, labour standards, reduction of carbon emissions and anti-corruption measures, with philanthropy, such as volunteering, fundraising, donations and community engagement.

CR is quickly becoming mainstream for forward-thinking businesses. One of the key drivers has been the development of the global community, greatly assisted by the rise of social media, which has brought together citizens advocating for people and the planet. Their concerns include climate change and adaptation, food and water security, increased global tensions and the ever present divide between rich and poor.

Against that backdrop, a well-structured, carefully-coordinated and well-executed CR program can bring a business competitive advantages, such as:

  • Increased customer loyalty.
  • Favourable community and government support.
  • Improved brand image and reputation.
  • Increased sales, higher profits, investor attraction.
  • Operational cost savings.
  • Enhanced innovation.

Crucially, beyond competitive advantages, CR programs also have the ability to make a huge and lasting impact on communities. So what can your company do? Here’s how to properly structure a CR program from the top.

  • Resources and personnel: Resource your CR program properly and employ the right sized team to lead the charge. 
  • Stakeholder engagement: Identify who your internal and external stakeholders are and consider how your company's activities affect them. 
  • Policies and procedures: Get your house in order. Ensure your suite of policies addresses key areas of risk, including health and safety, supply chain management, environmental and community impact and anti-corruption. 
  • Reporting: Integrate your strategic plan with your policies and procedures and link them to the legal, ethical, social and environmental imperatives of your stakeholders. Then track and report on performance. 
  • Community investment: Give back to your local community as well as your workforce. The options are unlimited, but should be closely aligned with your core business. Use your existing competencies for the betterment of the community.

CR must help, not hinder, business, so it is important that CR fits with your company's needs, capacities and priorities and doesn't impede its economic viability. For more on CR visit the website of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Daniel Creasey is Special Counsel, Director of Corporate Responsibility at CBP Lawyers.

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