Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a “concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis” (European Commission). It refers to responsible corporate action beyond legal requirements. Essentially, it is a process whereby companies decide voluntarily to contribute to a better society and a cleaner environment. Globally, CSR practices have become a “development paradigm” in the last decade with Europe, America and Australia taking the leads. In the Nigerian context however, much has not been done or seen in this line. Something closer (but not CSR) we see around here is philanthropic gestures and advertorials embedded with political undertones and selfish motives.
While it is agreed that the sole aim for establishing any business entity is to make profit and still remain in business, CSR offers to enhance growth, social progress and environmental stewardship. It is somewhat synonymous to an adage that says- “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give!”
Factors driving the move towards corporate social responsibility
Globally, many factors are driving this move towards corporate social responsibility. Some are highlighted:
- New concerns and expectations from citizens, consumers, public authorities and investors in the context of globalization and large scale industrial change,
- Social criteria are increasingly influencing the investment decisions of individuals and institutions both as consumers and as investors,
- Increased concern about the damage caused by economic activity to the environment,
- Transparency of business activities brought about by the media and modern information and communication technologies.
In this regard, government and corporate organizations should come into terms with the idea of integrating corporate social responsibility as a strategic investment into their core business strategy, their management instruments and their operations. Being socially responsible means not only fulfilling legal expectations, but also going beyond compliance and investing “more” into human capital, the environment and the relations with stakeholders (e.g. training, working conditions, management-employee relations) can also have a direct impact on productivity.
Dimensions to Corporate Social Responsibility
CSR can be approached from the following angles:
Environment-based CRS: Public concern regarding the impact of commercial activities on the environment has increased significantly in recent years. There is a growing awareness of the need to implement policies which enable sustainable development. Sustainable development requires the various pillars in society to find a balance between economic growth and social inclusion with the preservation of a healthy environment for future generations.
Environment-based CSR projects go beyond the legislative obligations and promote greener economic growth. The results of these projects are quantifiable and are measured as part of a pursuit for continuous improvement. The most successful CSR projects in this area are those that deliver solutions that are both environmentally and business friendly.
Environment-based CSR projects may not garner the same amount of publicity as those with a community focus; however, many SMEs find they provide substantial financial benefits as well as improving the firm’s image as an environmentally-aware company.
Community-based CSR: By their nature, community-based projects are generally the most visible aspects of a company’s CSR activities. These projects depend on direct interaction between the company and the community, generating economic and social vibrancy in the locality. A company builds on this goodwill by using their grassroots knowledge of the issues facing those living in the surrounding area to deliver an effective community-focused CSR strategy. Businesses are recognized as an integral part of the community, generating economic and social vibrancy in the locality. A company can build on this goodwill by using its grassroots knowledge of the issues facing those living in the surrounding area to deliver an effective community-focused CSR strategy.
Workplace-based CSR: Employees provide the know-how, productivity, customer service and innovativeness necessary for business activity. Therefore, the continued success of a company is reliant on the commitment of its staff. Employers should seek to put in place policies that promote the retention and development of their staff and nurture workplace environments that will attract recruits of the highest calibre. Workplace CSR projects can affect many different areas of a company’s HR policy such as health and safety, the work-life balance of employees, staff diversity and cultural awareness.
A healthy balance between the work and non-work aspects of employee’s lives is essential in order to avoid burn out of staff and for retaining a committed, motivated and innovative workplace environment. An intercultural workplace takes account of the different ethnic and social backgrounds of its staff and implements policies which ensure an inclusive working environment that is supportive of diversity.
Taking the advantage of CSR in greening the Nigerian Economy:
Green Economy, a recent phenomenon in the global quest for sustainable development is an economy in which there is an improved sense of human wellbeing and social equity, with reduced environmental and ecological risks. UNEP defines it as “[An economy] which is low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive.” Greening the Nigerian economy through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) should be seen as a win-win. Currently, the Nigerian government is too involved in the downstream energy sector while attempts at privatization is either not being pursued vigorously or is riddled with corruption. With the near collapse of our refineries, dismantling of NITEL and Nigeria Airways, the incompetence of PHCN and lack of focus in the “Gas Master Plan,” it is becoming evident that the Nigerian government has no business in managing corporations. So, what will it take to green Nigeria’s economy?
Greening the Nigeria economy should be seen as a long-term project that requires broad commitment and action. First is the realization that the government and corporations use resources and generate a great deal of waste in conducting their business. They should thus take leadership in environmental protection and utilize cleaner technologies in their operations. For the government, targeted policy reforms and regulations that will encourage private investment and force us to rethink in the way we conduct business.
At the corporation level, what Nigeria needs is successful corporate leaders that are moving their companies from business as usual towards a restorative enterprise. The companies have to make firm commitment to resource efficiency, environmental-social responsibility and sustainability.
For any plan to be effective, it must be backed by proactive legislation that can be enforced by the necessary regulatory bodies.
A holistic approach towards Corporate Social Responsibility
Amongst others, approaches should be all encompassing, including:
- Social responsibility integrated management
- Social responsibility reporting and auditing
- Quality in work
- Social and eco-labels
- Socially responsible investment
“Public policy also has a key role in encouraging a greater sense of corporate social responsibility and in establishing a framework to ensure that businesses integrate environmental and social considerations into their activities … Business should be encouraged to take a pro-active approach to sustainable development in their operations in Nigeria.”
Also, voluntary codes of conduct can contribute to promote international labour standards; their effectiveness however depends on proper implementation and verification. Codes of conduct should therefore be based on the International Labour Organization (ILO) fundamental Conventions, as identified in the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines for multinational enterprises, involving the social partners and those in developing countries covered by them.
Finally, I would like to borrow three of the nine (9) Laws of Excellence: the Law of Deferred Gratification (Pay Now, Play Later OR Play Now Pay Later); the Law of Compensation [sowing/harvest] (Life gives back you what you give to it with interest), and the Law of Responsibility (You are responsible for who/where/what you are). These laws will positively impact our perception on CSR. All we need is clear vision. Only our vision ignites our passion and our passion fuels our commitment. “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision is merely passing time. But vision with action can change the world.”- Nelson Mandela.
Julius Ibukun Agboola, Ph.D
Lecturer and Environmental Scientist, Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos, Nigeria.