‘Corporate Social Responsibility is serious business in Africa’Consumer Products

The image of a company is very important. Would you want to work with a consultation company whose office was in shambles? We judge things often by their appearance, especially when seeing something for the first time. If you are an excellent company with a bad image or appearance then you may have loyal clients but new clients will be hard to get.

What does work, however, is the ability to present the company as being professional and experienced. When we walk into an office that is neatly arranged and greatly designed we immediately begin to think positively about the company.

According to Business for Social Responsibility, CSR simply means achieving commercial success in ways that honour ethical values and respect people, communities and the natural environment. This ranges from the respect for local labour laws, for example, to international human rights norms such as the UN Guiding Principles (GP). In other parts of the world, there are legislations in place to check the activities of businesses as well protect businesses from abuse either from the host community or even the government. What this means is that a business should have defined standards of operation – minimum wage, avoid child labour, respect the environment, ensure safe working environment, among others. There are also a number of international agreements and initiatives in different sectors aimed at protecting both employers and employees thereby ensuring business sustainability – international programmes such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Global Reporting Initiative, ISO 26000, Sustainable Palm Oil Initiative, United Nations Principle for Responsible Investment, etc. require multinational companies (MNCs) to apply CSR programmes globally.

Large international brands like General Electric, Unilever, GlaxoSmithKline, British American Tobacco, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Mars, Cargill, Carlsberg, Pepsico, Diageo, Schlumberger Oil, BP, Halliburton, Airtel, SAB Miller, etc. expect all their operations to comply with their corporate codes irrespective of country of operation. Suppliers must meet CSR standards for responsible sourcing, etc. The issue here though is implementation – are the standards the same across board both in the developed and developing economies?

For clarity, it may be good to apply another definition by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which defines CSR as, “the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.”

You can clearly understand from the above definition that what most organisations in this part of the world term as CSR is simply “Corporate Philanthropy” where they return a share of their profit to the society irrespective of the way they conduct their business. By developing a web page with photos of you building a small healthcare centre, classroom block or constructing a road for the host community does not mean that your organisation is CSR compliant. I often get amazed when in the process of research or otherwise, I come across company websites that involve in what I term as “Image Laundering”. Worst still is the fact that there are a number CSR awards being given out each year by a number of organisations that (with all due respect) don’t even know the true meaning of CSR. Here you have an organisation that may have not paid its workers a living wage, may have never conducted a CSR audit being given a CSR award by maybe an organisation that does not have a CSR professional and did not engage any CSR audit company to properly assess the activities of the organisation.

I have often challenged the merits for such awards. One can only conclude that this is another image laundering approach being deployed by some organisations which is made possible due to lack of good governance. Organisations are required to conduct annual CSR audits in most parts of the world to ascertain both existing and potential risks that the organisation may be facing and with the help of a qualified usually external CSR auditor(s), design an intervention CSR strategy to mitigate against such risks.

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