During the last week, we have seen the Asian Forum on CSR in Bangkok,
and the Ethical Corporation Asia Conference in Singapore. You could not
have had two more different events had one of them taken place on the
The Asian Forum on CSR was a lively, well-attended event, with a broad spectrum of social campaign groups, public sector and businesses looking at a range of compelling stories and case studies of business engagement with some of the starkest issues facing Asia. This included programmes targeted on poverty alleviation, environmental improvement and AIDS. The conference operated through plenaries and a series of breakout sessions, including one stream where delegates nominated titles for the breakouts.
The event was completed with the first Asian Forum CSR Awards, that saw recognition given to companies that had demonstrated their commitment to CSR over the previous year in an event that included a speech on CSR by the Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.
No attendance list was given, but the impression was that there were maybe one third businesses present. The focus was almost consistently on social programmes � the breakout that Mallen spoke at on communicating with stakeholders, and one other on labour issues, counted as the exception. The impression was given that there is a growing network of CSR organisations appearing across Asia � and these local partnerships are beginning to provide a focus for growing levels of corporate engagement.
On the other hand, Ethical Corporation had a smaller audience of around 100 delegates � but of these 75 percent were business. The presentations were nearly all from business � and were much more focused on corporate behaviour and performance. This included environmental performance, labour rights and supply chain management, stakeholder dialogue and reporting. It was the missing element from the Asian Forum � had the two been blended together into one event, you would have had a fully rounded representation of the different facets of CSR as they relate to Asia.
One striking feature of both, however, was the extent to which the business voices were the local representatives of multinational corporations. Coca-Cola, GAP, Philip Morris, Unocal, DHL, Standard Chartered � and many others. There were a few home-grown representatives � Sony talked eloquently about its values and approach at Ethical Corporation, the Tata Group was represented at the Asian Forum � but these were notable as exceptions. The suggestion seemed to be that CSR in Asia is currently the engagement of multinational corporations in their responsibilities to the region, and the impact on home grown companies of the supply chain pressure of said companies. Whether this is truly representative of the situation on the ground, or whether it simply reflected difficulties with the evolving language of CSR for home-grown companies is not clear.
So, what were some of the stories that came out? The first place to look must be the Asian Forum CSR Awards. These had five categories.
The category for Environmental Excellence was won by Nestle Philippines for its 'greening the supply chain� programme. The programme, running over the last couple of years, set out from board level to encourage business partners to adopt environmental management. The company has now recruited 55 more of its 300 or so suppliers to join the scheme. The Greening the Supply Chain programme aims to encourage sound environmental practices, as well as realising economic benefits. Carton supplier Unibox Packaging Corp involved its workforce in devising an environmental management system that allowed the company to reduce waste by 8%, water consumption by 15% and energy consumption by 8%. Unibox is now seeking ISO 9001 and eventually 14001 certification.
Commended in this category were also Unilever Indonesia for its �sustainable, clean Brantas� programme, and MTRC Hong Kong.
The winner of the �best CSR policies� category was Union Cement Philippines. The company�s CSR policy focuses on education (providing scholarships, school facilities and equipment), livelihood (improving the family income and enhancing the quality of life of host communities) and infrastructure (supporting shelter programmes in various communities working in partnership).
There were commendations for Unocal Thailand and Central Azucarera de Don Pedro, Philippines.
The Education category was taken by Tata Consulting Services India, for its programme using computer programmes to eradicate illiteracy. Runners up were the Coca-Cola Foundation India, HSBC Philippines and IBM Computer Eyes programme.
The category for Poverty Alleviation was won by Hindalco Industries, with its programme focused on the adoption of villages in India. Runners up included Allen & Overy Hong Kong and Seylan Bank, Sri Lanka.
A special achievement award was granted to the long-running Philippine Business for Social Progress.
If there had been an award for the most compelling story, told in the most entertaining way, it would undoubtedly have gone to Senator Mechai Viravaidya, the founder and board chairman of Population and Community Development Association (PDA) of Thailand. He told the story of PDA, which runs programmes based on the belief that local people are best suited to shape and sustain their own development. It has been involved in the promotion of family planning (leading Mechai to become labelled as the �condom king�). 12,000 volunteers distributed condoms to over 16,000 villages. PDA programmes now cover one third of the country.
Other programmes have targeted water resource development, constructing sanitation facilities side by side with community awareness campaigns, making a real contribution to the reduction of the primary causes of poor health and parasitic infection.
Mechai has particularly been controversial for his passionate and consistant view that programmes work best that empower women to take a full role in the economic life of the villages, believing that they are often the most effective agents of change. When the time came for questions following his presentation, this was the first point to be questioned. �You have two arms�, he stated in response. �Why would you use only one of them?�
There is no doubt that the business attendees at the Ethical Corporation conference found more there of interest, however � given its emphasis on practical examples of how businesses manage their social responsibilities. So, for instance, Kean Chan talked about Sony�s approach to corporate citizenship, which included an impressive range of activities and commitments on sustainable development, including a zero waste to landfill policy and the development of eco-efficiency indicators.
The company is now well advanced in its approach to total lifecycle assessment for its products � work that was informed by the problems its experienced when the discovery of Cadmium deposits on its Playstation units led to dented performance during a key Christmas period.
The Asian Forum was more a celebration of the difference businesses can make � the companies there were inspired by some of the human stories, but may also have left thinking that CSR is all about philanthropy. For this to become a more rounded view, whatever form the Forum takes next year should incorporate more of the core business message promoted by Ethical Corporation � perhaps there could be a partnership there?
An Article from Business Respect, Issue Number
63, dated 23 Sep 2003
By Mallen Baker