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Global Business Initiative: Corporate Social Responsibility Symposium

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Our annual regional Symposium 2006 attracted government officials, international experts, entrepreneurs and more than three hundred decision-makers from various industries. Everyone actively engaged in exploring how government and enterprises could work to implement and promote corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Widely supported by government officials from the Pearl River Delta, honourable guests included Mr. Francis Ho, JP, Permanent Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology, The Government of the HKSAR; Mr. Yi Zhongqiang, Assistant to Mayor, Jiangmen Municipal People's Government; Dr. Chiang Coc Meng, President of the Housing Bureau, The Government of the Macao SAR and Mr. Yue Chi-hang, JP, Director of Architectural Services, The Government of the HKSAR.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all speakers, honourable sponsors and supporting organizations for making this symposium so memorable. For more information, please visit our website http://www.hkqaa.org.

In this issue, three international speakers share insights into the global development of CSR.

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Dr. Kernaghan Webb, Professor, Business Law, Ryerson University, Canada

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Dr. Kernaghan Webb

VISION (V): Why are organizations placing such emphasis on social responsibility (SR) and sustainable development (SD) nowadays?

Dr. Kernaghan Webb (W): Global issues such as environmental degradation, infringement of internationally recognized human rights and workers' rights have sparked the drive for global solutions in SR and SD.

Increasingly, organizations operate in multiple jurisdictions, with manufacturing or resource extraction in developing countries and retail operations in developed countries.

Consumers, investors and lenders in developed countries expect organizations to consistently meet high standards of social, environmental and economic responsibility wherever they operate.

With advancement in telecommunication and technology, it becomes easier for non-governmental organizations to monitor and report on problems. Studies have shown them to be trusted sources of information as people are losing confidence in businesses as a result of cases like Enron.

(V): Why do organizations need ISO 26000 Social Responsibility (SR) Standard?

(W): Because of ISO 9000 for quality management and ISO 14000 for environmental management, ISO is probably the world's most recognized standards body.

A number of organizations have developed rules pertaining to SR but none has the reputation of ISO. Building on its existing standards, and using its multistakeholder development processes, an ISO SR standard is likely to be seen as authoritative guidance by all sizes of organizations everywhere.

Remarks: Dr. Kernaghan Webb can be contacted at kernaghan.webb@ryerson.ca


Mr. Sean Gilbert, Technical Director, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

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Mr. Sean Gilbert

VISION (V): Would you explain the impact of sustainability performance on an organization's competitiveness?

Mr. Sean Gilbert (G): An organization's sustainability performance enables such competitiveness:

  • Enhanced trust so there is stronger license to operate
  • Help to attract and retain the best employees
  • Tend to correlate with more efficient resource consumption and in industries like apparel and footwear production, better quality management
  • Stronger branding and preferential treatment in government procurement or from private sector buyers concerned about supply chain reputation
  • Better risk profile and improved access to capital from investors or the banking sector
  • Less likely to face operational disruptions due to problems with local communities
  • Greater trust from regulators may help speed permit approval processes

(V): As nearly 1,000 organizations globally have disclosed their sustainability performance with reference to the GRI Guidelines, what constitutes a good report?

(G): A good report is:

  • Concise
  • Covers material issues
  • Balanced - tells the good and the bad
  • Shows how sustainability affects the organization's business model
  • Expresses clear goals and targets
  • Provides results / performance data

(V): What are the main challenges for organizations to make a good report?

(G): Key challenges are securing senior management commitment as it requires making the case for reporting, having a clear set of objectives for why to report and how to effectively engage stakeholders. Companies may initially not be aware of how to engage with stakeholders and need time to learn which tools work the best.

For the most value, reporting can be used as a tool for dialogue and learning. This requires buy-in from everyone in the company and can become an active management tool rather than be a mere PR exercise.


Mr. Steven A. Jesseph, Vice Chairman of Board of Directors, President and Chief Executive Officer, Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP)

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Mr. Steven A. Jesseph

(V): Organizations usually have their own code of practice. How is WRAP different from such guidelines?
 
Mr. Steven A. Jesseph (J): The WRAP code is based, first, on the laws and regulations of each country, and on internationally recognized workplace standards. WRAP is a "rule-of-law" programme. Sections on the environment, customs compliance and security were added to make sure that our industry does its part to help protect the environment, to ensure smooth movement of goods across borders, and ensure we only ship our finished product in loaded containers. WRAP takes a "management systems" approach to compliance which means that a factory should assign staff for each principle, communicate and train the entire workforce as to what WRAP requires, and strive for compliance with all areas every day, not just on the days the audit is conducted. WRAP is a nonprofit organization with an eleven-member Board of Directors, and has participation from twenty-one trade associations around the world including two in Hong Kong.

(V): What is the relationship between SR and the competitiveness of organizations?

(J): There is a direct correlation between companies that adopt the policies and procedures required by WRAP and their ability to improve their profitability, productivity and competitive position. Take the issue of human resources management. If a factory pays all their workers their legally entitled pay and benefits, treats them with dignity and respect, provides a safe and healthy working environment, then the factory sees reduced employee turnover, a happier workforce that is more productive and focused on quality. The factory then becomes more efficient and profitable - and competitive.

(V): Why do organizations nowadays have growing emphasis on SR?
 
(J): Over the last fifteen years, as consumers become more sophisticated, they demand assurance that products they buy are made under legal and fair conditions. Brands and retailers do not want to be associated with factories that operate in conditions which will embarrass their executives and reputation. Just like price, quality and delivery times, social compliance is very quickly becoming part of doing business in today's global marketplace.


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(This article is published in "Vision", Issue 22, December 2006.)

In case of any discrepancies between English and Chinese version, the English version shall prevail.

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