Key corporate social responsibility issue areas

What are the main areas that companies tend to report against in terms of their corporate social responsibility (CSR)? These are the main four areas that emerged from the 'Winning with Integrity' framework by Business in the Community in 2000, which were adopted as common labels by other organisations and by many companies.

Marketplace

The central issue area is that of marketplace issues - in other words, how your business shows responsibility in how it makes its money. How much value do your goods and services create? What are the costs they impose on society? Do you approach the selling process with integrity and honesty? Do you buy from suppliers fairly and pay your bills on time? Do those suppliers share your values - or do they use practices such as child or forced labour?

It's not just about ethical niche brands that sell specifically to customers that are activist shoppers. It's about the expectations that underpin the trust between the company and its customers, its suppliers and its shareholders.

How do you retain trust? You deliver on your promises, you look after the other person's interests, and if you get it wrong, you help to put it right again.

Simple really! But of the social responsibility issues that most get companies into the spotlight for the wrong reason - it is usually marketplace issues.

Environment

Climate change looms large over the future of successful business. We now better now than at any time before how high the stakes have become. Anyone with children has a stake in future generations and the ability of the environment to support life. But environmental good practice is also about business efficiency - it's about the best use of valuable raw materials, and feeding the benefits of action straight through to the bottom line.

Can companies take customers with them in their attempt to reduce their environmental impact? Can we design successful businesses that add value to people's lives without having to make more and more "stuff" that has a high environmental cost? And when we really get to grips with the huge cuts in carbon emissions we will need to meet, will companies be able to rise to the challenge.

Workplace

One of your company's biggest positive impacts on society will be the jobs you provide, and the wealth you put into the community via the wages you pay. But a big positive can be a big minus if you discriminate - or you provide soul destroying meaningless work that takes no account of your people's right to a private life. And the simple fact of the matter is that if people are your company's greatest asset, you need to invest seriously to begin to realise the returns.

You employ a lot of people - but how much do you really get from them? If you pay out good money to recruit talent, but then find you can't keep hold of it, it may be that you're missing out on a basic truth of human nature - people need to be developed, and challenged, and nurtured for them to be motivated to meet your business goals. And if you hold people back because of their sex, or the colour of their skin - or you insist that if they've left the office before 7pm they don't have what it takes to make a senior manager, or if you think training is a mugs game because people might leave - then you're certainly not getting the most from your recruitment.

Recent surveys of business leaders have suggested that the ability to recruit and hold onto key talent is one of the biggest emerging issues for businesses. And there is plenty of evidence as well that the corporate reputation of the business - including its social responsibilty - is seen as a key factor for a significant number of recent graduates considering where they should go.

Community

  • A successful company needs to operate in a healthy, thriving community - the kind of community your employees will want to live in, with the kind of schools they will want to send their kids to. If you think your business can be a little island of prosperity in a sea of deprivation, think again.
  • And come to that, you need to be seen as a good neighbour to those communities. If you want to operate well, and to be able to expand or change when the time is right, you need the goodwill that comes of being an active supporter of the community - not a hostile intruder.
  • What are the impacts upon the local community of your business processes? Are you the kind of firm you yourself would want to live next to? If not, how does that affect your "licence to operate" with the community that does?
  • Do your employees see you as caring about the communities in which they live? Do you involve them in taking an approach to investing in those communities? If not, just how much could you benefit by getting them on your side to improve the situation?

This article is adapted from one that was originally published on our sister website, mallenbaker.net

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