Friday, 30 July 2010

The relationship between CSR and policy

I’m not going to get into the specifics of South Africa’s mining policy environment, but I read Frans Cronje’s opinion piece in Business Day, “Engaging the State” with interest – and found a surprising take on CSR – not something I’d expected to come across within the topic.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch has produced a report that looks at some of the challenges facing the metals and mining industry in SA, and how the policy environment made it difficult to try and split
Anglo American into international and South African assets to unlock value.

Without getting into the ins and outs of mining rights and politics, Cronje,
deputy CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations, is making the point that the government should not be afraid to enter into dialogue with the private sector in these circumstances. So not to ignore or challenge reports that critique the system, but to welcome the views of an engaged private sector, given the common goal of setting South Africa onto a path of further, better socio-economic development.

What made me sit up was Cronje’s point that “The government would be wise to see the report as a refreshing example of true corporate social responsibility — so different from the cliched vegetable gardens or soup kitchens that have come to pass as corporate social responsibility for many companies.”

I don’t think that most company CSR policies come down to soup kitchens and vegetable gardens, there’s incredible work being done on a large scale, but his point that a business’ engagement with government on hard issues could be seen as CSR is an interesting one. For all the definitions of CSR, self-regulation, giving back and creating a positive impact, managing the impact of a business on society, policy is rarely included.

Should corporate social responsibility directly address and take actions to support or work towards policies that also aim to create a positive impact on the economy, as well as the community?

In many large organisations the CSR departments don’t even sit in the same building as the policy people. There are, however, businesses that have aligned the work they do within community to highlight problems and try to force governments to recognise where policy needs to change. The danger is extrapolating Cronje’s point too far, when business feels it can criticise and pressurise governments in the name of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ without fulfilling the actual social impact part.

Where there is a connection between CSR intentions and policy requirements, there is more impact and an opportunity for aligning economic and social agendas – if governments listen, of course.

No comments:

Post a Comment