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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » October 27, 2011
The Voice of Scandinavia
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Corporate Social Responsibility Polish and Scandinavian Approach
October 27, 2011   
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Corporate social responsibility (CSR) designates a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model. CSR is voluntary, as it reaches beyond the minimum legal requirements, taking into account companies’ integrated social and environmental concerns in their business operations and relations with stakeholders.

The basic idea behind CSR is responsible and ethical behavior of business groups, which includes the greatest possible respect for the natural environment. CSR policy functions as a built-in, self-regulating mechanism whereby business monitors and ensures its active compliance with the spirit of the law, ethical standards, and international norms. The goal of CSR is to embrace responsibility for the company’s actions and encourage a positive impact through its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere.

The term “corporate social responsibility” came into common use in the late 1960s and early 1970s, after the establishment of many multinational corporations. The concept of CSR has been considerably extended in comparison to its historical origins and it is still a subject of public debate. The increased interest in building a socially responsible business model is a result of four main elements:
1) the idea of sustainable development, stressing the need to consider social and environmental factors in business, in addition to the economic dimension;
2) development of civil society, demand for an increased role for human rights, focus on health and safety, consumer protection and reduction of the impact of economic activities on the environment;
3) business self-regulation toward increasing the transparency of business and its consequences, including a reduction in corruption and unethical behavior;
4) the ongoing globalization process, as a result of which companies’ voluntary initiatives in CSR are seen as evidence of compliance with best business practices.

For many years, the commonly used argument in Poland and other countries in transition was that the economy was not mature enough to take into account social and environmental issues, that companies still had to fight for survival on the market.

In September, a survey showed that only 12 of Poland’s 100 largest companies publish corporate social responsibility reports and that only 29 reports have been published altogether so far.

The good news is that in 2010 twice as many reports were published as in 2009. Most CSR reports are published by companies from the energy and fuel and gas sectors. Banks are also among those who submit regular reports. Of the 29 reports, 12 meet international reporting standards as set out in the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The figure is three times as high as in 2009, when only four reports were published in accordance with GRI standards.

In 2009, Sustainable Business: A Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises was developed at the request of the Polish Ministry of the Economy. The handbook provides information about available tools and practices in CSR, which can be applied by Polish businesses and it highlights areas in which a competitive advantage can be achieved.

In Scandinavian countries, the idea of CSR has met with understanding and enthusiasm. The annual Reputation Quotient survey is conducted in each country to outline the reputation of the companies most visible among the general public. The survey shows that the public in Scandinavian countries generally agrees that companies are responsible for more than just their financial performance as evaluated by their shareholders. In three countries, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, less than 10 percent of respondents believe that companies are only responsible to their shareholders. In Denmark, almost half those surveyed believe that companies should take on a broader responsibility that covers more than employees and customers. In Sweden and Norway, from 30 to over 60 percent of those polled say that companies are responsible toward shareholders, employees and customers plus they should have a broader social responsibility.

In Denmark, A.P. Møller, Novo Nordisk, Grundfoss, Danfoss, Lego, Oticon, and Carlsberg top the list among companies with the best CSR record. In Sweden, the list opens with IKEA and also includes Arla Foods, ICA, and Volvo. In Norway, NRK, Coop, and Hydro lead the way.

Swedish business has a reputation for being fair, honest and transparent. Corporate social responsibility is a core aspect of doing business in Sweden, which is why the environment, gender equality, human rights and lack of corruption are central issues for many companies there. Sweden was the first country to require sustainability reports from state-owned companies, which is only one of many examples of just how seriously Swedish society takes CSR. Account Ability’s 2007 Responsible Competitiveness Index (RCI) ranked Sweden as the country that is doing the most to increase its business competitiveness through responsible business practices.

In Denmark, CSR work is voluntary for businesses. Danish businesses are free to choose whether or not they wish to work on CSR. However, there is a statutory requirement as of 2009 that large businesses in Denmark must take a position on CSR in their annual reports. The aim is to inspire businesses to take an active position on social responsibility and communicate this. The statutory requirement is part of the government’s action plan for CSR (May 2008) and is intended to help improve the international competitiveness of Danish trade and industry.

In Norway, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs published the white paper “Corporate social responsibility in a global economy” in 2009. The purpose of this publication was to raise awareness about social responsibility in both the private and the public sectors. The Norwegian government has a positive impression of Norwegian companies’ ability and willingness to contribute in this area, and the white paper was intended to strengthen this commitment. The aim was to clarify the authorities’ expectations of the private sector, and to boost Norwegian companies’ motivation and ability to exercise social responsibility, by strengthening guidance and advisory measures, and increasing openness, dialogue and exchange of experience between the authorities and the private sector.

At least 30-40 big Finnish companies have already mainstreamed CSR thinking. Many of these companies are also active on the Polish market. Among them are Nokia, UPM-Kymmene, Stora Enso, Raisio. An important and interesting initiative is the Finnish Business & Society network, which is a means for companies from different business sectors to promote corporate social responsibility. A small but visible opportunity for CSR is also the nomination of Helsinki as a Design Capital of Europe for 2012.

The Responsible Business Forum in Estonia is a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire and support the development of CSR in Estonian society. Even though Estonian businesses tend to be proactive rather than reactive, different factors, such as the nature of ownership, business sector, historical background and business culture, have an impact on the perception of CSR in Estonia and on what happens in this area. Since Estonia is a member of the European Union and is increasingly integrated into the European market, where CSR is becoming a separate professional field, the drive for CSR is inevitable.

CSR is also taken seriously by the Scandinavian-Polish Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw. CSR Forum is a platform for the exchange of experiences as well as best practices and ideas within the framework of CSR initiatives of chamber members. The aim of the Forum is to identify needs and expectations with regard to CSR activities and name areas of common interests.

A socially responsible company is an organization that on the one hand remains open and listens to its social environment, and on the other draws conclusions and takes appropriate actions in all areas of its activity. Such an approach means taking care of having good relations with not only customers and shareholders but also employees, suppliers and regional societies.

Robert Kamionowski, partner at Peter Nielsen & Partners
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