Corporate Social Hype?

Everyone’s shouting about CSR, but few companies are actually doing anything, says Andrew White.
By Andrew White
Mon 22 Feb 2010 10:30 AM

For the last few years, CEOs and chairmen have been assuring me that in today’s world, you can’t exist without a CSR programme. Customers care and so must companies; it’s all about becoming a part of the community, working towards a sustainable future, and giving our children a chance, or whatever other cute but vague phrase is in style at the moment.

“Without CSR we have no future,” the chairman of a large Gulf bank told me solemnly last week. “We really care about people,” he added, before going on to discuss the spectacular bonuses the group is awarding its senior management on the back of a solid-but-unremarkable 2009.

So is CSR really ‘the future’? At the very minimum, CSR is organising a book drive at the local school, planting a tree, or buying those lightbulbs that take an age to reach full brightness, but don’t kill the planet quite as fast as regular ones. But even that is a little too much to ask of most UAE firms, at least according to the findings of a new survey.

More than 90 percent of the organisations which responded to a Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry survey admitted they do not follow any CSR policies or practices.

The poll, which is the first comprehensive national survey on the subject and covered all seven emirates, targeted business leaders at several hundred companies. It looked in detail at managers’ awareness, attitudes and perceptions towards CSR, the drivers and challenges for CSR implementation, and the level and nature of existing CSR practices.

Covering four areas of CSR practice - the community, natural environment, marketplace, and workplace – the findings show that there is an excellent level of awareness of CSR in the UAE. However, the overwhelming majority of responding businesses do not at present adopt CSR policies and practices associated with auditing, monitoring and reporting CSR activities, or set CSR-related objectives.

Put simply, everybody knows that CSR is out there and a Good Thing that they really should be doing. But very few are actually getting their hands dirty.

There’s also a distinct lack of long-term commitment. According to the survey, around 40 percent of organisations make their contributions to local communities through cash donations. But less than 10 percent make investments via grants, by creating a foundation, or providing loans for sustainable social or environmental activities.

There are no doubt firms that do a great job and are genuinely committed to education, healthcare and the environment, but the DCCI survey paints a pretty miserable picture overall. And the fact that so few companies are prepared to make any long-term investment suggests that they don’t believe CSR is ‘the future’ either.

Companies are aware of CSR – of its positive impact on image, reputation, relations with the government, and customer loyalty - and we’re inundated with hype about the latest and greatest adventures in the realm of community sustainability. Given the figures, a cynic might argue that certain firms are banging the CSR drum to attract customers’ attention, but delivering on few of their people-centred promises.

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