A group of 25 representatives from government, business and civil society in the region met in Singapore in March 2007 to discuss the current status of CSR policies and implementation, particularly in the area of environmental management and sustainability in both the public and private sectors in Asia and the Pacific.
The meeting, called the APFED Policy Dialogue, was jointly organized by the SIIA and its NetRes (Asia-Pacific Network of Research Institutes) partner in Japan, the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES). The Dialogue was chaired by Assoc. Prof. Simon SC Tay, Chairman of SIIA, and Dr. Cielito Flores Habito, Professor and Director of the Ateneo Center for Economic Research and Development (ACERD), Philippines.
According to Guest-of-Honour Dr. Amy Khor, Senior Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (Singapore), the Dialogue provided a “much-needed intervention to focus CSR efforts for environmental management to promote a sustainable Asia and the Pacific.”
Five themes emerged from ensuing presentations and discussions amongst the expert stakeholders. First, there have been a number of variations in defining CSR to explore its potential and challenges. Examples include the ‘triple bottom line’ (addressing economic, social and environmental concerns), Global Compact’s ethical business behaviours (human rights, labour standards, environment, and anti-corruption), Global Reporting Initiatives (GRI), SA8000, and the ISO26000 SR (social responsibility) principles that will be launched in 2008.
The participants were in consensus that the definition of CSR extends well beyond philanthropy. Rather CSR looks to enhancing sustainable development through the improvement of business operations, good corporate governance and accountability, and responsibility for long-term positive socio-economic impact. Further, a tripartite collaboration among business, civil society and government can generate win-win scenarios or acceptable compromises.
Second, participants acknowledged that environmental degradation and inequality continue to characterise the negative impacts of the Asia’s rapid economic growth, with limited institutional capacity by governments to manage the problem. For example, the region faces an ongoing barrage of trans-boundary environmental problems in the form of sand and dust storms in Northeast Asia, and haze pollution in Southeast Asia. Experts at the roundtable argued that such problems can present opportunities for customised CSR initiatives to target specific limitations in the region, like the present lack of inter-government frameworks and the concentration of corporate ownership on families and conglomerates.
Present initiatives shared by the presenters are promising, such as Singapore Compact’s tripartite approach involving business, government and labour, Thailand’s labour standard certificate system (TLS), and Indonesia’s Environmental Performance Rating Programme (PROPER). Elsewhere, opportunities for regional collaboration on CSR are available, such as the existing platforms of ASEAN, APEC, ASEM, and via UNESCAP’s “Green Growth” inititative, which promotes the improvement of ecological efficiency and resource use in the pattern of economic growth in Asiaand the Pacific.
Third, the participants also focused on the theme of CSR and Business, to highlight the potential to be found in supply chain management, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), public-private partnerships (PPP), socially responsible investment (SRI), and micro-financing. The participants felt that ways to empowering stakeholders could take many different forms, such as the giving of awards to recognise and encourage good CSR practices, as practiced by the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), Philippines, the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), and Singapore Compact.
To improve business practices, participants stressed the need to examine the implementation of CSR policies across the trans-national corporations’ headquarters and subsidiaries as well as their supply chain partners. SMEs should also adopt a more proactive role in promoting CSR with assistance from the government, industrial associations or MNCs. Participants discussed the usefulness of establishing ‘mentoring’-type relationships between MNCs with good CSR practices and SMEs who might be willing to adopt CSR as an integrated business practice, but did not know how or lacked the capacity to do so.
Fourth, participants pointed to the vital role that civil society (consumer groups, trade unions and NGOs) plays in promoting CSR, empowering consumers, and promoting multi-stakeholder partnership. For example, these players can spearhead initiatives such as CSR campaigns to raise public awareness (e.g., Singapore’s Climate Change Organisation), CSR ratings to catalyse additional activities, and promote market development with an aim to influence consumers (e.g., Korea’s Eco-Products Institute).
Finally, there was general consensus that governments have a critical role to play in various domains through different measures, such as providing enabling policy environments, developing appropriate legislative measures for promoting corporate activities compatible with environmental management and sustainable development policies, creating law/rule based governance, and supporting market based measures such as labelling. In Asia and the Pacific, political will and the necessary government endorsement for CSR initiatives was seen as a welcome move in encouraging and prompting CSR implementation in the private sector.
During the final session, the participants made a series of nine recommendations as part of a Chairman’s Summary to highlight futurechallenges and promote policy processes pertaining to CSR in Asia. Copies of the Summary will be circulated in subsequent CSR meetings such as the Shell-SIIA Forum on CSR and Environment (April 07), UNESCAP's Green Growth Policy Dialogue (June 07), the APFED meeting (August 07), and the CSR Asia Summit (November 07). The nine recommendations are:
(i) Common understanding should be further promoted among stakeholders on the importance of promoting CSR in the context of pursuing environmental management and sustainable development in the region that could contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals;
(ii) CSR strategies for the region should be compatible with international standards;
(iii) Corporations and business entities are further encouraged to promote CSR, and to release information on corporate and CSR activities through sustainability or CSR reports following standards and indicators that are developed, for instance, by GRI and SA8000. CSR auditing/verification may be considered involving stakeholders and third party professionals;
(iv) Capacity development is a basic need for all sectors in promoting CSR. Business associations, governments, NGOs, trade unions and international partners are encouraged to develop partnership to support capacity development processes aimed at promoting CSR;
(v) CSR is evolving over the time. It is vital to build and strengthen mechanisms and network for information sharing on good practices in the areas of CSR;
(vi) Studies and research work on the mechanisms of CSR and multi-stakeholder partnership and their impacts should be supported, to provide useful lessons and recommendations. Inter-regional comparative analyses are useful in this context;
(vii) Governments should play their expected role in promoting CSR as they are responsible for providing enabling policy frameworks and undertaking other measures to support CSRs;
(viii) Consideration should be also given to the proposal to develop a regional synthesis and policy document on CSR for Asia and the Pacific highlighting achievements, future potentials and challenges for effectively promoting CSR in Asia in the context of pursuing environmental management and sustainable development in the region; and
(ix) In order to promote CSR activities and related processes in Asia, the relevant networks and institutions should pursue collaboration, and support should be given to such networking and partnership development. Governments have to provide enabling frameworks for CSR to flourish.