Corporate social responsibility catches on

Those with good CSR track records seem to fare better during crisis

About 30 children, aged 4 to 13, and their parents measuring the girth of the Tembusu tree at the Singapore Botanic Gardens as part of the Young Arborist Programme, a joint community project by NParks and HSBC for schools. ST PHOTO: BRYAN VAN DER BEEK

CEMENT supplier Holcim has made the best from waste by developing a "green concrete" formula that eliminates the need for sand.

With the new formula, Holcim no longer has to worry about the rising price of sand due to shortages. Also, its environmentally friendly ways have helped the Swiss company fulfil its corporate social responsibility (CSR) to society.

Holcim Singapore is one of a growing number of organisations here that are acknowledging the importance of CSR - the ethical or moral way to do business.

The term covers issues ranging from whether companies procure goods in a responsible way, such as by not using child labour, to how it treats its employees and its activities in the community.

This year, another 50 or so organisations have joined the Singapore Compact for CSR, a national society that develops and promotes ethical policies and practices here, bringing the total to 240 since it was launched in 2005. Some 70 of them also subscribe to a global standard, the United Nations Global Compact network, where they report CSR activities yearly.

Singapore Compact executive director Thomas Thomas said that he was confident the number would go up. The global financial crisis has also made companies think of ways to be sustainable, Mr Thomas added, noting that companies like HSBC Bank and Standard Chartered, which have good CSR track records, seemed to come out better than those that did not.

HSBC, for example, pays for environmental protection programmes in schools, and has a microfinancing programme to help rural communities pull themselves out of poverty.

SingTel, another company here which was commended for its CSR practices, particularly its corporate governance, said having such practices helps it "connect with stakeholders at a deeper level".

For instance, its good corporate governance practices help it achieve "sustainable, profitable performance", which pleases shareholders and investors. At the workplace, its focus on CSR "helps to attract and retain Generation X and Y staff", its spokesman said.

Surveys have shown that this group of employees choose jobs and measure job satisfaction by looking at how the company "behaves" and whether it is an upstanding member of society, he elaborated.

SingTel also gives its staff "volunteer leave", which can be used for activities like its first Plant-A-Tree Day in July, when its staff planted more than 200 trees in the Bukit Timah and MacRitchie nature reserves, as well as in Pasir Ris Drive 3.

Singapore Compact said it would organise more activities to spread awareness of CSR, such as through its inaugural International Singapore Compact CSR Summit to be held tomorrow and Wednesday.

Speakers at the conference include Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong, who is guest of honour, and Sweden's ambassador to Singapore, Mr Par Ahlberger, who will speak about CSR in Europe.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.