Thursday, July 30, 2009

CSR initiatives in developing countries.

Sweden was the first country to require sustainability reports from state-owned companies. This is just one example of how seriously Sweden takes Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The sustainability reports of state-owned companies are required to comply with Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines. GRI seeks to uphold global standards in sustainability reporting and make it easier for outsiders to assess and compare companies from a social, environmental and economic perspective. Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, which specializes in analyzing companies for their environmental, social, and governance performance, ranked Atlas Copco, Fabege, H&M, Holmen, SCA and Scania among the 100 most socially and environmentally responsible companies in the world in 2008.

Examples of CSR in other Swedish companies:

- The IKEA Social Initiative supports, among other projects, a Unicef initiative to promote children’s rights in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, an area from which Ikea buys many of its carpets. Child labor is prevented by addressing the root causes, including poverty, lack of schools, disability and disease.

- Coop
The supermarket chain has expanded its range of organic products, and the sale of these increased by 18 percent in 2007. Coop is also working to expand its range of fair trade goods. It recently started an energy saving project, Energijakten (The Energy Chase), where refrigerators, freezers and lighting are under review to see how new technology and procedures can reduce energy consumption.

- Akzo Nobel
This industrial giant is working to reduce emissions of chemical waste. One example is a biodegradable paint for freighters that stops the formation of algae, which impedes ships’ progress and wastes fuel.

Approaches to CSR practiced by European companies often involve community-based development projects. The majority of these are established in Africa, such as the Shell Foundation's involvement in Flower Valley, South Africa. Here Shell has set up an Early Learning Center to help educate the community's children, as well as to develop new skills for the adults. Marks and Spencer is also active in this program through the building of a trade network with the community, guaranteeing regular fair trade purchases. Allied with these approaches is the establishment of HIV/AIDS education programs.

One of the leaders working to transform impoverished communities in developing countries is the Grameen Foundation based in Washington D.C.. This organization builds on the initiatives started by Professor Muhammad Yunus, the founder and managing director of Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. The Foundation's mission is to enable the poor, especially the poorest of the poor, create a world without poverty. It’s a leader in the fight against poverty in Sub Saharan Africa, Asia, the Arab World, and the Americas. Since its beginning in 1997, programs, resources and fresh ideas have helped more than 45-million poor people, mostly women and children, improve their lives.

Building strong local institutions in the poorest communities is a cornerstone of Grameen’s work. It helps microfinance institutions (MFIs), credit unions, cooperatives and poverty-focused organizations secure financing, develop strategies to attract and maintain a talented and dedicated workforce, and better track how quickly their clients are leaving poverty. Its technology initiatives focus on helping MFIs work more efficiently and serve more people and on providing new business opportunities and access for poor people.

Large and small companies throughout the world fulfill some of their CSR commitments by donating a percentage of their profits to the Grameen Foundation. Many private individuals, including yours truly, do the same.

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