Blinkers must come off to benefits of CSR

Business needs rather than altruism should be the driving force behind
corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects,delegates heard at a conference
last week.

Trade and Industry secretary Patricia Hewitt, told delegates that more
companies would be likely to practice CSR and increase their community
involvement if they could see organisational benefits.

"Imaginative and large CSR programmes must be a response to business
problems. This will help show other businesses and the Government the way
forward," she said.

CSR can deliver a competitive edge in the war for talent, Hewitt added.
"The war for talent is real and increasingly fierce. To succeed, firms
need to become employers of choice and they need to attract, train and keep
very good people," she said.

"Employees with high levels of skills are acting like consumers and
want more than a good pay packet. CSR can make people feel proud of the
organisation they work for."

David Robinson, senior adviser of Community Links, told delegates at the
Business in the Community Conference that while more firms are engaging in
community projects, there needs to be greater leadership commitment.

He said: "For most companies CSR is still an appendage to business and
not an expression of leadership."

Robinson said he was "weary and wary" of CSR as "a bolt on
initiative", and challenged firms to spend 95 per cent of their marketing
budgets on a CSR project. It would bring both social change and business
benefit, he said.

HR has a critical role to play in developing CSR. Robinson cited the example
of a successful 32-year-old investment banker who wanted to work one day a week
for Community Links. Her employer wouldn’t allow her to, so she resigned.

Anne Watts, workplace and diversity director of Business in the Community,
said: "CSR has to be tied in with the HR strategy and then aligned with
the key values of a business."

By Mike Broad

Case study: M&S launches social forum

Marks and Spencer has set up a new committee to help the
company embrace CSR by ensuring its staff are fully involved in the business.

The retail giant’s executive chairman Luc Vandevelde will chair
the committee to ensure the initiative – which aims to improve communication
with staff and engage them with the company’s aims – is driven from the top

Dame Stella Rimington, a non executive director at M&S,
said the push to improve internal CSR would help the firm deliver its key
strategies and build better customer relationships.

"CSR isn’t just about being seen to do the right thing it
is something we must do to regain confidence with our customers. It is good for
business but has to come from the very top," she told delegates at the
Business in the Community Conference.

The firm now surveys its staff quarterly to gauge opinion more
accurately and has launched a three-month consultation period to speak to
current and retired employees.

M&S has introduced a confidential helpline to improve all
aspects of staff welfare as well as a range of softer measures, such as giving
parents holiday for a child’s first day at school.

Rimington explained she wants staff to go beyond just turning
up for work and hoped a new way of thinking could be embedded into the culture.

However, she said the relationship was two-way and in return
for more freedom, the business expects respect and results in return.

"Taking CSR seriously means we will sell more, promote our
brand, secure more investment and motivate people to work for and stay with
us," she said.

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