Minister urges business to reap benefits of CSR

Stephen Timms, the new minister for corporate social responsibility explains
to Ross Wigham why employers should be taking the the initiative and building
links with the community

Why did the Government produce a CSR strategy?

"It’s increasingly clear that corporate engagement in some of the big problems
that government is addressing, like regeneration in disadvantaged areas,
raising standards in schools and environmental issues, can be a really
significant part of the solution.

"When I was leader of Newham Council we set up the East London Partnership
and all kinds of very useful relationships were formed. It helped raise
standards and regenerate a deprived part of East London.

"The document sets out what we’re proposing and it is the second report
on CSR. It draws attention to some areas where a strong contribution can be
made by employers.

Will the Government look to form CSR legislation?

"The thing about this whole area is we don’t control the levers, and in
my view it’s the voluntary nature of CSR that is it’s strength. There are calls
for a more regulatory approach where organisations would be compelled in some
way, but that’s the completely wrong way to approach this. It would be a real
dead hand on the innovation, creativity and imagination now coming out of the
big corporations.

"We’ve not set any quantitative targets but we’ve set a direction – we
want to encourage organisations and there’s no shortage of willingness. We want
to work with people to make the most of CSR.

"I think regulation by and large isn’t the way to build on what we’re
seeing at the moment."

Would you support European legislation to encourage greater CSR?

"We need to keep very close to what’s happening in Europe because the
European Commission will be publishing a CSR communication document this month.
There’s growing interest at the European level and in policy terms there’s a
significant engagement with the thinking in Europe. We want to encourage Europe
not to go down the regulatory route and take the approach that we’ve taken in
the UK which has been very successful.

"I think the situation varies in different countries and the
assumptions are different. In terms of thinking in Brussels our experience has
been very influential. I think regulation would be very, very counter
productive and that’s a point we’ve made strongly.

What sort of guidance or incentive is offered to employers?

"There is a huge amount of interest in CSR because in terms of building
brand loyalty, increasing employee motivation and getting a good reputation
among stakeholders this kind of activity it very effective.

"It’s very important that people see the benefits of CSR as being
linked to the mainstream objectives of the organisation because that way it’
will be sustainable.

"We don’t want CSR to be completely dependent on altruism. We’d like it
to come out of an enlightened understanding of what the organisation is trying
to achieve.

How big is the current contribution to CSR from business?

"We’ve estimated around £3.5bn. There are increasing numbers of
companies taking an active interest. We welcome that and we want to work with
it. I’d like to see a higher level of participation and I think we’re at an
early stage in seeing the benefits of CSR.

How can HR teams become stakeholders in local communities and among

"By building relationships between employers and local organisations,
voluntary bodies and sector organisations. They should also give staff the
opportunity to get involved in schools and the community."

What’s the next challenge for CSR?

"I think to scale up from what we’ve achieved already is a big
challenge. We also have to maintain the sense of engagement with business. I’m
keen to talk to those with ideas about CSR to see how we can take it forward.
This is a very important area in achieving our social and economic aims."

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