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