Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has often meant accountability in far away countries, but employers in the city are now finding that measures closer to home are proving invaluable.
When it comes to CSR, most people think of ethically-sourced products or factories in the third world – but the concept was always intended to also be about supporting local communities at a micro level.
In East London, an innovative new programme aims to tackle the twin problems of acute skills shortages and economically inactive, socially alienated groups within the local community.
The contrast between extreme wealth and urban deprivation is probably more pronounced in the London borough of Tower Hamlets than anywhere else in the UK. The bankers and financers of Canary Wharf overlook some of the poorest communities in Britain.
Tower Hamlets college has teamed up with blue chip financial firms including Morgan Stanley, Allen and Overy and Citigroup to help find work for more than 100 young people from the local community, mostly from ethnic minority backgrounds.
The benefits of the programme are essentially two way – the local youngsters get to work at high profile companies, while employers gain access to a convenient, local workforce at a time when workers in the capital are becoming even more difficult to recruit.
The college has formed close bonds with the employers to help find permanent work for local people and although most start in entry level or unskilled roles, the relationship is hugely beneficial for both parties.
Zoltan Abbott manages the Fresh Futures in Financial Services project at the college, and believes it helps employers find essential new recruits, improve diversity and build better CSR policies.
“For years, companies tended to recruit people who they thought would fit in with the team, have drinks and play golf. Frank discussions between both sides have allowed us to see what employers want, and then demonstrate that our clients can meet that need,” he said.
He believes the scheme provides a unique chance for local people to get onto the career ladder in one of the most prestigious sectors.
“It’s possible to enter the sector at a lower level and companies will almost certainly offer the chance to take qualifications, so if they start as a cashier they can work their way up. If someone works in a local café, why not apply for catering in an investment bank? The pay will be better and there will be more opportunities,” he added.
Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) thinks CSR is now about a very wide range of business issues.
“There’s something very special about these sorts of initiatives and undoubtedly they will help ease recruitment difficulties.
“A lot of this is about corporate reputation and employer brand – letting the public know you are a good corporate citizen and addressing business issues at the same time. CSR is about supply chains and ethical trading but organisations must also look after their own standards and communities,” he said.
Business in the Community, a group of more than 800 employers dedicated to improving responsible activity, runs a range of programmes that help firms interact with local communities.
Business Action on Homelessness is a scheme that encourages firms to help coach local homeless people back into the workplace. Leading firms such as Marks & Spencer, Royal Mail and Hilton Hotels have seen great success in supporting individuals through the programme.
John Hamblin of the charity Shekinah Mission facilitated a recent session of job coaching in Portsmouth and thinks both sides benefit hugely from local involvement.
“Employers have risen to the challenge to tackle homelessness by getting involved with the Ready for Work programme. The business volunteers will not only offer valuable support to the clients but will personally benefit from their experiences of engaging with the clients,” he said.
If the recruitment market continues to constrict, CSR could prove to be the new battleground in not only attracting ethically-minded consumers, but in finding valuable candidates.