The private sector must play a vital role in fostering corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices, said Khaled Kassar, founder and CEO of CSR Lebanon. “Responsible corporations can further the CSR culture by complying to internationally recognized standards and embedding relevant policies in their workplaces, marketplaces throughout their value chains, their communities where they can support awareness raising and fostering accountability, and surrounding environment where they can invest in minimizing their negative impacts in favor of their direct stakeholders,” he told The Daily Star in an interview.
By speaking about the private sector, he does not only refer to companies but also to businessmen associations who are expected to provide significant support for such initiatives.
“Businessmen associations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, Association of Lebanese Industrialists and the Association of Lebanese banks, must be active in promoting sustainability,” he said. “This is what such entities in other countries usually do.”
Kassar’s interview was held leading up to the occasion of the 5th annual CSR Lebanon Forum, dubbed “How Sustainability Enhances Brand Value and Reputation,” which will take place on Oct. 26-27 at the Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel.
“At a time where the country is witnessing a set of challenges due to the waste management dilemma, the forum will shed light on the role of the private sector in being part of the solution through well-defined social and environmental strategies,” Kassar said. “This will not only help in preventing similar crisis in the future but it is also an opportunity to enhance companies’ brand perception and earn greater respect, trust and loyalty from their customers as proved by several recent studies.”
According to the Nielsen Global Survey 2014, around 55 percent of global consumers will pay extra for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact.
Another study by Cone Communications show that 90 percent of consumers would switch brands to one associated with a social or environmental cause.
Kassar added that the need for a serious approach to adopting CSR principles was clearly reflected in Volkswagen’s recent emissions scandal. “The scandal shows a failure of Volkswagen’s consumer policy and its corporate responsibility policy,” he said. “Also, the loss of billions of shareholder value within just one week indicates to what extent CSR is essential in maintaining a good reputation and hence maximizing a company’s profits by sparing it such unnecessary incidents.”
In a bid to ensure transparent CSR practices vis-à-vis consumers every company must publish annual reporting for its sustainability initiatives, Kassar said.
“Around 86 percent of global citizens believe that if a company makes CSR commitments, it should be responsible for producing and communicating results,” he said citing a study by Cone Communications.
CSR has recently assumed strategic significance in the industrial world for companies and governments in the region.
But Lebanon, unfortunately, still lags behind its regional peers.
“CSR in Lebanon is still perceived as an add-on to business rather than integrated values. Thus, the problem lies in implementation where majority of corporations involved in CSR projects or initiatives lack strategy and long term vision,” Kassar said.
He stressed that CSR is a business strategy that should be mainstreamed in every business aspect and activity. It’s in the DNA of business.
Statistics conducted by CSR Lebanon show that 90 percent of corporate social practices in Lebanon remain philanthropic with little consideration beyond PR. It said that only 2 percent of corporations are committing to an officially announced long term CSR strategy and vision.
The study added that 55 percent of Lebanese citizens like to be involved in choosing a corporation’s CSR initiative. It said that only 16 percent of bank customers are aware of the presence of CSR reporting in the banking while only 2 percent of banks published official CSR reports.
In addition to the great role that must be played by the private sector in promoting sustainability, Kassar believes that the government must also do its part in raising awareness about the importance of integrating CSR as well as in creating opportunities, facilitating partnerships, and offering incentives.
“In the world for instance, companies that show a history in publishing reporting about their CSR initiatives are usually offered special incentives in public sector tenders by their governments,” he said.
“But unfortunately this has never been a priority for the Lebanese government,” he added.
Copyright © 2021, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.