Is CSR just for big business?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is for big companies: it says so in the name. But why? If community engagement is used properly to enhance skills, job satisfaction and productivity, (not to mention team working and corporate image), it should work for small companies too — and large ones should help that happen.

A growing number of companies believe that appropriate investment of time, money and resources into managing, delivering and coordinating ‘company citizenship’ pays for itself in the long term, not least through enhancing employee engagement. Many HR departments in particular are clued in and actively promoting this idea.

But the overwhelming majority of Britain’s five million businesses, the smaller ones, don’t have HR departments as such. They lack the economy of scale which allows corporates to compartmentalise management tasks and it’s very rare to find a management structure that makes this possible in companies with under 20 employees.

In some communities, corporates have pooled their resources — employee volunteering of both time and skills, charitable fundraising capacity, ‘spare’ professional services and physical resources — to make it easier to match their company citizenship role with the various skills and interests of employees.

Where this happens modest resources are found for an administrator’s time and the sharing commences; the Involve Swindon network is a good example. And once such a pool of opportunities exists within the voluntary sector there is no reason why SMEs shouldn’t join it — the triple bottom line business case argues that they should!

“It’s not difficult to make what a company does and how it behaves towards others more socially valuable, without costing a lot of money”

In some places company citizenship networks have targeted SMEs from the start, either with the help of external funding (as in Tameside 4 Good), local authority support (a rarity, but the City of London does it) or not — though, as Shropshire and Oxford have found, having no external resources creates an uphill struggle. Often the local Council for Voluntary Services and, more rarely, the local Chamber of Commerce (as in Merton) are key delivery allies.

“Opportunities are being wasted — for society, for employees and, most importantly, for the businesses themselves”

Big corporates can also engage small businesses in ethical and responsible citizenship practices through their supply chains. Boots, for example, asks its suppliers to ‘Ban the Box’, removing any question on criminal records from initial job application forms. Fujitsu assesses all of its suppliers according to ‘Trading for Good’ criteria.

The law, too, is no longer silent on this issue — any company wishing to supply services to a local authority is well advised to adopt ‘social value’ criteria.

It’s not difficult to make what a company does and how it behaves towards others more socially valuable, without costing a lot of money. Good examples are starting to gain currency and the old approach, of simply ticking CSR boxes, is on the way out.

So, although many corporates are showing signs of ‘getting it’, the bulk of UK businesses, the SMEs, are not yet generally engaged with company citizenship principles. In this way, opportunities are being wasted — for society, for employees and, most importantly, for the businesses themselves.

 

Tom Levitt is a writer and consultant on company citizenship, author of ‘Welcome to GoodCo’ and ‘The Company Citizen’.


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