For a discussion on the necessity of communicating CSR to make sense, it is incumbent upon me to clarify what is understood under this term. Corporate social responsibility, commonly abbreviated as CSR, is a term that can be interpreted in various ways, and there is no shortage of definitions for this subject.
To ensure that the discussion remains focused and is not scattered in all directions, it should be emphasized from the outset that this article refers to CSR as defined in ISO 26000, which has been accepted by most countries in the world. The National Standardization Agency (Badan Standardisasi Nasional/BSN), the government body responsible for setting standards in our country, has incorporated ISO 26000 into the Indonesia National Standards (SNI) code under the designation SNI ISO 26000:2013 Guidance for Social Responsibility. This being the case, there should be no hesitancy in its implementation.
In short, according to ISO 26000, CSR is the organization/company’s responsibility for the impact of its operations on society and the environment. This responsibility is reflected transparently through ethical behavior that contributes toward sustainable development and takes into account the aspirations of its stakeholders. Furthermore, companies must comply with the applicable laws, respect international norms of behavior, integrate CSR principles within the company and base all their interactions upon them. This complicated definition can be broken down into its component parts to be more easily understandable.
Firstly, the essence of CSR is matters that are of concern to or are considered important by the company’s stakeholders. Thus, it is clear that the first step is to identify the stakeholders and the issues they are concerned about in relation to the organization/company’s activities. Bearing in mind the aforesaid, a company’s responsibility is related to the impact caused by its activities on society and the environment. The impact of activities of other parties lies outside of the company’s responsibility.
There is a detailed explanation regarding the types of activities mentioned above that this article does not need to delve into; it suffices to provide their broad outlines. Six broad areas are included in ISO 26000: Human Rights, Labor Practice, Environment, Fair Operating Practices, Consumer Issues, and Community Engagement and Development. The activities covered in these six areas must be conducted on the basis of good governance, in other words, transparently and accountably.
Secondly, the company must act ethically and transparently in running its activities and ensure that they contribute to sustainable development. The most concrete elaboration of sustainable development that has become the reference worldwide, including in Indonesia today, are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The third point, which includes compliance with the laws and international norms of behavior, stands to reason and requires no further explanation. The fourth or last point: CSR must be reflected in the entirety of the company’s activities and all its actions. I believe that it is clear from the foregoing that CSR is not about social or philanthropic activities that are exclusively within the scope of responsibility of a specific unit of a company.
The first and second points above delineate activities included in CSR in general. Another critical point, according to ISO 26000, is communication since companies interact with their stakeholders through a human activity that is called communication.
The absolute minimum communication as part of the company’s accountability and responsibility towards its activities is in the form of a report. In this regard too, there are standards that have become an international reference, namely the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which is designed to provide input to stakeholders regarding matters that they consider essential in relation to the company or organization concerned.
This annual report on the implementation of CSR is often called “CSR Report” or “Sustainability Report.” Apart from the report published every year according to the GRI Standards, companies also need to interact with their stakeholders continuously and do not need to wait until the next edition of the Sustainability Report.
The regular delivery of information on CSR is the responsibility of a company’s unit that is assigned to deal with Corporate Communication. However, as previously explained, the unit responsible for delivering communication is not supposed to bear the overall responsibility for CSR, which are principles integrated into the entire company’s activities. The responsibility to establish CSR policies lies with the company’s top management. The same applies to the CSR Report or Sustainability Report.
Communication experts such as Timothy Coombs suggest that companies have sensibility and avoid hard sells in communicating their CSR activities since this may create the impression of image building. It is even worse if it gives rise to suspicions that a company’s fervor in delivering information related to CSR is a cover-up for negative issues. CSR-related communications should be factual and avoid bombastic language that potentially receives negative responses from stakeholders.
The bigger the company, the more significant its impact and the larger the variety of stakeholders it has. Obviously, the stakeholder engagement activities will also be more complicated. The centrality of the concept of stakeholder pertaining to corporate social responsibility should make it clear that CSR is not a matter that concerns big companies only. Every company has social responsibilities commensurate with its operational impact.
Chairman & Chief Consultant, Kiroyan Partners
This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 86th Edition, issued on May 2022, pages 48-49.
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