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Social responsibility must be a priority

CSR is more than just public-relations effort

Too many companies have become stuck in a trap of maximising profits at the expense of social responsibility, said Banthoon Lamsam, the chief executive officer of Kasikornbank.

Mr Banthoon, speaking at the launch of the new Corporate Social Responsibility Institute, said private companies should consider their greater duties and responsibilities to society.

''Every business must make profit to survive. This is what proves that a company is good and attractive for investment. It is the truth that we can't deny we live in the world of capitalism,'' he said yesterday.

''But companies also have a social responsibility as well, so long as it does not damage their business. You have to survive first before you can share with society.''

Mr Banthoon noted that listed companies are becoming increasingly concerned about CSR, but their activities focused more on public relations to build up their corporate image.

CSR activities are difficult to assess in how they improve profits, let alone society and the environment, he acknowledged.

''The key to having responsibility to the society and shareholders is corporate governance. The management must disclose accurate and timely information to shareholders and must not transfer company assets,'' Mr Banthoon said.

Pipat Yodprudtikan, director of the Thaipat Institute, said companies of all sizes should have social responsibility, with effective CSR activities harmonised with each business process.

''You should not treat CSR as a corporate burden and spend a lot of budget on it. In fact, it can start little by little with your resources and use them effectively without hurting the society and environment,'' he said.

Kannikar Chalitaporn, the president of Siam Commercial Bank, suggested companies start promoting CSR at the board level first before mapping out a corporate mission and strategy.

''Sometimes, it will waste time for companies to think about the real objective of CSR and seek to convince the staff to be aware about it. If any member of our staff has a good idea about CSR, we are willing to support and make the project bigger,'' she said.

Mrs Kannikar said SCB was convinced that CSR could ultimately benefit a business. Two years ago, for example, it began asking ATM users to specify whether they wanted to receive paper receipts.

''The project was able to help the bank save about 10 million baht per year for the expenses on ATM slips and thousands of trees won't be cut down as well,'' she said.

Visit Tantisunthorn, secretary-general of the Government Pension Fund, said that before the fund decided whether to invest in any company, it would consider not just the returns but also issues regarding the society, environment and corporate governance.

''Implementing CSR projects will sometimes be successful, and sometimes it will fail. But companies can use the failure as a good lesson to improve themselves and drive the organisations forward in the future,'' he said.

''You should look at your staff and supply chain and see whether they have CSR or not.''

The CSR Institute, with support from the Stock Exchange of Thailand, also receives support from local brokers, fund managers, the Federation of Thai Industries, the Thai Bankers Association the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Thai Investors Association.

SET chairman Pakorn Malakul Na Ayudhya said the institute would help stimulate and educate the business sector about CSR. ''Society needs support from business to prevent and resolve problems, and to ensure that standards of living keep pace with economic development,'' he said.

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