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Firms must show commitment to CSR projects

Recent disputes between industrial operators and local communities in Map Ta Phut has caused some people to question the sincerity of corporate social responsibility programmes, says an expert on the matter.

"One way for businesses to regain society's trust and narrow the gap between society's expectations and industry performance on CSR is to reposition their CSR directions," said Pipat Yodprudtikan, director of the non-profit Thaipat Institute.

Companies will have a hard time convincing people they are committed to society and the environment if they view CSR as a brand-building tool, he said.

"Organisations could gain trust by reporting to the public both the bad and good aspects of their actions if they take responsibility in solving problems they've caused, such as automobile companies recalling vehicles," he said.

The theme of CSR programmes is likely to be change this year due to environmental laws, the impacts of the Asean free-trade area and climate change.

Dr Pipat said organisations should promote a more standardised CSR policy by studying and following international models or by conducting CSR activities with other organisations.

Companies can benefit from using existing standards to make their CSR projects more accountable, which also means they do not have to start everything from scratch, said Dr Pipat.

For example, those who want to engage in tree planting can study guidelines set down by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international non-profit organisation that promotes responsible forest management.

Many organisations reported problems with their CSR schemes last year because staff did not understand or engage with the programmes.

"In recent years, many companies have set up CSR managers or departments, which is good in terms of having a point of responsibility," he said. "However, it could create a gap as the company's staff might not feel involved."

Dr Pipat said companies need better communication among employees to raise awareness of and participation in their projects and policies.

Companies should also shift from responsive CSR to creative CSR. For example, in the case of Map Ta Phut, companies should set up a preventive system to show the community they take the matter seriously.

In terms of measures, companies should focus on the outcome of the activities rather than the output.

"There are many CSR projects, but only a few meet people's expectations. Therefore, thinking about how society will benefit from a project will yield more effective results than activities initiated by the company without considering actual needs," he said.

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