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SHANTAL MUNRO-KNIGHT: There is a need for greater corporate social responsibility

Shantal Munro-Knight

SHANTAL MUNRO-KNIGHT: There is a need for greater corporate social responsibility

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I was extremely pleased to hear that the corporate sector had joined with the Barbados Council for the Disabled (BCD) to provide an “empowerment card” for this specific constituency.

Even though other such cards for different constituencies are on the market, I was heartened that in the present context the private sector could still demonstrate this level of social commitment. That being said, there is still much more that the private sector can and should be doing to demonstrate that they fully understand the concept of corporate social responsibility. 

I firmly believe that in our current context the private sector could be doing more to strategically contribute in areas of social development, especially for poor and vulnerable groups. Many people will say the corporate sector drives economic growth and provides jobs and this is good enough. I do not agree. I think that the private sector is still too reliant on Government subsidies and concessions without demonstrating the necessary commitment to social investment.  

While there are indeed clear cases where some private firms have made some investment in education and research and such like, it would appear that for the vast majority of the private sector, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is about sponsoring a football match, giving a tent or some drinks here or there, providing a tax deductible donation or helping out a family or someone in need. This is all well and good and very necessary but this is charitable giving – it barely scratches the bare minimum of corporate social responsibility.

Let me give some international examples.

Mirage Spa and Recreation sells hot tubs which are a fairly high-priced item. What the company does is to offer a 15 per cent discount to customers when they bring in food, pet supplies or personal care items which are then donated to a local food pantry feeding the poor and most vulnerable in that community. 

There is another company called People’s Water. This company has developed a number of global clean water projects. Under one of its initiatives, every bottle of water the company sells helps to fund one of its clean water projects, including building wells and establishing water purification systems. To date, the company has reportedly helped bring more than 5.7 million gallons (21.6 million litres) of clean water to people in need.

There is also the Canada-based sock company Cole and Parker which, through its partnership with micro finance organisation Kiva, donates proceeds from every sock sale to a fund that is used to provide risk financing for entrepreneurs in developing countries.

These might seem like large examples but there are firms who just donate whatever service they offer free of cost or other firms which donate their staff expertise directly to a social cause or there are firms who donate consistently to one social cause in order to make an impact over the long term. What these examples are about demonstrating is that CSR is sustained. It is not accidental; it is also a core part of the firms’ business model. More importantly, it is organised to deliver some kind of social change impact in people’s conditions over the medium to long term.     

Internationally, firms are no longer talking just about the bottom line but rather there is the emerging notion of the triple bottom line: “people, planet and revenue”. It is a recognition that the fortunes of the companies can no longer be about profit maximisation only but that there is an absolute responsibility to help solve some of society’s most pressing social problems, whether nationally or globally.

In one article I came across companies were actually agreeing with the notion that as strong growth occurs post-recession, companies have a strong obligation to reinvest their profits in areas which can make a definite social impact. 

What really strong examples do we have in Barbados?

Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. Email [email protected]