The era of SDGs: Framing a harmonised CSR policy

Dhaka,  Fri,  09 December 2016
Published : 28 Nov 2016, 21:49:18

The era of SDGs: Framing a harmonised CSR policy

The era of SDGs: Framing a harmonised CSR policy
Ferdaus Ara Begum
We have entered into the age of Sustainable Develop-ment Goals (SDGs) with the aim to make development inclusive. The SDGs contain 17 goals with 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues to be achieved by the year 2030 where entrepreneurs should be made responsible for taking care of plant and planet. These include ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change and protecting oceans and forests. The SDG Action Plans have given enough thrust on healthy lives, decent work for all, urgent action to combat climate change and its impact etc. 

Bangladesh has already announced its Vision 2021, targets of which are closely aligned to some of the SDG goals. A comparison of Vision 2021 targets with SDGs has been shown in Table -I. 

Bangladesh government has taken policies towards sustainable goals and proceeding accordingly. The SDGs have already crossed a year and Vision 2021 has only five years to complete. There are a number of common issues between SDGs and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) also. In order to attain the goal of Vision 2021 and reach the 2041 targets, sustainability issues have been emphasised. To achieve these targets, structured CSR can support corporate citizens so that an ethical business practice taking care of business and society is created.

Recent research has examined adoption of environmental management practices by organisations indicating that companies are increasingly paying attention to their impact on  environment and adopting management practices to ameliorate or reduce their negative impact on it in developed countries. 

Several rules and regulations are followed internationally, one of them being London Benchmarking Group (LBG) model. LBG is a network of corporate community investment professionals from many of the world's leading companies. They work together to apply, develop and enhance the LBG measurement framework.

Companies across the world adopt LBG's measurement model in order to assess the real value and impact of their community investment to both, the business and the society. This model helps companies understand the total amount of cash, time and in-kind invested within the community, and enables them to understand the geographic spread of their community support and the kind of themes supported such as education, health and arts and culture.

Through this model, companies can track the manner in which their community programme supports wider business goals such as building employee morale or creating reputational advantages. Also, it helps measure the difference their programmes make to the community at large. Under this model, member-companies share data and best practices which in turn help the benchmarking process. 

Another such model is Social Return on Investments (SROI). The SROI network is a framework based on social generally accepted accounting principles (SGAAP) that can be used to help manage and understand social, economic and environmental outcomes created by an organisation or a person. There are some other models, namely Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) etc.

Social value is the value that stakeholders experience through changes in their lives. Some, but not all of this value is captured in market prices. The principles of social value provide the basic building blocks for anyone who wants to make decisions that take this wider definition of value into account, in order to increase equality, improve well-being and increase environmental sustainability. They are generally accepted social accounting principles and are important for accountability and maximising social value.

Bangladesh is not an exception to this. The natural environment is increasingly being viewed as a pillar of CSR but will definitely take time to reach the international benchmark. Public and private sector companies are implementing various projects at numerous locations through their CSR funds. If all these works can be brought together, development of the state can be accelerated. At the time of planning projects and utilising CSR funds if the focus is on districts with lower Human Development Index and local needs and problems, a balanced development can be attained. Public-private dialogue platform can work for required research and advocacy to create social opinion towards a harmonised CSR policy.

Impact Assessment of CSR in business is crucial at this stage. There are several tools and frameworks for measuring impact. Each has its pros and cons depending upon the nature of interventions, time and budgets available for the study and the availability of people. Thus, selection of the impact measurement methodology is important.

Impact measurement studies have to be carefully planned in terms of team composition, timing and methodology. The process must be driven by the CSR committee which can delegate the day-to-day management of the process to an appropriate structure within the company. Activities and tasks and responsibilities would be reviewed by the implementing body.  Publication of CSR statement and activities on the website is another need for ensuring transparency.

Numerous countries provide tax incentives for CSR activities initiated by businesses. These are provided by countries such as Australia, Canada, People's Republic of China, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom. Tax incentives are also allowed in Bangladesh but its implementation process is stringent. So firms are reluctant to accrue benefits out of it. 

CSR reporting is also very important. Bangladesh Bank has prepared a format for banks to report their CSR activities.  So in the proposed CSR policy, there could be a simple format for CSR reporting. In the annual report of the listed companies, there could be a mention of CSR activities of the concern companies. It is important to note that there is a need for CSR policy which will have coordination along with industrial policy, import and export policies as well as other trade policies.

The Planning Minister himself has underlined the need for a CSR guideline. He has asked for preparing a national CSR guideline. A committee has been formed and the ministry has already prepared a draft CSR guideline. Leading chambers are members of the committee and they have already provided their inputs. National plan needs to be formulated in promoting CSR activities in cross-section of businesses and individuals encompassing sustainability and social inclusion. 

For making this to happen there can be a single window CSR cell under the chairmanship of the minister to give right impetus to the country's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects.

The ministry can have meeting with corporate bodies to get support and participation from them for public private sector development through their CSR funds. The government also plans to start a website for CSR which will have all the information related to government CSR projects. It intends to provide all the necessary assistance required by the corporate houses so as to get more support from them.

As the draft guideline is under way, based on which policy should be finalised, stakeholders' contribution to the CSR policies is huge. To ensure organisational mechanism and responsibilities, harmonisation of activities of the National Board of Revenue, Bangladesh Bank, income tax policies and Companies Act is important. This will help gradual improvement towards maintaining a global standard.

Bangladesh has not yet adopted the ISO 26000. In the final international vote on the adoption of ISO 26000, 93 per cent of ISO member- organisations voted in favour.  There were only five negative votes out of 77, not counting the 11 absentees, including BSTI  (Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute) abstaining on behalf of Bangladesh. Now that ISO26000 has become the International SR Guidance Standard, there is a role for BSTI (as the Bangladesh ISO member organisation) and the Ministry of Industries in getting a decision on ISO 26000 for Bangladesh. In case of having business with other countries, signing FTA and PTA, it will have some implications in the future.

The study that BUILD will undertake on harmonisation of CSR policies, may select other economic variables as measurement for research because there are many variables that can be used to study on the factors determinates of tax benefit issue in CSR. This may allow concerned stakeholders to know why the tax incentives provided by NBR has not been widely used by businesses.

In Bangladesh, there is not a single department or directorate for engaging people in CSR while in India there is a separate ministry of corporate affairs to look into this issue. In some EU countries there are separate ministries, in some cases departments, to look into this issue. To monitor the CSR activities in the ministry of planning, there could be a CSR department.  

Waste management and recycling products, economic use of electricity, water and other natural resources will lead to develop a green mindset. We usually look up for end of the pipeline solution rather we should look these issue from the sources so that ultimately we can reduce waste and take care of the environment. In order to reduce our environmental footprint and thus to be ready for addressing climate change issues, CSR could be a vehicle. We should not practice CSR in headquarters only; rather it should be throughout the whole supply chain, which will definitely take time but for new entrepreneurship it could be a good learning. 

The writer is CEO, Business Initiative Leading 

Development (BUILD).

 ceo_build@outlook.com

 
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