Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development

Goals for protecting the planet

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become increasingly important as economic globalisation has taken off. As businesses grow, it is more important than ever before that they consider their impact on a country’s domestic populace. In this article, Dr Julie Broussard, country programme manager for the United Nations Women in China Office, and Chia-LinCoispeau, co-founder of Maverlinn Impact Innovation, discuss the role corporations can play in improving their local environment.

Responsibility and profitability
Corporations play a major role in the economic system. By generating profits, corporations create value that can be re-invested to create economic development that can positively impact society at large.

“Corporate social responsibility is not simply limited to charitable donations, but is closely related to corporate values, employment mechanisms, business models… CSR has to be integrated into the company’s core values and business models.”

—Jack Ma
Founder, Alibaba, China

The concept of CSR has more than one definition and evolves according to the geography and maturity of the market. For some, it is defined as philanthropy with mechanisms for donating when used in times of disaster. For others, CSR is a central pillar of corporate values and strategy.

“An enterprise exists and lasts only because it creates value for society as a whole … The ‘raison d’être’ of the enterprise lies in its social usefulness. It is to serve society and mankind, in the everyday lives of men and women, through the products, services, employment or even the dividends it provides”.

—Franck Riboud
Former Chairman, Danone, Europe

A business engaging in CSR should not be considered a luxury that one might or might not be able to afford. Corporations that practice CSR and sustainable development need to operate in ways that are respectful to the general population and their surrounding environment. Doing these things successfully requires businesses to pay special attention to product quality and the impact their activities might be having on their community, something that might initially be considered a simple operational cost. However, not all costs are equal and some corporations have learned that by acting responsibly, they can become more innovative, increase their revenue by producing higher quality products, and reduce costs by making smarter business decisions.

CSR and the Sustainable Development Goals
Having been the orchestrator of the many challenges humanity now faces, countries around the world are now responsible for finding solutions to these global issues. The Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in September 2015, contained 17 global goals, such as “no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, and affordable and clean energy”. Collective efforts to address these issues can be triggered by individuals with innovative ideas and the support of the private and/or public sector.

Corporations need to take action to improve the economy, society as a whole, and the environment. The way to do so is to innovate. Innovation can uncover new ways to foster societal progress and when it comes to innovation, the private sector has a crucial role by engaging in CSR.

The private sector also has a largely unrecognised role to play in advancing gender equality. Without female empowerment, the world cannot fully eradicate poverty or attain zero hunger. As employers, the private sector can potentially empower millions of female employees and consumers, who often prioritise the well-being of their families. Additionally, multiple studies have unequivocally demonstrated that companies with a more gender-equal workforce, and women in more leadership positions, are more profitable on average. In their CSR efforts, companies should not only promote gender equality, but consider the role they can play in promoting all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Protecting the planet
In 2016, China’s 13th Five-Year Plan confirmed sustainable development as the model for China’s economic growth. In July 2017, Prime Minister Li Keqiang, reaffirmed that “once a certain economic development level is reached, we do need to encourage green growth”.

China is well aware of the environmental challenges it faces, as illustrated by what Li Ganjie, the minister of Environmental Protection, said during the 19th Party Congress: “We understand that air quality in China is not at the level expected by the Chinese people, however, you will need to be patient, as it will take much time to solve a challenge of this magnitude.” In the spirit of what the Environmental Protection minister has said, China has started to do green financing and innovation. In 2017, China supported the development of green financing in five pilot zones (Guangdong, Guizhou, Jiangxi, Zhejiang and Xinjiang). Furthermore, as a signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, China also participated at the One Planet Summit in 2017. These are all important steps in fostering a more sustainable model of economic development.

Echoing the importance of CSR in China, the 2017 EUCCC CSR awards allowed voices of corporations, not-for-profit organisations, and social entrepreneurs that wholeheartedly invest in CSR to be heard. We would like to thank the organisers, judges, applicants, winners and sponsors for their important role in promoting societal and economic progress in China.