Review by CSRwire Contributing Writer Elaine Cohen
Edited by Geoffrey Williams
Published by Macmillan Publishers Limited. ISBN: 978-0-230-25241-7
Responsible Management in Asia: Perspectives on CSR covers the history and development of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Asia and how it has helped to create pathways to social and environmental sustainability across the region. Drawing on case studies from Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere, leading specialists describe the emergence of CSR from philanthropy and charity to a uniquely Asian form of responsible management. Community-based partnerships between business and civil society are discussed from a practical, Asian perspective. Decent work programmes through social partnerships and concrete action programmes at the factory level offer new insights into workplace management.
Whether CSR is the same world-over or differs substantially from country to country and culture to culture is an important question and one which I have often pondered. It seems to me that basic universal true-north values are pretty much the same anywhere, but ethical standards definitely differ based on local cultural norms, and socio-economic and business circumstances in a particular country (and at a particular time) may dictate a set of material issues which provide quite a unique setting for the advancement of CSR. So it was with relish that I started reading a compilation of perspectives of CSR in Asia, edited by Geoffrey Williams, a senior figure in the CSR world in Asian circles.
The book did not disappoint. Whilst it may not be an exhaustive account of CSR in such a wide range of countries that make up the Asian continent, it certainly offers often fascinating perspectives on a wide range of issues including human rights, public policy approaches, social partnerships, responsible tourism, green building, socially responsible investment and sustainability reporting from an Asian standpoint. To what extent must CSR strategy be guided by a local setting? This was the question in my mind when I turned to Geoffrey Williams' introduction to this book, which refers to "a strong emergence of a separate Asian dimension to CSR, with several key drivers which differ from those in the West."
The compilation includes works from a range of credible and experienced authors from business, not-for profit and academic sectors, each providing insights or research-based knowledge on one or other aspects of CSR in one or other Asian country. The book is peppered with case studies from local businesses, many of which, not knowing the Asian market well, I had never heard of before, which is refreshing. (Most CSR books lead with case studies from the large MNE's that we all know and with stories that we have almost always already heard.)
Some of the highlights for me included:
- A deep-dive into CSR practices in Bangladesh which concludes that CSR is played out primarily in the form of discretionary responsibilities, not deriving from legal or ethical pressures, but voluntary contributions to social causes such as health, education, female empowerment, disability etc. In other words, CSR has not reached the level of core business strategy but remains as separate social projects in the communities in which businesses operate, despite the fact that "many business organizations in Bangladesh are not conducting their business in a socially responsible way."
- The role of civil society in Asia offers several interesting NGO stories such as Magic Bus in India and its "sport for development program for children; Dasra, India, a catalyst for social change ; Kehati Biodiversity Foundation in Indonesia; Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation in the Philippines and Tenaganita in Malaysia, operating to support human and migrant rights. The sense is that the time is right for the rapid advance of NGO influence in Asian countries.
- The development of the Factory Improvement Program and ILO training in Vietnam which has led to over 50% of factories undergoing major changes in their operation and over 20% going through transformative change. However, the call for greater regulation to advance change in a more broadscale way is still needed.
- The case of Hero supermarket in Indonesia which used CSR-related themes to resolve a labor dispute in a collective bargaining approach with the local union. Real economic business issues were resolved resulting in a win-win for all.
- A good overview of the issues for responsible tourism, in particular child prostitution and gender equality within the industry. A real opportunity for businesses in Asia to add real social value through ethical practices and capitalize on a growing industry.
- An interesting overview of climate change risk implications discussing green energy development and strategies for Asian companies, summarizing the diverse targets set by 10 Asian countries and the implications of effective carbon management over the next 15 years.
- A study of Asian financial institutions' approach to green building based on qualitative research among 8 members of the Banking Association of Hong Kong. The research shows that all participating institutions have a strong commitment to CSR and see CSR as integral to doing business.
Finally, in answer to my question: "To what extent must CSR strategy be guided by a local setting?"; Geoffrey Williams pulls it all together, concluding that "CSR in Asia is not the same as it is in the West." A key recommendation by the author is that Western companies cannot use a "one-size-fits-all" approach to CSR base on Western premises and that companies should engage more deeply to understand their new Asian stakeholders. Responsible Management in Asia serves to highlight some of those areas in which differences may be found that might inform Western companies expanding into Asia. The book does not provide a checklist of "How to do CSR in Asia" but certainly provides some enlightening insights. Next time in am in China, Malaysia or Bangladesh or the Philippines, I will certainly feel more informed.
About Elaine Cohen
Elaine Cohen is a Sustainability Consultant and Reporter at Beyond Business and blogger on sustainability reporting and author of CSR for HR: A necessary business partnership to advance responsible business practices.
This commentary is written by a valued member of the CSRwire contributing writers' community and expresses this author's views alone.