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CSR Practitioners Speak out on New Corporate Responsibility Index

Submitted by: Corporate Citizenship Briefing

Categories: Corporate Governance

Posted: Mar 13, 2003 – 11:00 PM EST

 

Corporate responsibility managers from a range of industries are entering into an online debate on the value and purpose of the new index, at the
"Brief Exchange" section of the brand new Corporate Citizenship Briefing
website: Corporate Citizenship Briefing

Mar. 13 /CSRwire/ - LONDON - Britain's biggest companies are split on what to make of the UK's first index of responsible corporate behaviour, published today. Less than a quarter of the large UK companies targeted by Business in the Community, who carried out the survey, decided to respond to the 62-page questionnaire for the corporate responsibility index.

So what do the other three-quarters of UK big business really think about the index? Is it the first step towards a standardised assessment framework, or just one more over-lapping survey for companies to fill in?

So far some companies, including BT and Marks and Spencer, have welcomed the opportunity to benchmark themselves against competitors: "We welcome the index as an opportunity to benchmark our relative position. In our CSR activities we are looking for measurable and lasting results, in exactly the same way that we are for the business as a whole", said Luc Vandevelde, chairman of Marks and Spencer.

Others, such as the corporate relations manager at a major FTSE 100 manufacturer, are concerned about the Index being portrayed as a ranking exercise. "I think it will put companies off if they've only just started CSR reporting and then they find themselves criticised...rather than encouraging them to be part of the learning process". The external affairs manager at a major food producer, agrees: "The CR index should be seen as a practitioner tool, not as a tool for PR".

When viewed in this way as a management tool, some companies have found responding to the index to be a useful process. "It's helping hugely as we're producing our first combined environmental and social impact report this year...the questionnaire has helped in getting systems and processes in place to report on all those key CSR issues" according to Gaynor Kenyon, director of UK community affairs, Scottish Power.

David Varney, chairman of Business in the Community and mm02, describes how rather than being a box ticking exercise at MM02, the survey "challenged our perceptions and created debate within the company. It made us consider our position on a number of issues".

Or is the index "meaningless" and "a waste of time", as described by Reuters, quoted in the Financial Times today? Perhaps the index does not go far enough: "Without a legal framework of set, quantifiable indicators, companies will still benefit only from what they chose to report, while not necessarily focusing on important issues that too could result in improved efficiency, increased employee morale and better customer loyalty", said Brian Shaad, co-ordinator of the CORE campaign for corporate responsibility
legislation.

Nevertheless, many herald the index as a step in the right direction. John Elkington, chairman of consultancy Sustainability, and a member of Corporate Citizenship Briefing editorial panel, believes that practitioner feedback will be essential to the "co-evolution" of the CR Index, in the same way that Business in the Community's environment index has developed over the last seven years.

Many questions about the index remain open for debate:
- Is the index flexible enough for large companies, or does it lean too close to being a "one-size-fits-all" system? Does the CR Index fairly reflect the divergent contexts in which global companies operate, or is it too UK/European focused?

- Are voluntary initiatives like the CR index enough to persuade companies to report their performance across all issues, or will large companies remain reluctant to go public on some performance areas unless mandated by law to do so?

- Does it matter that there is no external verification of the Index results, or does the transparency of the index represent a progressive form of public accountability?

CSR managers are invited to contribute their views to the debate today, at the new Corporate Citizenship Briefing website:
http://www.ccbriefing.co.uk/pages/briefexchange.php

Notes

1) Corporate Citizenship Briefing, the leading journal for corporate citizenship and community affairs managers, is now online at www.ccbriefing.co.uk. The site boasts an archive of more than 10 years of corporate responsibility news, analysis, case studies, comment pieces and industry interviews, as well as the latest headlines, events and publications.

2) For more information about the Business in the Community corporate responsibility index, visit www.bitc.org.uk.

For more information, please contact:

Michelle Dow Corporate Citizenship Briefing
Phone: +-11-44-20-7945 6130

 

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