On the 20th June Responsabilitas had the chance to give a conference at the prestigious Salle Vendôme of l’Ecole des Mines Paris. Professor Aggeri, from Mines Paritech, first gave a very insightful presentation on the evolution of companies’ social responsibility along the years and the shaping of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as we know it, before we introduced the situation and opportunities in China.
Starting from the very beginning Prof. Aggeri mentioned that in most countries, privately owned companies were only authorized to operate from the XIX century. At that time the states expected them to remain entities with very limited power and responsibilities, based on the free-market theory. However this basic paradigm of capitalism was quickly proven wrong as few companies started to gain more financial power, buying off others. This unexpected change triggered the creation of new regulations such as the anti-trust regulation in the states.
As companies’ power was growing, so did their impact on society and people started to question their legitimacy.
It is illustrated by a series of polls organized by the New York Times between 1968 and 1972. They showed a major drop by 50% in the rate of people who believed companies were properly balancing profit research and public services.
This can explain the rise of NGOs as of the 1960’s, starting to advocate for corporates to take more responsibility on the consequences of their activities. At that time some company owners started to hear the message such as Ikea in Sweden, leading their company towards a more sustainable development.
However it is only around the millennial with the creation of Global Compact scheme by the United Nations that CSR became mainstream.
It was first of all as a volunteer move from companies to handle social and environmental preoccupations of their direct stakeholders, but then became a regulatory obligation in some countries as of 2010’s. Those changes led many companies to create dedicated CSR services, with the adverse effect of holding the head of the company less responsible on those topics. For many CSR became a nice communication tool or an accountability tool producing massive reports.
Nowadays the consumers and the society as a whole expect companies to play a major role in building a more resilient and inclusive society.
We observe a real effect of “license to operate” for which companies should take in account the current global situation but also forecast stakeholders’ future expectations.
This is well illustrated by the recent case of Lafarge cemetery, whose reputation quickly dropped after the uncovering its operations in Syria. Speeches from experts are not sufficient anymore; companies need to get a broader vision and understand everybody’s concerns. To do so they must engage in round tables with the Civil Society and various stakeholders to understand all the interactions and take the suitable enlightened decisions about the development of their operations.
So what about China in all this?
Well, since to 2016 and the release of the 13th 5 years plan, a real turn as been taken to go towards a more moderate growth taking in account environmental and societal aspects. In the recent years it translated into emblematic moves such as the ban on importation of some waste, the shutdown of thousands of polluting factories and the restructuring of the ministries in charge of the environmental protection. China is not anymore just the factory of the world but is demonstrating a real ambition to lead the path in term of green innovation and harmonious development. Coupled with advanced research infrastructures and production facilities, China is not to be neglected as a stakeholder and might very well be a good choice to implement pioneering R&D and Corporate Social Responsibilities activities.
At Responsabilitas, we developed environmental auditing rules or checklists for China. These checklists help you to reduce the risk on environmental compliance in your supply chain as well as establishing a baseline for progress on environmental performance. Please contact us if you need more information: