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Survey on Social Responsibility practices in Ireland


In today's business environment more and more organizations are subject to greater scrutiny and higher expectations by their various stakeholders. How an organization performs in relation to the society in which it operates as well having regard for its impact on the environment has become a critical measure of the overall performance of the organization and also contributes to the organizations ability to operate effectively.

The term social responsibility or corporate social responsibility is often used by organizations to address how they deal with these issues. In Ireland many organizations are adopting and using these terms. But is there a common understanding among Irish organizations on what is social responsibility? Are many organizations implementing corporate social responsibility practices as part of their operations? If so what frameworks are being used? NSAI and organizations working in the area of Social Responsibility looked to answer these questions in a recent survey.

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What is Social Responsibility and why is it important?

All organizations activities depend on the health of the world’s ecosystems. Therefore the impact of an organization on the environment in which it operates as well as society needs to be managed in order to contribute to their sustained success. There is growing recognition of the need to ensure healthy ecosystems, social equity and good organization governance. Organizations need to consider the impact they may have of all of these issues during their day to day operations.

The key objective of social responsibility is to contribute to sustainable development. The perception and reality of an organizations performance on social responsibility can influence its:
  • competitive advantage
  • reputation
  • ability to attract and retain workers, customers, clients etc
  • perceptions among investors, owners, sponsors and others in the financial community
  • relationships with stakeholders and the community in which it operates
In 2010 ISO – The international standard organization published the first international standard on Social Responsibility ISO 26000 – Guidance on Social Responsibility. ISO 26000 is a guidance standard, applicable to all organizations irrespective of the size or type of operation, and provides guidance on:
  • concepts, terms and definitions
  • the background, trends and characteristics
  • principles and practices
  • core subjects
  • integrating, implementing and promoting social responsible behavior throughout the organization and with its sphere of influence identifying and engaging with stakeholders
  • communication, commitments and performance
In 2014 a Systematic Review of ISO 26000 was carried out. This is the process undertaken for published standards to review the need for an update. As part of this process NSAI, in conjunction with BITC Ireland, Waterford Institute of Technology and DJEI carried out a survey of organizations to determine current practices with respect to CSR.

Organizations were asked a range of questions about their CSR practices and what topics they address. They were asked to identify the frameworks or standards they followed, the key market forces that influenced the implementation of CSR and who in the organization was responsible for CSR.

Survey of CSR practices in Ireland

NSAI developed survey questions in conjunction with the following organizations: Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (DJEI); Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI) and Waterford IT. The survey questionnaire was circulated to contacts of these organizations in February 2014. Over 350 companies responded to the survey.

The key findings are reported below

Types of organizations

The majority of respondents represented SMEs with just over 65% having 249 employees or less (18% had less than 10 employees, 22% less than 50 employees and 25% had 50-249 employees). Approximately 34% of respondent had greater than 250 employees with 20% between 250 and 999 employees and 14.6% greater than 1000.

NACE codes, used for the classification of industrial activity, were included in the survey to determine key sectors among respondents. Manufacturing had the highest representation with 24.3% followed by construction – 9.4%, professional, scientific and technical activities – 8.8% and public administration – 6%. Other NACE sectors had lower levels of respondents.

Implementing CSR practices, awareness and use of CSR models

85% of respondents provided an answer to the question “Do you implement CSR practices in your organization?” It was interesting to note over 47% of respondents who did reply are implementing CSR practices and a further 14.6% working towards implementing CSR practices. 37.9% indicated they do not implement CSR practices.

Respondents were asked to indicate their awareness of different CSR frameworks and standards that can be used for CSR. From this the Chambers Ireland CSR awards and BITCI Working Responsibly Mark were the best known with 30.5% and 30.2% of respondents respectively, followed by ISO 26000 (26.2%) and the Global Reporting Initiative (15.5%). 39.1% of respondents ticked “none” indicating that they were not aware of any of the listed frameworks or standards for CSR.

When asked about the use of standards or guidelines for implementing CSR within their organizations the response rate was 49%. Of these almost half did not use any of the listed approaches or followed their own standard – 49.4%. When asked to list what other standards they used there was a wide variety of replies varying from quality marks and standards, HIQA licensing, lean principles, ISO 14001 – Environmental Management and CPD standards.

The Business Working Responsibly Mark was used by 18% of those who replied, followed by ISO 26000, 14.3% and the Chambers Ireland Awards 7.4%.

Market forces for implementing CSR

When asked to pick the three most important market forces for implementing CSR (the response rate was 61.8%) the respondents indicated meeting customer requirements as the highest, with 55.2% picking this.

Sustainability of products/services and the organization itself represented 37% of respondents followed closely by ensuring ethics in decision making and customer confidence and increasing brand value, 36.7% each. Reducing environmental impact came in fourth with 35.4%.

When asked about which department in their organizations was responsible for implementing CSR policies and practices there was a 49% response rate. From these responses it was interesting to see that Human Resource function came first with almost 30.9% followed very closely by those at the corporate or executive level within an organization, 30.8%. It is encouraging to see that CSR implementation is being given serious consideration and that the executive is responsible in over a third of respondents in this survey.

Core topics of CSR

Respondents were asked about the topics that should be covered by CSR and for this the core subjects of ISO 26000 were offered as answer option. These include organization governance, human rights, labour practices, the environment, fair operating practice, consumer issues and community involvement and development. The response rate for this question was 41% and respondents were asked to tick all topics that apply.

It is probably not surprising that Environment came out first with 83.5% of respondents, followed closely by labour practices (78.4%) and community involvement (75.9%). Human rights and consumer issues were the lowest with 66.5% and 52% respectively. 12% of respondents listed other CSR practices such as charitable fundraising and support, disability, diversity and equality, sustainable procurement and animal welfare to list just a few.

When asked to rank the topics into High, Moderate, Low or none at all, the response rate was also 41%. Again environment scored highest with 67.7% of respondents ranking it as high. Environmental management has been adopted by many organizations and indeed many may use ISO 14001 Environmental management systems, which has been published for a number of years, as a way to manage their environmental impact.

Labour practices was second with 65.8% of respondents ranking it high followed very closely by fair operating practices, 65.5%. Organizational governance was ranked high by 62% followed by human rights (60.1%), community involvement and development (53.1%) and consumer issues (43.6%).

In the ranking of the topics, even when moderate and high are combined, consumer issues comes last with 43.6% and 80.9% respectively. This is 8-10% points lower that than the next nearest topic. There are some grounds for improvement here in that CSR practices needs to address consumer issues because it is this group of stakeholders that impact most on brand value for organizations. Consumers are becoming more aware of the ethics and core values of organizations and this can impact on whether they will to do business with these organizations. Thus consumers are an important stakeholder group that organizations ignore at their peril.

When asked about the best ways to learn about CSR practices the response rate was 59% and from these it was encouraging to see that over 62% stated that applying standards was the best way of learning. Other methods included best practice events/conferences – 54%, networking with peers - 37.8%, CSR awards 22.9% and university courses or other external training – 17.1%.

Respondents were asked about other supports that could assist in embedding CSR practices; these included funding, training, senior management commitment, supports from industry representatives, benchmarking and external assessment of CSR practices and other. The response rate was 60.8% and of these training scored highest with 58% followed by senior management commitment 46.3% and benchmarking and external assessment – 42.4%. Respondents indicated other in 3.9% of cases and general issues such as general marketing, being able to measure the impact of CSR interventions, regulations were some of the topics raised.

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The survey results encouragingly showed that a significant number (47.5%), responding to the question on implementing CSR practices in their organization, indicated that they have already implemented CSR practices. A further 14.6% are working towards implementing CSR, however this still leaves approximately 37.9% of respondents yet to develop and implement CSR practices.

Most respondents recognised the role that standards can play in learning about CSR and how to implement practices in their organization. There is knowledge of frameworks and standards such as BITCI Working Responsible Mark, Chambers Ireland Awards and indeed the International Standard ISO 26000. There is still variation in the application and type of standards relating to CSR with almost 50% quoting other standards or none when implementing CSR within their organizations. Many organizations may use their own corporate guidelines for CSR or quote other standards such as ISO 14001, HIQA licensing or others. This would indicate a gap in organizations understanding of what CSR standards exist and what are the core topics that should be addressed.

It is encouraging to see that most organizations recognise the role that standard can play in learning about CSR with over 62% stating standards were the best way to learn about CSR. ISO 26000 is the first international guidance standard on Social Responsibility and forms a common approach and language on what is CSR. It provides principles of social responsibility, guidance on social responsibility core subjects and on how to integrate social responsibility throughout an organization. In Ireland, where most organizations target international trading, it makes sense to adopt and use international standards because as they provide a “common currency and language” around a specific topic. ISO 26000 should form the starting point for any organization seeking to implement CSR practices. The results of the Systematic Review of ISO 26000 were to keep the standard the same for the next three years. This will give organizations a chance to upgrade their current practices to meet international standard guidelines.

Business In The Community Ireland have developed the "Business Working Responsibly Mark". This sets out CSR practices around four key pillars – workplace, environment, marketplace, community. BITCI, in developing the Business Working Responsibly Mark, have based it on the international standard ISO 26000 and is one way of meeting the guidance of the international standard.

The survey found that consumer issues come last in a ranking of the core topics of CSR. The options were based on the ISO 26000 core topics and included human rights, labour practices, environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement. Other topics contributed by respondents included diversity and equality, volunteering, sponsorship and funding. It is not surprising that environment issues came top of the ranking for the core topics as this is probably one of the better known topics of CSR. This result would suggest that Irish organizations need to review the importance and resources they give to CSR objectives, especially on how they deal with consumer issues and perception. The risk to brand value is huge if consumer perceptions are ignored – all consumers are, after all, the potential customers of any organization. One only has to think of the dioxin issue in pork products and indeed the more recent beef and horse meat incident in the food industry to be reminded of the impact of consumers and the danger of persuing costs versus quality.

The survey would indicate that more needs to be done to promote awareness and adoption of ISO 26000 which is the recognised international standard providing guidance on CSR practices. Ireland's national plan for CSR outlined below has identified key objectives to achieve this.

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Ireland's national plan for CSR

In April 2014 the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mr. Richard Bruton T.D. launched “Good for Business, Good for the Community”, Ireland’s National Plan on Corporate Social Responsibility 2014-2016.

This is the first national plan on Corporate Social Responsibility published in Ireland. In this there are a number of Strategic Drivers identified. The main drivers identified include national legislation and regulation, consumer demand and international strategy and was guided by publications such as:
The CSR landscape in Ireland is also discussed in the national plan. It highlights that many organizations across Ireland are engaging in a variety of CSR activities, from those who support activities in their local community in an informal way to those who have dedicated CSR resources and report on their CSR activities which are embedded in their core operations.

The key objectives for the national plan on CSR are to:

  • encourage enterprises to develop and implement CSR policies and practices and their uptake into the core business operations
  • increase transparency and reporting of CSR activity by enterprises operating in Ireland
  • anchor CSR practices in public bodies in the context of their own operations
  • increase awareness of CSR and its value to businesses and society
  • encourage more SMEs to build CSR capacity
Engagement on how best to approach this is a key focus of the proposed CSR stakeholder forum, the establishment of which is one of the objectives of the National Plan on CSR. The results of this survey will be provided to the stakeholder forum and may provide some insights into CSR practices in Ireland.

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