Ekobai.com`s market guide to products certified to Corporate Social Responsibility standards considers the market value and benefits of the certification.The guide also features descriptions of and links to the main standards such as SA 8000, Good Corporation standard, ISO 26000, and Global Reporting Initiative.
Overview of Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a term coined in the 1970s in response to the trend among leading multinational corporations towards self-regulation in areas where corporate law did not cover. It specifically aimed to include the interests of a broader range of stakeholders in corporate decision-making. Prominent among these are the natural environment and those affected by it, local residents and the general public as well as direct and extended employees. CSR attempts to ensure the company minimizes the adverse impact it has on these stakeholders over and above what relevant law requires and indeed encourages companies to “give back” to society in the form of philanthropy. CSR issues are now entrenched into corporate organizational structure with most leading companies having a CSR Director at the board level. There is also now a broad support network of NGOs, industry groups, consultants and academia in place to support CSR activities. Companies invest in CSR to (1) enhance their reputation with the market (2) as a necessary precursor to future legislation and (3) to increase the company’s standing amongst its employees. A full account of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be found here.
Role of Corporate Social Responsibility Standards Within the Market
The practical implementation of CSR consists of activities and efforts outside the scope of legislation. It is therefore not surprising that certifications and standards play a large role. The business community realised early on that self-declaration of CSR achievements would not bring the desired benefits in terms of reputation enhancement. The problem lay in convincing an increasingly sceptical media, public and NGO community of corporate intentions, and third-party verified standards play a key role in many sensitive areas of CSR.
Which issues within CSR a company focuses on depends on its sector and geographic area of operation. For textile and shoe multinationals like NIKE and the GAP the key issue was sweatshop and worker exploitation issues in supplier factories in developing countries. While these multinationals were not breaking any laws by buying from suppliers with poor worker welfare practices, they were being hammered in the market place by NGOs like Global Exchange
. This eventually led the global fashion/clothing sector to create the social standard SA 8000 aimed at ensuring a minimum standard for suppliers covering a range of worker welfare issues.
The Good Corporation standard is a commercial initiative to develop a CSR standard which can also be applied to smaller companies.
The reporting of a company’s CSR efforts has also attracted the need for standardization. The leading initiative is centered around the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).The emphasis is now on being able to compare companies with each other, a process for which audited standards like SA 8000 are essential.
Social issues have proved highly sensitive and political. China is highly suspicious of many of the clauses of SA 8000, for example those relating to trade unions. However, the momentum behind CSR has propelled the issue to the ISO level and it is now being considered for ISO standard status – the ISO 26000 standard.
Leading Corporate Social Responsibility Standards
An incomplete list of CSR standards is provided at the right, with links to the relevant organizations behind them. Readers should note that CSR is a rather general term and many of the other standards described and classified on Ekobai.com could also be classified as “CSR”. As such this list is abbreviated and limited to standards specifically related to the term “social” and “CSR”. Some companies would also cite environmental standards such as ISO 14001 and product standards such as Fairtrade and FSC in their CSR statements. A full analysis of these standards can be found in the main menu of Ekobai.com’s Analysis section.