FOR WINNERS of Via Bona awards for corporate social responsibility, obtaining the award was primarily encouragement for them to keep up their work and perhaps go even further. The Slovak Spectator spoke with representatives of last three years’ winners of the main Via Bona awards for corporate responsibility for large and small- and medium-sized companies about how corporate responsibility and the approach of companies have changed over the years. The respondents included Jana Burdová, spokeswoman for Slovenské Elektrárne; Gabriela Vlková, spokeswoman of Embraco in Spišská Nová Ves; Eva Hipšová, the spokeswoman for ABB; Boris Peško, the spokesman for the energy distributor Východoslovenská Energetika (VSE); and Martin Štrba, director of the e-shop at Martinus.sk.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Many activities, which companies carried out in the past as part of CSR activities, are now standard. What direction will CSR head in the future?
Jana Burdová (JB):
Principles of corporate responsibility should become part of all activities of companies, starting with core business up to the activities beyond it.

Gabriela Vlková (GV): One of the most widespread fields of CSR is the form of corporate responsibility towards the region. The surroundings of companies offer various opportunities for partnerships, either in the form of financial support or volunteering activities. In the environmental fields companies are also obliged to manage waste and the production of emissions or monitor other impacts on the environment. But in many cases social responsibility means only an initiative of a small group of employees with the formal support of the management.
A satisfied employee should be the basis of everything. In securing good conditions for their implementation, developing their talents and coming up with innovations, there lies much potential for securing a sustainable business.

Thinking of people is the basis of success. When employees think and act responsibly, the whole corporate environment moves forward in a responsible spirit and activities are incorporated into daily working life. CSR begins inside the company and means open communication with employees. Simultaneously, employees should not be afraid to express their own opinion about topics related to the company.

Eva Hipšová (EH): Corporate responsibility has been gradually becoming part of the corporate culture of many companies and this is good. Our company, at the beginning, focused predominantly on financial support of various charitable organisations, but gradually we also managed to raise awareness within the company and inspired our employees to participate in volunteering projects. What brings us a good feeling is also supporting education and interconnecting theory with practice by, for example, granting modern technological products to laboratories of secondary vocational schools or universities or by providing specialised trainings or consultancy to teachers.
We believe that it is the attention dedicated to education, integrity and the environment that can bring valuable results for all of us in the future.

Boris Peško (BP): Setting new challenges and moving standards ahead propels the whole company forward. The same is true in the field of corporate responsibility.

Within the RWE group, of which VSE is a part, we also register a shift in this field. This is linked with the general course of events in the European energy market. One of the dominant themes are CO2 emissions and not only on the level of their direct production during generating electricity, but also other impacts. This is also why, for example, e-mobility, or the development of electric cars and related infrastructure, which has become a phenomenon on European roads, has made great headway.
Another notable trend in modern CSR is certainly educating clients about correct and responsible usage of products and services of companies. In the case of energy companies, it is primarily education about saving energy.

Martin Štrba (MŠ): Corporate responsibility continues to be primarily when a company follows the law in time and properly, either in relationships with suppliers or clients. It is ‘above standard’ when cooperation is fluent and solving possible problems is smooth and satisfactory for both sides. But according to us, this is completely common and we regard corporate responsibility to be such an activity with which above standard conditions and rules brings benefits to all participating parties.

In the near future corporate responsibility will continue in a direction similar to its current one. An increasing number of companies will try to do business in a legislatively correct way and keep all written as well as unwritten agreements with other stakeholders. Apart from this, companies will increasingly support various non-profit organisations active in their surroundings. Increased support of non-profit organisations will be another phase of development of corporate responsibility in Slovakia.

TSS: Which fields of the corporate environment are not developed enough in Slovakia?
JB:
In many companies corporate responsibility is still perceived narrowly, for example, as financial support of philanthropic activities, and is not considered to be a firm part of the company’s activities. Many companies, for example, still do not regard occupational safety to be
part of the strategy of corporate responsibility.

GV: We see gaps especially in the deeper sense of corporate responsibility, which would bring benefits to all stakeholders involved in the business environment: shareholders, management, employees, suppliers, the community, etc. Volunteering activities dictated from above cause more harm than benefit.

The whole system of corporate responsibility should be based on the balance of economic, environmental and social fields. Only then will it all make sense and only then will sustainability of the whole approach be guaranteed. Properly set legislative requirements may be a motivation for companies, but sometimes companies should set themselves such ambitious goals to properly energise or motivate. This is not an easy path, but there has been huge headway in Slovakia. Companies, especially large corporations, have much strength and power to change things for the better.

EH: One of the fields is, for example, the already mentioned education and its interconnection with practice. This is a very important matter, which deserves much more attention than it already receives. To a certain extent it would help to solve the matter of youth unemployment.

BP: On a Slovakia-wide scale there is certainly room for headway in business ethics. VSE wants to be an example in this field. We believe that tools like electronic tenders or the ombudsman system will also find their place in other companies that want to do business in a transparent way.
Even though much has changed in Slovakia over the last 10 years, we still see potential for the development of volunteering. Experiences of our colleagues from Great Britain, for instance, indicate that the engagement of employees in volunteering projects is already an organic part of HR programmes focused on personal development.

MŠ: There are several fields that have not been developed here so far. We consider one of the biggest problems that companies do not endeavour for permanently sustainable development in the market on which they do their business. Many businesspeople prefer quickly earned money and do not invest into their organisation and its surroundings.

Another theme, which is becoming more topical, is balancing private and work life. We are still lagging behind more developed countries in fighting workaholism and supporting employees in their free-time activities. Last but not least is environmental protection. Waste sorting as well as efforts to use more ecological means of transport should become a matter of course.

TSS: What challenges has winning the Via Bona award brought to your company and what are your other activities within CSR?
JB:
Obtaining the Via Bona award was great encouragement for us. Simultaneously, it obliges us to develop existing activities but also brings us new impulses and ideas for developing our strategy.

GV: Receiving the Via Bona award was an obligation for us not to ease in our activities and approaches and an obligation to go further and get the idea of corporate responsibility into everyday activities of all employees. But it is not easy to push through this idea in the region, in which people fight especially for fulfilment of their basic needs and where the idea of care for future generations and wellbeing of the whole society is distant.

Thus, for us it is very important to point to numerous benefits of corporate responsibility and perceive these practices as preferred in the decision-making process of the company.

EH: Winning the Via Bona award was a great honour and simultaneously a challenge to make sure we do not ease our efforts. Contrary to this, we have tried to improve them. Especially winning a significant number of our employees ready to put their shoulders to the wheel either via regular donation of blood, or active participation in marathon runs as well as the already mentioned school projects, this is the path we have embarked on and we are prepared to continue.

BP: VSE perceives the Via Bona award as a duty to live up to. In spite of the stiffening competition and related pressure on financial effectiveness of the operation of the whole VSE group, the need for engagement in CSR activities is our moral duty. We want to continue to be responsible inhabitants of the region and by our activities we will focus on the region in which we operate, eastern Slovakia.

MŠ: Getting the Via Bona award was primarily a large obligation to further develop CSR fields in our company. Also, on the basis of winning this award we have looked on some of these activities more closely and began to do them more systematically or extended them into all our units. As winners we also feel being leaders with which other companies compare and thus also in the CSR field we endeavour to innovate and set trends.