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Will the crisis destroy CSR?

FOR THE FIRST time in history, if the International Labour Organisation’s predictions hold, the current economic crisis will bring the total number of unemployed people to more than 210 million.

FOR THE FIRST time in history, if the International Labour Organisation’s predictions hold, the current economic crisis will bring the total number of unemployed people to more than 210 million.

This crisis is wide-ranging, complex, and moreover, global. As far as we can tell, it is a result of poor, irresponsible and unethical government policies and practices, coupled with irresponsible behaviour by corporations - demonstrated by, among other things, unethical decisions and greedy financial manipulations. The present crisis will have a significant impact on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Will the crisis kill CSR as we know it or revive its core and strategic nature? Could it furthermore draw a line between those who just market themselves as responsible and those who have been serious and walked the walk in the good times, and will not now give it up in these hard times when being responsible might be most crucial for businesses?

In this sense, data from the CSR International blog from October 2008 might provide surprising: 44 percent of CSR professionals believe that CSR will increase as a result of the crisis. A further 26 percent believe it will change, while 22 percent think it will weaken. How will the Slovak CSR scene be affected? According to data from the Donors Forum, philanthropy seen as charity and community assistance is about to drop by 15-20 percent. The remaining activities will call for more efficiency and synergy among them. On the other hand, according to information gathered among the Business Leaders Forum (BLF) members in Slovakia, companies for whom philanthropy is an integral part of a larger CSR strategy, and for whom CSR as such is already embedded in corporate culture, governance systems and strategy, will not be affected so drastically by the crisis, and some key parts will remain untouched. Furthermore, the news from prestigious CSR umbrella organisations CSR Europe, in Brussels, and Business in the Community, in London, suggest that there might be some corporations who can profit from the current situation. They will be those who see CSR as a way of addressing the world’s pressing needs, such as climate change and providing long term sustainable solutions, including low carbon and renewable energy technologies that will have a direct positive impact on the bottom line of companies.

According to the CSR International blog, companies that have the ambition to provide clean energy solutions will be able to profit from a market that is today worth $284 billion and which is expected to grow to over $1.3 trillion by 2017. Yes, times are hard. But wise CEOs know that the answer is in keeping up environmental measures and programmes to build renewable energy resources, keep talented people, engage them in generating the best ideas for the company’s future, engage the supply chain in the company’s values, and still pay attention to community needs.

There is a lot that even Slovakia can do during the current period of CSR turmoil. The BLF administered by the Pontis Foundation is the first to have the GRI reporting guidelines translated into Slovak. Most of the BLF’s CEOs have committed their companies to use the GRI for reporting their CSR activities this year. The sixth Annual Conference on CSR held on May 13 will be addressing the questions of economic recession and CSR, as well as its ethical aspects and the responsibility of the media. Corporations are also donating the time and skills of their employees for volunteering days in local communities with Naša Žilina on May 23 and Naša Bratislava on June 12-13. The results of the Corporate Responsibility and Philanthropy Award, the Via Bona Slovakia, now in its ninth year, will be announced on April 2.

Lenka Surotchak is the director of the Pontis Foundation

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