Maintaining fundamental principles even in difficult times

HAVING a responsible approach to business remains a topical issue for many companies in Slovakia and the economic crisis did not change their perspectives. Quite to the contrary, the economic downturn brought new needs which key players in the corporate sector viewed as a challenge and their companies responded with innovative ideas.

USSK employees give many volunteer hours.USSK employees give many volunteer hours. (Source: Courtesy of USSK)

HAVING a responsible approach to business remains a topical issue for many companies in Slovakia and the economic crisis did not change their perspectives. Quite to the contrary, the economic downturn brought new needs which key players in the corporate sector viewed as a challenge and their companies responded with innovative ideas.

The Slovak Spectator spoke with George F. Babcoke, President of U. S. Steel Košice (USSK), Alena Walterová, the spokesperson for VÚB bank, Danica Balážová from the Office of Global Social Innovation at Hewlett-Packard, Andrej Gargulák, the spokesperson for Slovak Telekom and Ivica Hricová, media relations coordinator at Orange Slovensko about their companies’ philosophy of corporate social responsibility and their recent activities in this area.

The Slovak Spectator: Did the crisis change the attitude of your company towards corporate social responsibility (CSR) and in which areas of CSR is your company most involved? Did your company have to cope with a drop in funds available for CSR and if so, how did you handle it?

George F. Babcoke: Taking a responsible approach to business is a fundamental and constant principle for our company. Despite the worldwide economic downturn, we continue to behave as a responsible company whose key values – safety, focus on employees and customers, quality products and services, environmental compliance, raising productivity and lowering costs – have not changed and remain in force regardless of the current economic conditions for our business. We are trying to maintain these values for the benefit of our employees, customers, shareholders, and the community in which we work and live.

This crisis has taught us to be more creative and to undertake new kinds of activities. We reacted very flexibly and applied every proposed innovation for reducing overall costs and maintaining viability during the crisis. Despite reduced funds, we have also continued in our long-term philanthropic projects to support the local community and the region.

More than any production records – in fact more than anything else at all – we value safe working conditions and a safe approach to work by our employees. We are sending out clear signals to our staff, their families, our partners and the whole community that priorities in industrial manufacturing are changing and that for us safety comes first.

Alena Walterová: Many people understand CSR as charity, as sponsorship or something similar and they have a feeling that the crisis has cancelled all these activities or at least curbed them.

But at VÚB we understand CSR in a much wider sense. The main aim is to fulfil our business needs without endangering the needs of the society in which we do business and the needs of next generations. This affects the whole operational system of our bank. It is the way we look at the world and the environment around us and how we behave towards it. It is how we operate in the economic, environmental and social fields.

At VÚB we have in mind to behave ethically, transparently and responsibly. And the crisis did not affect this philosophy, except maybe only in the positive sense, because it strengthened the need for corporate responsibility.

As an example, I note our decision not to finance projects which might endanger the environment. Equally, we will never finance the armaments industry because we are convinced that war is not the way resolve conflicts.

In philanthropy, VÚB focuses on education, on saving and supporting cultural heritage, and on charitable activities. We have also contributed to spreading the principles of CSR among small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) which are more than 90 percent of the business sector. We have supported a series of seminars on CSR for SMEs organised in cooperation with the Business Leaders' Forum and we have prepared and published CSR reports for our SME customers.

CSR does not require any special funds. It is enough to do our everyday work in a responsible way. There are really a lot of opportunities for this and it is only up to each company which option it picks. Money plays a role, but it is not of key importance.

Regarding our sponsorship and philanthropic activities, all of us were hit by the crisis last year. But we endeavour to continue our activities so that those who need help do not feel the impact.

Danica Balážová: At Hewlett-Packard (HP), we are committed to aligning our business goals with our impacts on society and the environment. Global citizenship is one of HP’s seven corporate objectives and it influences how we run our business, holding us to high standards of integrity, ethics, contributions and accountability. It is rooted in values that have guided the company since it was founded.

In 2009, the global economy experienced the worst economic downturn in recent history. At HP, we set a goal of controlling discretionary spending, while keeping the muscle of the organisation intact so we were able to maintain forward progress in our core strategy. That included our commitment to global citizenship, which we believe is even more important in difficult times.

We focus our global citizenship efforts in five areas: ethics and compliance, human rights and labour practices, environmental sustainability, privacy, and social welfare.

In areas such as education, health care and energy our goal is to harness the power of information, using IT to change the equation and help create a more efficient, environmentally-responsible world and also to improve HP’s own products and operations.

In Slovakia, besides other programmes, we continue to support education initiatives with special programmes in partnership with Junior Achievement (JA) Slovakia. The objective of these programmes is to increase awareness among secondary school students about responsible business. Our employees have been actively engaged in the HP Responsible Award and our Global Ethics Program.

Our employees are visiting schools as volunteer consultants, giving presentations about responsible business strategy and their bringing business experiences to the classes so that young students get opportunity to learn more and discuss this topic. Thirteen HP employees participated in the JA Innovation Camp where 63 students tried to find innovative solutions for a challenge put to them: how to motivate talented employees in times of economic crisis.

We will not decrease our focus and investments in this area because we think that in the economic downturn they are more important than ever.

Andrej Gargulák: With regards to its long-standing strategy for CSR and sponsorship, Slovak Telekom prefers supporting socially, physically or otherwise challenged people and communities, and the development of informatisation of society. We carry out this support especially via the Slovak Telekom Foundation. As a consequence of the economic downturn expenditures in this area were reviewed, especially from the viewpoint of effectiveness of the support and the individual activities to which the company contributes. But nevertheless, the total amount of support did not change significantly. Slovak Telekom pushes for transparently available forms of assistance for potential recipients who must demonstrate the ability to use the assistance as effectively as possible and in the best way from the viewpoint of long-term positive effects.

Ivica Hricová: The crisis has not changed Orange Slovensko’s attitude to CSR at all. To the contrary, the crisis hit the whole economy and all citizens, including our customers, and brought new needs to which we have tried to respond as a responsible corporate citizen. Not only we did not ease up in our traditional activities, which include three priority pillars – education, social integration and the environment – but we also endeavoured as flexibly as possible to respond to new conditions which the economic situation brought.

For example, we decided to make searching for a job easier via a mobile phone by the launch of our free Job Line and our Orange World Job service, which is a mobile mini-portal with free access to websites with job offers. As well, we sought to decrease concerns among our customers about whether they will be able to pay their obligations in the event of job loss by offering an advantageous programme for insurance of invoices. Last year we distributed even more money among an even larger number of applicants via our grant programmes and we helped start several long-term projects in the fields of social integration, regional development and education.

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