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Why companies should do more for society

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08th-Aug-2017       
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Habiba Al Marashi :
The year 2017 has been a good year for sustainability and CSR professionals in the UAE. With the government's declaration to focus on 'giving', this year, we have seen many a business ramp up its action plans and step up its community initiatives.
The year became even better when the Ministry of Economy announced that they are keen on the private sector investing in programmes that contribute to sustainability and social responsibility. This announcement detailed 11 initiatives which include policies, incentives and indices - to encourage companies to be more CSR savvy.
One of these initiatives is the nation-wide annual CSR index, which according to the MOE website will "rate companies on the percentage of their contributions to CSR projects and initiatives and other standards." To facilitate this, the government will offer an online platform where audited CSR accounts will be submitted to the Department of Economic Development for evaluation.
The government plays a major role in the way the private sector functions - especially in the GCC, and it is very welcoming to see that this role has been extended to how businesses practice corporate sustainability. I feel that the CSR index - at the moment only mandatory for large enterprises and voluntary for SMEs - will help incentivise companies and also push them to raise the bar for CSR practices.
With the Arabia CSR Network's experience of evaluating businesses in the region for their CSR and sustainability performance, I have witnessed a number of companies that rely on token initiatives or superficial projects to boost their reputation as a corporate citizen.
For the CSR index to give an honest reflection of the private sector's impact towards sustainable development, it should have a criteria that does not simply focus on a company's budget for charitable contributions. It should ideally assess a company's sincerity, transparency and creativity in integrating a range of social and environmental concerns.
There have been a number of international cases where companies that were recognised and awarded for their sustainable practices are later found to have caused significant environmental damages, or violated a number of human and labour rights, or even been involved in corrupt practices. I have high expectations that the UAE government's CSR index, as well as its CSR label and passport, will primarily recognise companies that are truly contributing towards the welfare and wellbeing of their employees and our society.
Another noteworthy initiative that is part of the ministry's announcement is that of dedicating a percentage of government contracts to private sector companies and contractors that excel in CSR. Many a time, companies are looking for the 'business case' to practice CSR. While these have always existed, this 'procurement' focused incentive makes it all the more obvious that if you do business responsibly, you will most likely receive an immediate bottom-line benefit. I am sure this will greatly incentivise finance and procurement heads to take CSR more seriously.
The UAE - with the vision of its leaders and the collective effort of the public, private sector and the civil society sector - already enjoys a strong position in the region in terms of economic development and security. With the national CSR agenda, and its 11 initiatives, I am confident that we are on the right track to be a global model for innovation, social wellbeing and environmental sustainability.

(Habiba Al Marashi is the President & CEO of the Arabia CSR Network)

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