Corporate Citizen - an Evolving Concept?
19 October 2001 at 1:10 pm
“Corporate Citizenship is a recognition that a business, corporation or business-like organisation, has social, cultural and environmental responsibilities to the community in which it seeks a licence to operate, as well as economic and financial ones to its shareholders or immediate stakeholders.”
That’s the definition given by the Corporate Citizenship Research Unit at Deakin University in Victoria.
It goes on to say that corporate citizenship involves an organisation coming to terms with the need for radical internal and external changes, in order to better meet its responsibilities to all of its stakeholders (direct or indirect).
This is done in order to establish, and maintain, sustainable success for the organisation, and as a result of that success, to achieve long term sustainable success for the community at large. A mouthful to digest!
But how does it work?
Much work has already been done in Australia to catch up with the upsurge in corporate citizenship activities in UK, Europe and the home of corporate social responsibility, the USA.
Australian Prime Minister, John Howard set up the Community Business Partnerships back in 1999 – a representative group of Australians committed to encouraging and enhancing partnerships between the corporate and community sectors. It offers prestigious annual awards to partnerships large and small.
In the UK, the Business in the Community Organisation has been operating for 14 years. The Prince of Wales has been its President for the last 12 years.
Part of that group, Business-Impact.org has produced a “Starter Pack” for companies wanting to embrace the community as part of its strategy. It offers clear and simple ideas and case studies with a menu of ideas for companies just starting to explore social responsibility.
These suggestions travel well across continents for use in Australia.
With this concept comes the emergence of entrepreneurs who make it their mission to see corporate community involvement work on many levels. In Australia corporate citizenship is still an evolving concept where the language of how it works is still changing.
Vern Hughes from the Social Entrepreneurs Network says the concept of corporate citizenship is still new to Australia with many businesses large and small trying to work out how they fit in to the “community”.
Hughes says the language of citizenship may also be corrupted where corporations once saw “marketing” as the reason for their alliance with the community.
He uses the example of Rio Tinto which has successfully developed an approach over the last five years which is a mixture of PR and the recognition that if you are one of the largest employers of indigenous people in the country then you have certain responsibilities to that community.
Rio Tinto won a Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence as part of the Government’s Community Business Partnerships this year.
Hughes says other major corporations are struggling to work out what corporate citizenship might mean and how they might get a handle on it.
The debate is just starting!
Recent research suggests there is a strong sense that Australia is lagging behind other countries.
That’s the findings of a survey of Australian business by the Corporate Citizenship Research unit at Deakin University in Victoria.
The study targeted 200 Australian companies to find out how they understood, incorporated and practised corporate citizenship. 98 companies completed the survey.
The survey report by Professor David Birch and Professor Jonathon Batten shows that corporate citizenship is seen by most companies as generally synonymous with corporate community activity but it is not perceived as being embedded in the mainstream core business policies and practices of a company.
Overall the survey found that there was considerable hesitation in positioning corporate citizenship as a pro-active, long term, internal corporate culture process.
The survey found most approaches to community activities were based on a short-term approach and says there is more hesitation about funding long-term community involvement. It found that a little over 20 percent of companies surveyed were interested in business/community partnerships.
The researchers say there is clearly a willingness to engage in corporate citizenship, but Australia is lagging behind other countries and significant links have yet to be made by corporate Australia to have the financial, social, and environmental bottom lines connect at every level within the company.
If you would like to have your say on how your company is approaching the issues around corporate citizenship, join our on-line Forum at probonoaustralia.com.au and click on ‘Forum’ in the menu at the top of the web page.
Corporate Citizenship Links:
(Community Business Partnerships www. partnership.zip.com.au)
(UK Business and Community organisation www.bitc.org.uk)