The passage of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) into the European Union’s formal agenda began with steps taken at the March 2000 European Council Summit in Lisbon. CSR was held to be a strategic instrument for creating a more competitive and socially cohesive society, while also modernising and strengthening the European social model.
But what exactly is CSR? Who are the stakeholders benefiting from it? And what benefits does a company gain from investing its funds and resources in social responsibility?
According to Roberto Orsi, Director of the publication Osservatorio Socialis, “Corporate Social Responsibility is, above all, a form of conduct companies have been adopting since 2001. We can pin CSR’s advent down to that year because that is when the European Commission’s Green Paper on the matter was published, which defines social responsibility as, “A concept whereby companies decide voluntarily to contribute to a better society and a cleaner environment.”
The Osservatorio Socialis, a vocal CSR proponent, has issued its eighth report on corporate social responsibility in Italy: in 2017, 1.412 billion euros of investments were made in CSR projects in Italy, up 25% on the previous year. The number of companies lending their attention to their own CSR has doubled, from 44% in 2001 to 85% in 2017. The average spend or investment in 2017 per Italian company was more than 200,000 euros (209,000 to be precise), which is an increase of 18.7% on the 2015 figures of just 176,000 euros per company. The spending projections per company in 2018 go up to 267,000 euros (a 27.8% increase).
The report was drawn up by the Osservatorio Socialis, in collaboration with Baxter (a healthcare organisation), FS Italiane (the Italian national rail company), Prioritalia (a managers’ association) and Terna (which manages the Italian transmission grid). The Osservatorio carried out its study on a sample of 400 companies, each with over 80 employees.
“In recent years, the world has changed very quickly,” continues Orsi. “Companies are adjusting to this by transforming their basic philosophy. We’re now moving away from a ‘produce and sell’ structure and towards a ‘listen and respond’ model. Today’s businesses cannot avoid listening to the demands of ‘interested parties’. The key stakeholders are the consumers who buy the products a company makes - the customers.”
The importance of investing in social responsibility and sustainability has already been exposed, and that is also because consumers are pushing for it.
Formalising assessment and communication on the matter is one of the most explicit requests made by stakeholders. It refers to a need to establish an ‘official form of recognition’, a ‘stamp’ that allows those who have turned sustainability (environmental, social, corporate) into a distinctive feature, those who have made a definitive choice, to show it. We need and there will be a ‘CSR Index’, to help rank the companies on how well they implement CSR policies. It would be a stamp of quality, a unique achievement, acknowledgement that a company knows the ‘best practices’ in CSR and that it uses them throughout its operations.
“The importance of investments in social responsibility and sustainability has already been exposed, and that is also because consumers are pushing for it,” Orsi explains. “And they are convincing companies that want to exist on the market in a more effective and permanent way.” The requirements? Training staff, social cohesion, transparency at all levels, listening to stakeholders, communicating, planning and assessing.”
CSR has become an essential value for companies. Involving staff, caring for the environment, fighting waste, optimising energy consumption and recycling are all areas into which companies claim they are pouring more effort.
35% of companies say they want to contribute to sustainable development, 32% want to fulfil responsibilities towards future generations and 29% want to improve their relationship with the local communities. Commercial objects are considered less important, with ‘just’ 21% using CSR policies to ‘attract new clients’.
Orsi adds, “It’s worth noting that companies mostly develop CSR initiatives with an internal scope, although they are noticeably being directed towards the area local to the companies’ operational offices. Fewer companies, in fact, are pursuing CSR initiatives that target foreign countries.”
Involving staff, caring for the environment, fighting waste, optimising energy consumption and recycling are all sectors into which companies are pouring more effort.
Increasing attention is being paid to both environmental sustainability and social responsibility; if the latter is deemed to include activities that improve the well-being of employees, it is certainly the more common of the two.