CSR: East looks West

CSR: East looks West

Asian businesses are moving beyond their traditional corporate social responsibility approach to reach the emerging middle class.

According to global research firm Nielsen, 64% of consumers in the Asia-Pacific region will happily pay more for products and services from companies that take the impact they have on society and the environment seriously.

This is particularly important given the role of social media in both protecting and potentially damaging a brand’s reputation.

Junice Yeo, director South East Asia at global business consultancy Corporate Citizenship, says corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Asia can be traced back to elements of Confucian philosophy. This emphasises honesty and integrity in the political system and within society.

“Before the concept of CSR, people would use the term ‘Confucian businessman’ to describe an entrepreneur who conducted himself in a socially-responsible manner,” says Yeo. “In Asia, CSR has rested mainly with the leader of the company, rather than with the company itself.”

She says there is also a distinction between smaller Asian companies and large global corporations such as Samsung or Hyundai.

“Companies with a significant customer base in developed markets such as Western Europe and America recognise they need to have a consistent CSR business strategy.”

While most Asian brand owners have very deep roots in society and a corresponding responsible attitude, marketers in the region can struggle to link these social values with the business.

“It means the brands being promoted are still driven by market demand and regulatory pressures,” says Yeo. “But with a growing affluent middle class comes a higher expectation on health and hygiene. This is due partly to recent food safety scandals. Asian consumers are more careful about which brands they trust.”

More Asian companies are adopting international CSR guidelines like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) or the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) for communications. 

The greater use of social media and mobile devices does allow companies to mitigate negative feedback, sway public opinion and reach out to local communities, but marketers must always create a compelling story.

Michael Jenkins, chief executive at leadership centre the Roffey Park Institute, says Asian consumers are tuned in to the power of the online crowd.

“Marketers must put out honest and authentic news and information about their company’s CSR activities, such as community outreach and due diligence around supply chains,” he says. “These positive CSR messages, together with messaging around humane and caring workplace practices, are strong influencers on young Asian buyers.”

Singapore-based IT and telecoms company StarHub has created the StarHub Community forum for employees as well as consumer and business advocates of its brands. This has increased brand engagement and saved the business money because there are fewer calls to its contact centre.

“Asian companies are expanding their CSR initiatives as awareness and adoption of sustainability measures gain traction,” says StarHub’s chief strategic partnership officer Jeannie Ong. “Besides greater philanthropic and pro-environmental practices we are seeing more emphasis on corporate governance and ethical business practices.”

Steve Hemsley CPL Freelance Marketing and Business Journalist
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