Large companies, and increasingly medium-sized and smaller ones, are aware that without a well-developed corporate social responsibility segment they cannot be successful and safeguard their long-term future on the market. The Serbian Chamber of Commerce & Industry encourages and rewards the business sector’s efforts to build responsible relationships, both within organisations and with their partners and suppliers, but also in relation to the community.
In which way does the CCIS encourage companies to adopt responsible business practices in the period between the awarding of two prizes for CSR?
– The Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia has for years contributed to promoting the basic principles of corporate social responsibility and I would say that it is one of the leaders in promoting these ideas in both Serbia and the region as a whole. Alongside the National Award for Corporate Social Responsibility, the CCIS also provides a significant contribution to promoting fundamental principles of international standards for social responsibility ISO 26000, such as: fair labour practices, environmental protection, ethical business practices, human rights, consumer protection issues and responsible corporate governance. The chamber is also very active in promoting the 10 principles of the Global Compact of the United Nations, both through the provision of expertise and technical support to the work of the Network in Serbia, as well as through direct involvement in working groups. The CCIS participates, institutionally and through the engagement of its own resources, in creating a climate for doing business that is harmonised with the principles of social responsibility, but also in direct campaigns, education and support to other organisations.
How ready are foreign companies operating in Serbia to adjust their global CSR strategies to local needs and conditions?
– International companies that have established operations in Serbia, alongside developing their own business, also transfer principles, standards and corporate rules from the headquarters of their parent countries. Guided by the principle “be a good neighbour”, many companies understand the importance of good communication with the local community. Companies which, for example, have more energy intensive production and potentially a greater impact on the environment, pay special attention to the issue of the health and safety of their workers and the environment. It is for these reasons that they try to adjust their CSR strategies to the demands, needs and circumstances of the local community in which they operate, but in no way by abandoning their predefined strategic priorities and postulates of social responsibility. Most other companies behave similarly, because good communication and cooperation with the local community is recognised as a prerequisite for gaining trust and an opportunity to meet the needs and expectations of the people who live there. There are certainly exceptions, those who do not do that and are closed and non-transparent, but that must be changed through the joint actions of relevant institutions that control the implementation of the law and all the rest of us who have to talk and act even more in accordance with the principles of social responsibility.
How much do domestic companies recognise CSR as part of the strengthening of their brands and investing long term in building the trust of consumers?
– Modern domestic companies, which plan their operations on a longterm basis, are aware that without taking care of people – both within their organisation and in the local environment – and without consistent fulfillment of health, safety and environmental protection requirements, and without constant communication with all key stakeholders, they cannot be successful, competitive or have a good image on today’s market.
The trust of consumers is acquired gradually and lost overnight. Today it is not enough to sell a quality product that is competitively priced. You need to convince consumers that you care about them and their neighbours, to understand the problems of the common man, not to dump waste water in the river, and that you consider your consumer even after selling your products. That’s why there is ever more talk today about after-sale services, high quality service and maintenance networks, “green” products, 24-hour availability for consumers, an ethical approach to marketing activities – in short, an honest relationship with the consumer. That’s why adjusting to these new requirements is essential for a company’s sustainable business, image and value.
To what extent do companies that have adopted CSR principles recognise that cultivating relationships with employees, suppliers and business partners also represents part of that?
– There are many examples of companies that have lost their market position, made significant financial losses and jeopardised their image without directly being at fault, but because of lightly handling cooperation with suppliers and partners who subsequently broke the law or did not abide by corporate standards.
Today, small and medium-sized enterprises that want to become part of the value chains of large companies must accept and apply strict procedures, rules and standards in the same way as is done in the company that has engaged them as a partner. Today’s successful companies know that without employee satisfaction there are no successful operations. A pleasant working environment, availability of resources for work, opportunities for advancement and taking care of employees are often more important than financial incentives when it comes to increasing the motivation of an employee and their sense of belonging and being important to the organisation where they work. And a happy, healthy and motivated worker is the most productive worker, for the enterprise and for themselves and their family.
The Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia has for years contributed to promoting the basic principles of corporate social responsibility and I would say that it is one of the leaders in promoting these ideas in both Serbia and the region as a whole
Are companies more willing to replicate the successful practices of others or experiment with new CSR approaches?
– The United Nations New 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes 17 new sustainable development goals with the aim of eradicating hunger, fighting inequality and injustice, and fighting against climate change. According to the new EU Directive, large organisations that are of public interest and have more than 500 employees will be obliged to make public, through the publishing of reports, non-financial information related to environmental issues, social issues, issues related to employees, respect for human rights and the fight against corruption and bribery. Moreover, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), for example, this year published a new standard “Management system to combat bribery and corruption” – ISO 37001, which has already attracted the attention of many companies, civil society organisations and the general public. These are all new models, principles and aspects that companies will have to pay attention to in their operations, regardless of whether they are ready to accept them or not, because otherwise they will encounter competition that has overtaken them.
How ready are companies to take on a broader social role in satisfying the needs of marginalised groups?
– According to our experiences, there is a substantial level of awareness among companies about the need to take care of marginalised groups and ensure their social inclusion in the local community. Around 20 per cent of social responsibility projects that were evaluated through the CCIS award addressed issues of people with disabilities, children, Roma and the unemployed. These are projects that directly assist specific vulnerable target groups in society, and companies demonstrate understanding for this important social phenomenon. At the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia we have also recognised the importance of addressing this issue, and so, in cooperation with German organisation GIZ, we launched the project “National Platform for the inclusion of informal waste collectors”, which has the goal of making poor categories of the population and the Roma population “economically visible” in the solid waste management system, and for them to gain equal status in terms of social, health and other rights that belong as much to them as to all other members of society.