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Promoting and upholding responsible business in Asean
RECOGNISING the growing importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the region, the ASEAN Responsible and Inclusive Business Alliance (ARIBA) was set up to establish a network of businesses to promote responsible, inclusive and sustainable enterprises.
Unveiled at this year's Brands for Good Awards ceremony, ARIBA is a joint initiative of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC) and the ASEAN Corporate Social Responsibility Network (ACN). ABAC advises ASEAN leaders on business-related issues while ACN promotes responsible business in the region.
"CSR in ASEAN is seen by many as just philanthropy and charity. ACN had been working to spread the message that CSR is beyond philanthropy and charity. It is not about how companies spend money, but it is about how the money is made," said Thomas Thomas, CEO of ACN.
"The state of CSR in ASEAN is mixed. In all the member states, there are good companies that are leaders in sustainability and responsibility. At the same time, we have many whose only focus is profit maximisation at all cost. This brings with it adverse environmental, governance and social costs. While ASEAN's GDP has doubled over the last decade, the human and environmental cost had been high too. The haze and forced labour issues are examples," he added.
While businesses need to be profitable to survive, this should not come at the expense of others. "ARIBA will highlight that it is easier for businesses to prosper in prosperous and healthy societies and they should contribute to the wellbeing of society while being profitable," explained Mr Thomas.
He noted that the challenges facing companies which strive to be responsible and sustainable are the lack of incentives, knowledge and resources. To avoid companies adopting a profit-at-all-cost mentality, ARIBA will help educate businesses about the benefits of operating responsibly while turning a profit.
"There must be reasonable returns on investment and understanding who your key stakeholders are. Addressing their expectations makes for better, resilient and sustainable businesses. This will reduce risks, enable better decision making and enhance trust in society," said Mr Thomas.
"The main blind spot for many enterprises is not being aware that businesses create wealth. If this wealth is created positively and responsibly, it would create stable, healthy and wealthy societies and communities which will, in turn, contribute to profitable and sustainable businesses."
THE RIGHT SET OF VALUES
Encouragingly, he believed that many businesses are already implicitly responsible, and have adopted the right set of values. To help them and others on this journey, ARIBA has launched a code that enables companies to understand where they stand in terms of being a responsible and inclusive business.
Among other activities, ARIBA plans to roll out capacity building and peer learning tools to help companies improve performance. The organisation will also provide a platform for members to share information, experiences and good practices on responsible business activities.
Said Mr Thomas: "We ask businesses to make a commitment. This is a journey. For success, they should do it with like-minded people and the support mechanism of the organisation. We welcome all enterprises regardless of size or type."
Speaking on the launch of ARIBA, Brands for Good co-chairperson Alan Ng said: "Together as a region, we have immense potential to create social impact from aligning our practices and creating synergies. Achieving this requires a catalyst and we hope this alliance will become that catalyst."