Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


HSBC Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2004

September 2005

34 pages.

Good social reporting is essentially about achieving a fine balance on all fronts: not too much data, but enough to have meaning, not too glossy but engaging nonetheless, and a focus on past achievement while looking, with targets, to the future.

Although HSBC may not be a world leader in socially responsible business behaviour, it is certainly one of the few companies to have achieved such a fine balance in the reporting of its social and environmental impacts.

Its fifth stand-alone corporate social responsibility report is unlikely to satisfy the hard core of Global Reporting Initiative-obsessed stakeholders who crave ever-increasing complexity and nuance, nor may it win a major social reporting award. But it does provide the lay reader with a good snapshot of the bank’s impacts and objectives – and that surely must be one of the main aims of such a document.

The 34-page hard copy report’s key achievement is its simplicity. Data highlights are collected together in a slimline table on page two, followed by the chairman’s introduction and then a logical sequence of sections outlining what the business does and where, how it tries to manage the impacts of its lending, the direct effects of its operations on areas such as the environment, and how its internal structures take account of CSR.

Each section has a series of related commitments for 2005 which, while not always as specific as they ought to be, are clear, succinct and assessable. It’s a half-hour read at maximum, with web links for further information.

Assured by The Corporate Citizenship Company and designed without clutter or gimmick, there is nothing in here that needs a second take; even the one rather labyrinthine flow diagram on global warming over the centre pages is easy to follow and more than justifies itself – not least for its revelation that HSBC has decided ‘tree planting is not the answer to preventing climate change’.

Overall, substance is refreshingly allied to style even if there are gaps – such as a lack of sector comparability – in some places. If you’re looking for a good example of social reporting, here it is.

Peter Mason

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