Saudi Arabia decides to praise virtues of CSRApril 2008
The government of Saudi Arabia has begun a project to promote corporate responsibility.
The three-year Saudi Arabian Responsible Competitiveness Initiative is led by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (Sagia), the government agency behind the multi-million-dollar 10x10 programme with a direct mandate from King Abdullah to put the country among the top ten most economically competitive nations by 2010. Sagia believes one way to do this is to make Saudi Arabia an attractive place to operate by virtue of its ‘responsible business behaviour’.
The initiative on responsible competitiveness will be developed with advice from the AccountAbility think-tank.
Amr Dabbagh, Sagia’s governor and board chairman, said the aim was ‘to engage the private sector in enhancing the country’s competitiveness by contributing to human and social capital development and environmental innovation’.
Saudi officials plan to hold roundtables on corporate responsibility with executives and to monitor progress via a Responsible Competitiveness index. This scores countries on social conditions and public policy, making it possible to benchmark government and company activity. Last year there was no data available for Saudi Arabia and the highest ranking Middle Eastern country in the index was the United Arab Emirates, which came 29th.
As part of the 10x10 programme, Sagia is working on a series of executive education sessions and research projects with Harvard University’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative and AccountAbility.
Sagia’s project reflects growing interest throughout the region in corporate responsibility, most notably in the UAE, where the logistics company Aramex, the Dubai International Financial Centre, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi and Tecom Investments, have begun sustainability reporting.
A Middle East Centre for Sustainable Development has been established in Dubai (EP9, issue 6, p2), and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry has created a Centre for Responsible Business. Elsewhere, the Jordan government is seeking to improve labour practices in the textile and apparel sector through Better Work Jordan and other education programmes. The first awards ceremony recognizing responsible business practice in Kuwait was held in February, won by Kuwait Project Company, an investment holding firm.
Annelies Hodge, CSR consultant at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told EP: ‘We are certainly witnessing an expansion of understanding and practice in the Middle East. Philanthropy, as an important component of Islam, is often deeply ingrained in the culture of firms here, but many are beginning to go beyond investment in the community to improve their performance in areas such as workforce development, supply chain and customer practices. The motives differ from company to company, but... government-level discourse has certainly pushed the agenda forward.’
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