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Should CSR have a professional body?

December 2010

The Corporate Responsibility Group is toying with the idea of changing itself into an association for individual CSR practitioners. Is there a need for such a thing?

When the CRG introduced the first ever code of conduct for CSR practitioners earlier this year, it led to suggestions that  the sector might benefit from the creation of a professional association solely for CSR practitioners – in line with similar bodies for solicitors, architects and others (EP12, issue 1, p5). The CRG has since been seeking the views of practitioners. Here are four that it has made public:

David Ferguson, head of corporate responsibility strategy, EDF Energy
In an ideal world, CR would never become a recognized profession. A clear sign of success would be that CR managers work themselves out of a job. Sadly this has yet to become reality in any business. So I think the CR professional is here to stay for some time. I also think it is a profession that, for two significant reasons, is not yet ready for professionalisation. Firstly, there is a huge variety in roles. The specific expertise and experience is too wide to professionalise under one title. Secondly, and more importantly, I think that few businesses truly understand the significance of CR and sustainability and, as a consequence, few CR roles are genuinely transformational.
I feel lucky to work for a company that has grasped the fact that we need to be completely different in 15 years time. We’re not necessarily alone but we’re certainly in a minority. An accreditation for CR professionals should emphasise transformation, but this is something so few of us actually do. I don’t think we’re ready. Creating a profession now, based on current roles, would create the wrong ‘profession’. 

Matthew Sparkes, global community investment manager, Linklaters
Industries have always been professionalising. The tallow makers and chandlers of the past translated that into livery status while slightly less ancient careers have opted to establish institutes or societies. There’s nothing for CR, yet it is a growing sector and, as a result, the title is becoming used, abused and confused – and there is no common thread. CR needs some sort of unifying status, some sort of definition. If I feel and act like a professional – and others expect me to be so – then what am I without a profession to call my own? Are we here for PR or marketing, helping the business operations, or senior management? A CR profession does away with the inconsistency and introduces some common ground. There will always be as many variations on the theme as there are practitioners, but at least there is a theme. And a profession need not mean exams, rituals and cost. It might just be a badge of collegiality and perhaps a little credibility among those many professions where such status is important. Surely it is in all our interests to defend a territory that has taken some time to win?

Susan Hazledine, head of social investment, Allen & Overy
There are obvious benefits in ensuring that standards are  at the highest level, but I don’t think there needs to be a single professional body to which people must belong – with all that entails in bureaucracy, fees and barriers to entry. A number of professions, including  human resources and marketing, seem to manage without forming official bodies. They have courses and qualifications to be taken, often at a junior level, which are not prerequisites to entry but an indication of knowledge that may be relevant to a particular role. I feel part of the profession through networks such as CRG, without feeling the need for more structure. As is constantly being stressed, it is critical that CR is not siloed into a particular role – it should be the overall responsibility of the corporation, not one or two individuals. We want board members to have CR as part of their focus and it is unnecessary and unrealistic for them to be members of a profession.

Colin Morgan, head of corporate responsibility, Gala Coral Group
 As a practitioner who cares about the subject and discipline deeply, I consider that accreditation would bring about even greater respectability and professionalism. However, I also see that elements of CR are becoming more specialised, and wonder if accreditation can indeed provide the practice with more credibility. It may well be that it is a vain desire of practitioners which could in fact simply create a silo. I think we have to ask ourselves what the implication for the broader adoption of CR will be if practitioners are accredited – since what we truly should be aiming for as practitioners is the total integration of CR by the business – and therefore despite it adding value to us as practitioners, it may not really add value to the business. Our real focus should be on supporting and challenging our businesses to become better through enhancing our social and environmental radars and actions. 




Corporate Responsibility Group | Global | Partnerships

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