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CSR moves up the agenda for companies in Australia

October 2000

Early signs that corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues are assuming greater prominence in Australia have come with the announcement by a Melbourne-based company that it plans to launch an index to track the environmental and social performance of the 200 largest Australian companies by market capitalisation.

EarthIndex, a niche provider specialising in investment funds based on 'sustainability research', plans to use the information it is gathering to launch a share fund later this year. The index itself is expected to be launched in 2001.

EarthIndex is working with the Swiss-based SAM Sustainability Group, which provides the research behind the Dow Jones Sustainability Group Index.

EarthIndex director Mark Mills said attitudes among Australian investing institutions towards socially responsible investment had begun to shift following the decision by one of the country's largest industry pension funds to offer its members the choice of investing ethically from February 2000. The 400,000 members of the Health Employees Superannuation Trust of Australia – mainly health and community workers – may now place a portion of their pension in the Hesta Eco Pool fund, which invests in companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange that have been screened for environmental performance using a best of sector approach.

Australian large companies expect their stakeholder engagement and community involvement programmes to grow significantly over the next five years, says a report published by the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs and the Business Council of Australia.

Corporate community involvement: establishing a business case was based on surveys, interviews and discussion forums with executive officers and community programme managers of 115 large Australian companies.

Eighty-six of the companies said long-term business sustainability was the prime reason for their involvement in community programmes. Among the 55 companies with CSR policies, improved reputation was cited as a key reason to develop community relations.




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