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CSR executives put brave face on the financial crisis

November 2008

The consequences for corporate responsibility of an impending recession remain unclear, but many in the field are taking an optimistic view as business begins to grapple with redundancies and falling sales.

A straw poll of executives in the field has revealed a generally resilient mood, with expectations of some belt-tightening but no visible fear that the global financial crisis will push CSR and SRI onto the defensive.

On the contrary, many believe it could be positive for the sector, as the benefits of responsible behaviour become apparent. This view appears to be shared even by sometimes sceptical pressure groups and trade unions.

For now there seem to have been no departures of senior corporate responsibility executives even in financial services, although specialist recruitment agencies, while reporting continued strong activity in the job market internationally, have told EP of some executives in the banking world registering with them in anticipation of losing their jobs.

There is budgetary caution, and the cancellation of one high-profile sustainability event is the direct result of tighter purse strings (see page six), but advisory firms report no immediate signs of a major slowdown – yet. ‘We’ve even had clients signing up and paying for next year’s business, including one that we expected to be in big trouble,’ said one well-known consultant.

One senior CSR executive at a global financial services company reflected the thoughts of many when she told EP that she was not overly concerned about significant retrenchment within her department.

‘Corporate responsibility isn’t a big budget item at most companies, so it’s unlikely to be an immediate target for cutbacks,’ she said. ‘I think the greatest vulnerability will be in those businesses where the issue has been treated as an add-on, rather than integrated throughout the organization.

If there’s been some level of integration, then it’s very difficult to step back from responsible behaviour, even in a recession, because it has become part of the fabric of the company. If CSR has just been bolted on, then it may be easier to jettison.’

In the UK, only around six per cent of CSR departments in companies have annual budgets in excess of £1million ($1.59m), according to a survey of 145 companies carried out in 2007 by Ethical Performance with the Acona and Acre Resources consultancies.

In the short term the biggest casualty is likely to be corporate giving and community programmes, which are often directly linked to profits. Catherine Sermon, director of community at Business in the Community, said: ‘An economic downturn can become a societal filter for projects that aren’t working, making room for more valuable ones’.




Ethical Performance | Global | Financial Crisis

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