Plotting a way forward on a matter of principleMay 2010
The Corporate Responsibility Group (CRG) has produced a code of conduct for CSR professionals. EP talks to Yogesh Chauhan, CRG deputy chair, about how it will work
Where did the idea for a code of conduct come from?
As a network of practitioners, we were being told by members that the profession was sufficiently mature to need some kind of additional structure around it. That’s where the idea of a code of conduct emerged. It was very much bottom-up, and a recognition from our members that this was something they needed to put forward as a statement for their profession. There’s no suggestion that this was a reaction to malpractice or that we believed the profession is being hampered by unscrupulous individuals.
How does the code compare with those for other professions?
We did a lot of work looking at what other codes have said, and it’s fair to say that this is lighter than some. But then we are probably 100 years behind the codes of conduct for teachers or doctors. This one is very much about principles and the basic values that practitioners share. In general we didn’t find codes that were really detailed or that went into specifics of what people should do in particular situations. So codes are reasonably generic things that people are invited to buy into.
Aren’t there a lot of motherhood and apple pie statements in your code?
To a certain extent yes, but as I’ve said, this is the first step and the code will therefore inevitably be light on detail. The kiss of death for anything like this would be to say that you have to buy into all of this and all of that – and that we are going to lay down this heavy-handed foundation with punitive action against anyone who doesn’t comply. The climate isn’t right for that. I acknowledge that it might feel like a code without any real substance, but we hope that over the years we might be able to refine it and make it punchier.
There are no current plans to enforce the code, so how can people and companies use it?
We hope the code may be the beginnings of some kind of process whereby individuals have to demonstrate that they have achieved a level of compliance that allows them to belong to the profession. But we’re a long way from that. At present I think it can be a valuable tool internally. Personally, I’ve already framed the code of conduct and have it sitting by my desk as a reminder – not only for me but for the people I work with – that this is what I represent. So it’s saying that this is not just me being a do-gooder, but that I’m representing the interests of what is now a mature profession.
How will you get to know about any breaches of the code?
At the moment we expect that if an individual is breaking the code in a fundamental way then that behaviour would be brought to our attention by others in our membership, or by the media. What we haven’t done yet – but over the years we might well do – is develop a process of validation so that every couple of years we expect an individual to demonstrate they are worthy of having a code like this.
How can you discipline practitioners for failing to live up to the code when CRG has corporate, and not individual, members?
That’s a very live issue for us and one we are looking at. At the moment the code is there for individuals to use and refer to: the idea is nothing more than that and, as I’ve said, we are not looking to be punitive. If we feel uncomfortable with a company’s behaviour in terms of meeting our membership criteria then we will seriously look at withdrawing the company from membership. But if an individual is acting inappropriately then you’re absolutely right, the CRG’s role is slightly trickier, because we are a corporate membership body. So we can’t throw out the individual – but we would raise it within the company. It would be a question of having conversations to resolve the matter.
What about use of the code outside of CRG membership?
How will that work?
We expect all of our members to be aware of the code and to begin to use it. So it’s really an assumption on our part that all CRG members companies will be actively using it over time. But beyond CRG we would like to see it taken up by non-member companies and to see other bodies in other parts of the world adopting or using it.
Do you think the code will be picked up elsewhere and adapted, thereby creating a plethora of competing codes?
We’d hope that certainly in the UK we will have just this single code rather than several different versions emerging. We’ve not picked up information that anything similar is being developed elsewhere in the world, which probably means this is the first and only attempt. So while companies and bodies may choose to work with elements of it, we hope it can be adopted on a global basis without too much differentiation or duplication of effort.
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