Irish business leaders told to keep CSR faithJanuary 2011
Businesses in the Irish Republic have been urged to resist the temptation to cut back on CSR programmes despite the country's dire economic crisis.
Many speakers and delegates at this year's Business in the Community Ireland (Bitci) conference in Dublin said Irish companies must think beyond immediate financial difficulties and consider the long term.
James Quincey, president of Coca-Cola's north-west Europe business unit, told delegates he believed Irish businesses would shoot themselves in the foot if they abandoned sustainability targets now.
'It may be difficult to keep sustainability on the agenda in Ireland at present, but you can't separate it from business,' he said. 'It's especially critical that we now organize our thinking in terms of long-term global trends. We may be in a recession in Ireland, but the global economy is already starting to pick up.'
Stuart Rose, the outgoing chairman of Marks & Spencer, which has more than 20 stores in the Irish Republic, told delegates they have to stick to their guns.
'Although you are dealing with a difficult and vicious recession, you have to look beyond that,' he said. 'There are good economic reasons for pressing on with the sustainability agenda, and that is what we will be doing because in the long term it saves us money.'
Rosheen McGuckian, group development director of the infrastructure company NTR, told delegates: 'There's no doubt that we've seen a slowing down and a reticence in business [on CSR issues], and that people are saying they can't afford to do this. But our view as a company is that we can't afford to ignore sustainability.
'There needs to be courage out there to take the big steps and make the big moves. And business needs to consistently remind policymakers that a sustainable economy actually creates jobs.'
Bitci chief executive Tina Roche said that, despite the pressures, there was evidence that senior executives in Ireland grasped the argument that encouraging more responsible business behaviour may be one way out of the financial crisis.
She quoted a recent Ipsos MRBI poll of Irish business leaders that found 80 per cent believed CSR will have a role in rebuilding Ireland's reputation.
The poll also showed that 65 per cent of Irish chief executives said they believed that companies will continue to invest in CSR despite the economic climate.
Gerard O'Neill, chairman of Dublin-based CSR consultancy Amarach Research, said a new emphasis on sustainability may actually help Irish companies, particularly those in retail, to make a profit the recession.
'For a number of years companies have urged consumers in Ireland to think just about price, and that has been a huge mistake', he said.
'By doing this they have been undermining the value and quality of products and services. Sustainability is going to help companies get out of that pricing trap by focusing on other things.
'It may also help increase faith in business, because right now business is outside the circle of trust in this country.'
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