Sensitivity on corporate social responsibility is embryonic in Romania as well as elsewhere. Trade unions are absent, institutions are fragile, and NGOs draw on the business sector for their fund-raising activity
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is currently a very popular topic in Romania, particularly by the Romanian companies who see CSR as a marketing tool and a way to attract public attention. While the government has little involvement and capacity in the field, because little legislation directly addresses social responsibility issues, seems that companies have the most important role. When companies do not have a CSR department, they usually hire public relations (PR) agencies that in turn make contracts with local NGOs to address issues in the community where the company has direct impact.
Much work is done addressing environmental issues. Companies are trying to develop their CSR strategy from philanthropy to community relations and corporate-community investments.
John Aston* established a multi-disciplinary CSR and management consultancy company in Romania in 2002 to support project implementation in a socially, economically and environmentally responsible manner. He has been working with Romanian companies in the last seven years and has witnessed the evolution of this field in Romania.
Who are the main actors in CSR in Romania?
John Aston: The main actors who are using the phrase CSR are mainly people in PR who are using CSR as a mechanism to do marketing for the company they are working for. The Romanian government is not doing very much although there is CSR direction within the Ministry of Labour and Family Affairs. Moreover, some HR organisations are moving towards CSR. For example the organisation AUR, they run a big project between Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia and they are funded by the European Commission. The other nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in Romania see CSR as a means to get funding. If NGOs deal with businesses, they can build a little more income than they otherwise are able to do trough their usual fund-raising activity.
What are the main social issues that the companies are tackling or should be tackling?
J. A.:If we come away from CSR as a tool for marketing and we see CSR as a corporation's responsibility to the society, the main social issues are: Are you paying your taxes? Are you employing people fairly? Are you building their human and social capital? These are social issues where companies can have a real impact on a society. There are also other relevant questions that companies should think of and by this I mean: while you are doing your business, are you damaging the environment or protecting it? Are you respecting human rights? Are you discriminating, are you playing fair? Linked to that, are you respecting diversity or are you prioritising a particular group within society? Are you treating your customers fairly? If you are making a product, are you listening to your customers to improve it and is your research linked to the society? These should be the general issues in CSR.
Wouldn't it make more sense that the local and regional authorities give more support especially in the issues regarding directly the community?
J. A.: Yes, in this case you drop "C" for corporate, and then we can talk about the government's social responsibility, the university's social responsibility and even our personal social responsibility. Along this line, there is a strong movement worldwide and I am referring to the International Organisation of Standardisation (ISO) based in Geneva. In fact, there is a programme to pull together a new standard for social responsibility and they have dropped the "C" and they roughly lay out all the issues that you should consider. Inherent in the standard is the idea that all is about engagement. The company has to consider its impact on the society, for example checking who else is interested and who should it partners with, since almost always there is the civil society and government interest. That is one of the changes that is happening internationally in CSR.
Almost all companies that have CSR programs in Romania chose to run and make public mostly those projects that deal with environmental issues. Why is "green" so fashionable in Romania?
J. A.: I think, from a business perspective in Romania "green" has become a marketing tool. I am not sure if it is still a positive marketing tool though. Until recently, it was a tool relatively cheap for a company to attract customers or have some advantage on the competitors. But it's not going to last for long, people are going to ask questions about the real impact of a company's programs.
Companies, government, civil society and academia should all join forces in making CSR or SR efficient and taking it beyond a PR tool. Is there any initiative in this sense?
J. A.: We are currently setting up the "Center for Corporate Citizenship Romania (CCCRo)", which is a national and international multi-stakeholder platform active in social responsibility formed by companies, civil society representatives, academia and government. The CCCRo main activities will be those of networking, education and training, know-how and research and benchmarking. To give a concrete example of the first important activity: starting this year short and long term educational programs in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences BFI Vienna. This program is dedicated mainly to managers or whoever is interested in CSR and it will create the possibility to train and educate professionals in the field.
* AstonEco Management has implemented complex multidisciplinary natural resource based projects. Projects varied from environmental, water, natural resources, community and organisational capacity building and sustainable development related ventures for the public, private and NGO sectors