2007/May Hongkong Industrialist
— Ethical Business
There is more to business than just profit, as the driver of the economy, businesses assume far-reaching responsibilities for the well being and development of society as a whole. The Industrialist looks at the application of corporate social responsibility by Hong Kong businesses.
orporate social responsibility (CSR) may come across to many as a cliché, an overused expression easily dismissed as a mere marketing gimmick. But looking beyond the superficial reveals that CSR is in essence about sustaining t h e e nv i r o n m e n t s in which business and society operate, with conducive environments, both business and society can prosper.
Despite being a relatively new phenomenon, the fundamental pr inciples behind moder n CSR are time immemor ial, rooted in human empathy, ethics and good business sense. Both Kongzi
(Confucius) and Jesus said it best — do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire; or words to that effect, succinctly underscore the basic ethics that form the cornerstone of moder n CSR. In dealing with inter nal and exter nal stakeholders, businesses that are capable of empathy and uphold ethical behaviour naturally build trust and rapport, which in turn feed back to further strengthen the business. For business leaders who wish to dispense with lessons in ethics, they need to look no further than their accounts, as ethical and responsible conduct benefits their customers, investors and staff, directly determining profits.
Mixing Business and Ethics towards Sustainability
Despite what skeptics may say, ethical business is not an oxymoron, in fact upholding ethical conduct in business is well entrenched and vital to the survival of the business. This is clearly illustrated by corporate governance and the high-profile cor porate failings during the past d e c a d e. C o r p o r a t e governance primarily deals with the exercise of corporate power and can be viewed as an aspect of CSR. But in this globalised world economy, the effects
Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire. of corporate actions go beyond the immediate stakeholders, ramifications that aversely affect society have the potential to come back and bite the business, damaging its reputation.
The broad nature of CSR makes constraining it with definitions difficult, nonetheless it is generally agreed upon that CSR is how businesses conduct operations so that they make positive contributions to corporate, social and natural environments. According to the Hong
Kong-based NGO Community Business which
2007/May Hongkong Industrialist
Hong Kong Council of Social Services chief executive
specialises in CSR, some practitioners see CSR as being synonymous with the term ‘triple bottom line’ or ‘people, planet, profit’, three areas that ensure sustainable development. There can be no CSR without a viable business, while a viable business cannot be sustained without
CSR, good business management that optimises the requirements of corporate objectives, staff, customers, community and natural environment is what CSR is about.
Some practitioners see CSR as being synonymous with the term ‘triple bottom line’ or ‘people, planet, profit’.
Yet for some purists, business should remain strictly business. Prominent economist, the late
Milton Friedman, reasoned that the purpose of business is to maximise profit within the confines of law. This argument elicits a whole host of issues that challenges CSR particularly in a jurisprudential perspective. Corporate leadership, who are essentially agents acting in the best interests of shareholders are charged with delivering maximum financial benefits and not engage in activities that may jeopardise