MARKETS & INVESTING | Staff Reporter, Singapore

38% of Singapore companies don’t believe they should have to report CSR activities

Latin America leads the way with 53% reporting, but the Americans one of the worst at 18%.

 Findings from the 2011 Grant Thornton Businesses Report shows that businesses remain focused on the merits of corporate social responsibility in terms of building brand, securing key staff and winning future contracts. Globally, more than half of businesses cite public attitudes/brand building and recruitment/retention of staff as the key drivers this year, highlighting the importance of public opinion in shaping businesses' CSR priorities.

Since the topic was first research in 2008, there has been a significant change in Singapore business leaders’ perception of CSR practices in their business operations. The latest findings show cost management with 76% as the top key driver followed by recruitment/retention of staff with 73% and public attitude/building brand with 62% as the top three drivers in Singapore; above the global average of 56% for each.

Kon Yin Tong, Managing Partner of Foo Kon Tan GrantThornton LLP said, "Globalisation and the internet has not only brought producers of products/services and the consumers closer but also highlight corporate malpractices that can impact society. In an increasingly competitive and dynamic marketplace, businesses are becoming more aware that adopting a proactive approach to wider corporate social responsibility issues can help them to stand out in the minds of employees, consumers and potential partners. Businesses are recognising the impact of CSR activity on their financial and commercial success".

The 2011 findings also shows that as businesses in mature markets continue to grapple with sluggish growth, businesses in emerging economies appear most concerned with reducing their impact on the environment:60% of the BRIC nations and 59% of those in the ASEAN group cite saving the planet as a driver towards more ethical business practices, compared to just 30% in the EU and 16% in North America. The global result for this shows 36%,down from 40% in 2008.

Levels of CSR activity undertaken vary significantlyacross the globe. Businesses in northern Europe and Africa, together with much of North America and the Asia-Pacific region lead the way in initiating socially responsible practices, with those in mainland Europe lagging behind.

Across a twelve activity initiatives undertaken by businesses in the past one year "Actively promoted workforce health and well being" at 73% was the global top CSR activity followed by diversity/equality at work, provision of internship, flexible working, and donation to community causes/charities each with 64%. Just 50% of Singapore companies however are into flexi working whilst 81% said they actively promoted diversity/equality at work with 74% saying they actively promoted workforce health and well being.

The survey also uncovered some polarisation in the reporting of CSR practices: A quarter of businesses globally report their CSR activity, but this ranges from 53% in Latin America and 41% in the BRIC economies to 17% in North America and 18% in the G7 economies. Businesses are divided as to whether the reporting of CSR activity should be integrated with financial reporting: globally 44% agree that this represents best practice, nearly 60% of Singapore businesses share this view but 38% disagree, a 2 percentage point lower then the global average of40% who disagree with this view; a further 3% unsure and globally 16% being unsure.

Whilst the CSR concept is relatively new in this part of the world, compared to the West all businesses should look closely at the potential commercial benefits of reporting their CSR activity.

A competitive advantage exists for those businesses which can demonstrate leadership in implementing socially responsible and transparent practices and seizes the opportunity to attract and retain skilled workers, build brand value and secure future contracts with multinationals who frequently adopt strict CSR guidelines in selecting their suppliers.

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